Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 112

Interesting Properties

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There are around 45,000 mobile home parks in the U.S. Each and every one is different. Some are truly unique. In this edition of the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast series, we’re going to discuss some of the most unforgettable parks we’ve seen or purchased – unusual pieces of American history that virtually nobody knows about. If you think a “trailer park” is just a shotgun road with homes on either side, then you will soon learn the error of your ways.

Episode Transcript

When you hear the words: Mobile Home Park, what do you think? Most people think of a straight street made of gravel or asphalt with a mobile home on either side at end or possibly with a turnaround. That is one type of Mobile Home Park, but that's not really true of most Mobile Home Parks. In fact, most Mobile Home Parks have kind of interesting stories. The kind of the classic American narrative of design, of the way that America grew over time. We're going to go over six different Mobile Home Parks, all which have a little more interesting story to tell than what most average Americans would imagine.

First, let's pick two that, to me, embody creative thinkers. The first is Stanley Marcus's prototype Mobile Home Park in West Dallas. Stanley Marcus, of course, was the founder of the Neiman Marcus upscale fashion store brand, which today, is in many American cities as a mail-order catalog and extremely well known, well respected as far as bringing in a lot of the best of European merchandise to the United States. But most people don't realize that Stanley Marcus himself was a pioneer on something else. He envisioned an upscale Mobile Home Park, and so he built his original prototype of this park in West Dallas.

I've been to it. I don't know if it's still an existence or not, to be honest with you, because I last saw it about two decades ago, but here's what it was. It was ... What looked like a Neiman Marcus store as the clubhouse with spacious and curving streets, with concrete sidewalks, and everything, just the best in its class at the time. I don't know the year it was constructed but I'm going imagine it was probably in the late '50s, early '60s, which was about the same time that he was busy building the Neiman Marcus store in what is now North Park Mall. Now, what he did do was he had vision. He saw that the mobile home park product had a different path. It could be a very upscale path. Remember that he built this Mobile Home Park at a time in which the average person in a Mobile Home Park had higher educational status and higher income than those living in stick-built homes, but it was definitely an intriguing property.

Now, it's a shame there weren't more of them and it's sad he did not carry forward with that prototype and build a chain. I imagine that was the original purpose, but nevertheless, it embodied that creative thinking that a lot of the early mobile home arks had. If you take that to a higher level, you have 1966 Elmer Fry's Skyrise Terrace. Now, you may have seen a picture of this in the past, but most Americans have not. Elmer Fry was a very creative thinker and he thought of building a Mobile Home Park that wasn't all on one level, but there was on many, many levels. In fact, his prototype he built was a 332 foot tall Mobile Home Park with 504 mobile homes in it, all in midair.

Imagine a coffee cans shaped structure where each level ... Let's say if you took a typical coffee can, and every inch you poured a concrete floor and you put mobile homes radially where the backs were all near each other at the back, and the fronts were all out towards the edge of the coffee can. That was Skyrise Terrace. It was going to be mammoth, giant, 25, 30 stories in height. But the problem is nobody was as creative thinking as Elmer Fry was, as far as having faith in this concept. In 1972 he built a four-story model of it in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Now perhaps he was thinking a little too creatively, because there were a few things he forgot about, the big one being how to keep things from freezing in the winter, and that's exactly what happened. All the pipes and all the mobile homes seemingly froze every winter, despite all their best efforts of installing heat tape and other items, they just couldn't seem to fix the problem. Eventually, this miniature rendition of Skyrise Terrace was torn down.

Nevertheless, it was unusual and interesting that you had someone so creatively thinking about building Mobile Home Parks, that instead of going outward, they went upward. Now let's move to another group, which are those who did creative repurposing of property that was formerly of another use. We had a Mobile Home Park in Kansas City that used to be a very notorious gambling casino back in the 1930s. In fact, if you look it up, you can find there's still pictures of it back when it was a casino, and what happened was, of course, casinos were illegal in Kansas City. Although the, the mob was able to shield it from the police taking action on it for awhile, eventually it caught up with them.

Finally, the gambling casino was shut down, and in fact, the casino near the end burned to the ground. Although, I don't know if it was arson or naturally, but what you had then was a property which had some pretty neat features. It had a very nice architectural stone fence that went all the way around it. It had very nice architectural stone stairs and landings. So someone had this interesting idea: Hey, let's build a Mobile Home Park on that. Let's go ahead and use each of these terraced levels with all the nice stonework to park mobile homes, and so it's a mobile home park that's on about four terraces all with this really nice stone work. In fact, it has stone work that has these very, very large, nicely groomed yards out in front. It was very, very creative repurposing of a property. Don't know what else you could have done with it, wouldn't have worked for single family. The lots weren't nearly large enough. It would have been a very awkward apartment complex and very hard to build on multiple levels.

However, a Mobile Home Park seemed to be the exactly the proper use for it. In the same vein as both as far as being connected with organized crime and creative repurposing as a Mobile Home Park in Fort worth, Texas, they used to also be on the grounds of a former mobster hangout. Now in this case, the structure that the mobsters built and hung out in is still standing. It's a giant Tudor mansion. It also has an Olympic size swimming poll. Now these are things that would not be normally found in a Mobile Home Park. However, back in the day, back in the '50s, back in the '60s not uncommon. Bear in mind, back in that era, Elvis Presley himself lived not only in two Mobile Home Parks in two different films, it happened at the World's Fair in 1963 and in Speedway 1968, but he actually even lived in a Mobile Home Park of his own, that he owned not too far from Graceland.

He liked to go there on weekends and sometimes weeks at a time, found a very relaxing beat in a Mobile Home Park populated by nothing other than his friends. He liked being out in the country and again, liked to be a little bit far away from Graceland, which kind of served as his home office for business. This gave him some downtime where he could just hang out with his friends. So, what they did was they took the property and they made the the Tudor mansion into the clubhouse, the pool into the park swimming pool, and so it made for a very interesting Mobile Home Park. You had not only the regular grassy area with the mobile homes placed, but you had this phenomenal clubhouse at the rear.

So, it made it very, very upscale property. Was there something else you could do with it? Well, really not. All you could have done to really utilize that mansion and that pool would be to perhaps have build apartments, but it would be kind of an awkward apartment location. Stick-built track was not nearly large enough, so Mobile Home Park really was a very logical way to repurpose the property. Now let's move on to two more Mobile Home Parks and these suggest a bigger vision. Now, our earlier four Mobile Home Parks, those came from creativity and a touch of whimsy, or a creative repurposing of existing property. But these next two, they were part of something much, much larger. They were actually the catalyst, the nucleus of major American cities, and they began as Mobile Home Parks.

The first is the Villages, which is the largest single development in the United States. It's down in Florida. I believe it now has about a hundred thousand residents in it, but if you look it up on Wikipedia, you'll see that although today it's very, very nice single family, some multi-family, nice retail, everything and kind of almost in a golf course setting with golf carts driving around. If you go back in time to the beginning of the Villages, according to Wikipedia, it began as a Mobile Home Park, or as this would be described, more of a manufactured home community. However, as time went on, tastes changed, demand changed, and it grew from not just a Mobile Home Park but into a giant sprawling development that people love. It's very desirable for many people to live in the Villages. It's a senior-only community, but it started off with just that vision that here we could build a new city. Here, we could build something major, and to start it off, it began with a Mobile Home Park.

The same is true of a Mobile Home Park that we used to own south of Dallas and Glenn Heights, Texas. It's one of the few Mobile Home Parks we've ever owned. If you look it up on Wikipedia, it was the start, the nucleus, the catalyst of a city called Glenn Heights. At that time, a man who worked at Glenn Heights in the fire department had this vision that Glenn Heights could be more than just a building or two along a farm to market road. So he decided to build this large Mobile Home Park and then he built his house at the front of it, and it was the start of the city. If it wasn't for him and his vision of building this Mobile Home Park, Glenn Heights would not exist today. Glenn Heights, if you look it up on a map, is a fairly large suburb south of Dallas, Fort Worth.

So once again, now we have Mobile Home Park owners who were thinking as big as you can think. They were thinking: This isn't going to be just in addition to a city. This is going to be a city unto itself, and they succeeded in that vision, and that Mobile Home Park became kind of like the grain of sand in the oyster that creates the pearl. It was the catalyst for what are, today, fairly large parts of America that serve a definite purpose offering nice neighborhoods, nice retail, as part of the greater community. Now, the reason I told you these six stories is that many people don't seem to understand that there are a lot more interesting stories to Mobile Home Parks than that which meet the eye. That the stories that you hear and see on TV and in the movies, those really don't tell the true story.

There's 45,000 Mobile Home Parks in the US. There's 45,000 different stories behind those Mobile Home Parks. Some are merely interesting and some are extremely fascinating, but they almost all share nothing in common. Each Mobile Home Park is a very unique thing. Just like a person, there's no two that are exactly alike. Food for thought, in my opinion, in a time in which people think of Mobile Home Parks as be just one certain type of item. In fact, the answer is no. There's a lot more to a Mobile Home Park than most people realize. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast series. Hope you enjoyed this and see you again next week.