We all know that Columbus discovered America in 1492, and that America declared independence in 1776. But do any of us know the interesting dates in mobile home park history? In this episode of the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast series, we’re going to review these important dates and their relevance to this unique affordable housing product. While it’s unlikely that any high school will ever require knowledge of these moments in order to graduate, that doesn’t mean that smart mobile home park buyers and owners should not be fully fluid in these historic moments.
Episode 142: Critical And Trivial Dates In Mobile Home Park History Transcript
Our brains are filled with dates. We remember dates such as birthdays, anniversaries. We remember that Christmas falls on the same day every year. We all also remember the different seasons. We know when Thanksgiving is approaching and of course we all remember those dates we had to memorize and school, such as Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. And that 1776 was the year that our country declared independence. But how many mobile home park dates do you know? How many mobile home park dates are registered in your brain as being important or at least of trivial significance? Well, I thought we'd go over a few of those dates here are the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast series.
Let's start back with 1930. 1930 is famous in mobile home park history because it's the day or the year where the first commercially built trailer, called the Covered Wagon was brought out by a guy named Arthur Sherman. Arthur had this idea of building a assembly line styled trailer but still of high quality. In fact, his marketing brochure calls it, "a modern masterpiece of fine coach work." That was 1930.
Now we move on to 1942. Why is that date important? Well, because that's when the first double wide ever was delivered to a customer from a company called Schult Homes. The first single wide or trailer is 1930, the first double wide is 1942.
Then we move onto 1946. That was a big year for single wides. It was the introduction of the Spartan Manor model. This was credited by some to be the first true mobile home because it really wasn't meant for pulling right behind a car too much. This, it was a $4,000 single wide, which is $52,000 in today's money. And bear in mind back in 1946, that was over 50% of the cost of a stick built home. That was quite a thing to have happen.
Then in 1954 you had The Long, Long Trailer in movie theaters. This is a movie starring Lucy and Ricky of the I Love Lucy show venue in which he was a Manhattan architect living in a penthouse, which opts to lose and drop the penthouse and instead travel America in a mobile home. It was the first time Americans saw mobile homes and mobile home parks in a very, very positive light.
And then in 1956, you had not one but two big things happen. You had the first 10 foot wide mobile home introduced. Now we're talking, the advent of the culture of mobile home is being pulled using a special moving permit behind an actual specialized truck to move them. By 56, with a 10 foot wide, you could no longer pull that behind your car.
And also in 1956, we had the Pacemaker model introduced, which was the first ever two story mobile home. Now it's not truly two stories, so don't believe the marketing glitz on that. It's really a story and a half. I know you've seen this. It's a mobile home that if you look at it sideways, it goes straight across the top, has a gigantic hump on the end, typically nearest the street in the mobile home park. Now, if you look at the actual model, if you go in one, what you'll find is the upper portion is the master bedroom, but on the lower portion there's a space, but you can't stand up in it, so it's kind of a little awkward, but people would sit down there, read magazines and in the brochures they would actually have cocktail parties down there. Although obviously if you can't stand up, it's kind of hard to mingle.
Then we head to 1963 and in 63 there was another momentous moment in mobile home park history. That's because Elvis lives in a mobile home park in the movie, It Happened at the World's Fair. Again, a very positive reinforcement for the American public of how great mobile homes and mobile home parks are. Here's Elvis, number one guy in all entertainment, both in music and theaters who's living in a mobile home park in a major feature length movie.
1966 you had Jim Clayton opening his first Clayton Homes Manufacturing plant and retail store. Who is Jim Clayton? Jim Clayton is the guy that is the conduit I guess, to Warren Buffett entering the industry because Warren Buffett bought Clayton Homes back in 2003 through the company he owns called Berkshire Hathaway. Clayton was very, very good for the industry because he was a very, very good showman. Convinced a lot of people that living in a mobile home in a mobile home park was a very positive experience. And also to me, most importantly, he was apparently the forerunner and the catalyst to cause the grain of sand that creates the pearl in Warren Buffett entering the industry. And of course Warren Buffett's done great things for the industry both in manufacturing, also in financing.
Two years later in 1968, you have Elvis once again living in a mobile home park in the movie Speedway. It was the last time that Elvis would live in a mobile home park in a movie, but it was a very popular movie. It was once again a very favorable depiction of mobile homes and mobile home park living.
Then you jumped to 1976, just eight years later, and you have HUD taking over the entire mobile home construction part of the industry. What happened is that mobile homes by 1976, there were enough being sold and they'd been operating for so long under kind of a very loosey circumstances where people were manufacturing these often one at a time in garages and Quonset huts. The government felt they needed to step in and make sure these were safe products. They didn't want people living in things that were unsafe that would burn or fall down, so they decided the only option they had to gain control over this product called the mobile home and the mobile home park was to take over construction supervision.
Today, all mobile homes, the engineering has to be approved by HUD. The manufacturing is approved by HUD. And every mobile home wears a proud seal, it's a little metal plate. It's probably about two by four inches in size and it's on the back left corner of a single wide, and there's two on a double wide, a back left quarter on each section. Without that HUD seal, you can't really bring a mobile home into any mobile home park in the US today. The seal is essential. But equally important is the fact that HUD now really controls all manufacturing. HUD also jumped in in more recent years, even into the installation standards required for the homes. But 76 is when HUD really became active in the industry in a big, big way.
Then we jump ahead about 12 years to 1998. Actually 22 years, I'm sorry. 22 years to 1998 and why was that year significant? Well, that was the highest manufacturing unit count ever in mobile home history. 372,843 units shipped, which is a huge number. In fact, at that time it was a huge percentage of all housing starts in the US.
Now here's the next interesting day. If you just go 11 years later, 2009, you have the lowest all time shipping stat, 49,789 units shipped. How in the world could you go from 1998, 372,843, down to 49,789? Well, what happened was we had a thing called the mobile home chattel collapse. Very reminiscent of the 2007 great recession. What had happened was you had people bringing out a new idea, a 30 year financing of mobile homes with zero down. Now we all saw this later because in the 2.0 colorized version, was of course the 2007 great recession brought on by the same gimmick attached to single family homes. But our industry was so clever that we did it about a decade earlier and so we proved to everyone it doesn't work when you have 30 years zero down debt on a mobile home. But apparently no one was paying attention because they repeated the same movie, not that much later.
Now where are shipments today? If they fell a 49,789 from 372,843, so they fell down not quite 90%. They've never really bounced back. They're still sitting only about twice that. They're sitting a little under a 100,000 units today and we're not really sure if they will ever go back to 372,843. But if you ask someone in the industry what was the best year as far as manufacturing? That date would be 1998.
Then you come to the very interesting date of 2018. Now what happened in 2018? Well 2018 is the year which they sold Elvis' own mobile home. You see, Elvis was such a huge fan of the product that he didn't just live in it in movies, he lived in it in real life. Now it seems kind of odd because he owned this thing called Graceland down there in Memphis, Tennessee. Beautiful home still up today for tours, made of stone, three story dwelling, giant metal gate, beautiful driveway.
But he wasn't really happy there. What he did was he decided he wanted to live in a mobile home in a mobile home park. But he couldn't just pull a mobile home into a normal park, that would cause quite the ruckus. Instead he built his own small mobile home park out in the woods, a few miles from Graceland. Every unit in the mobile home park was owned by Elvis and the occupants were all of his friends. They would often go out to the mobile home park and hang out and not live at Graceland. Electing to go there for a little more relaxed, back to nature experience. In fact, Priscilla Presley wrote in her biography that the happiest times she shared with Elvis we're always in the mobile home park, never in Graceland. Apparently when he was in Graceland, he didn't act quite the same as when he was in the mobile home park.
The home sold at auction for 67,650, which is remarkably lower than what most people expected. It was anticipated to bring four to $500,000 and it was shipped to an Elvis fan, an Elvis collector down in Texas. Don't know the name, don't know where it went. I felt for sure that they would buy it for the Graceland museum and move it there, but apparently it probably being a mobile home didn't quite have the aura of what they wanted to have for most folks at the museum, so they must have passed on it. Interesting to note that Elvis' his own mobile home had a gold painted bathtub and toilet because Elvis really liked the color gold, but he apparently didn't want to pay the bill to actually have it cast or covered in 14 karat gold.
Those are some of the important dates. What are some other basic dates of the industry? Well, one interesting date is the mid nineties that's when Sam Zell of ELS fame bought into the industry, as did other players. As did Dave and I, in fact. But what do you know from all these dates? Two things, you'll see the industry is much older than most people think, dating all the way back to the 1930s. And that there's also a whole lot of activity that's gone on in recent years. Just in recent years, we've had the largest number of units shipped. We've also seen a lot of action as far as people bringing these old mobile home parks back to life. In many ways I'm going to go out on a limb and say, "I think we're entering a new era, a new golden age of the mobile home park, and it's about time."
It's been about a 100 years now since mobile homes began and it's probably about time that we have a little half century break from the monotony of people putting us down and go back to being something that people actually admire and respect. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast series. Hope you found this interesting. Talk to you again next week.