Trailer Home Evolution

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Vince Pacchiana, in front of his one bedroom, one bathroom 1953 travel trailer at Montauk Shores. Michael Heller photos

By Rachel Bosworth

From the early traveling caravans in the 1500’s, Wally Byam’s Airstream in the late 1930’s, to modern prefabricated East End homes on the market for $1 million or more, the mobile home is not a new, or dying, thing. Commonly known as trailers, this type of housing has evolved over the years as the needs of the consumers have, and with United States Census data revealing an approximate 20 million Americans living in mobile homes, there’s something to be said of their relevance to society.

Traditional mobile homes have been deemed a form of affordable housing, which has been crucial to Americans during devastating events like the housing market collapse in 2008 (watch the film, “The Big Short”). However, on the East End, these homes don’t all have the negative connotation of being associated with the less fortunate. Mobile home parks in the Hamptons and on the North Fork vary from the exclusive and pricey Montauk Shores, known locally as the Ditch Plains trailer park, to 55 and older communities creating a comfortable and manageable place to live in after retirement.

A small kitchen and living space offer all the comforts of home.

Vince Pacchiana was an avid camper at Ditch Plains in his youth, sleeping in a tent under the stars. In the early 70’s, he graduated to his own private caravan, and has stayed there since.

“I’ve been in the same one and everyone else is progressing,” Pacchiana says of his 1953 travel trailer, which he likens to a canned ham. When asked why he hasn’t upgraded as many of his neighbors did, he says “Well, I’m an old soul kind of guy. I love classic ‘50s design, architecture, colors, anything really pertaining to the ‘50s. I like old, but not dilapidated.”

At 65, Pacchiana says he has been surfing in Montauk for the past 53 years. The park, which residents today do not refer to as a trailer park, rather a resort condominium, he says has changed significantly over the years with many mobile homes progressing into full blown houses where even grandma gets her guest bedroom.

“They’re much larger now,” he shares. “Families are getting bigger, people have different mentalities. Most people are in their 40s and early 50s. They don’t know what the park was decades ago.”

New homes popping up, like that of Pacchiana’s neighbor, Alicia Murphy, still have to come in on wheels as opposed to building a new structure, which keeps the trailer concept alive. As an interior designer, Murphy had a vision to honor the park’s history and surf shack vibes in a constricting 800-square-foot space.

“A major design element which was important to us was to get two full bedrooms and baths without compromising the deck space as you would with a double wide trailer,” Murphy says. “With architect Anthony Hobson, we created a ‘one-and-a-half-wide’ L-shaped trailer with a huge deck. We figured we would spend most of our time outside of the trailer so we wanted to maximize that space.”

As for the evolution of mobile homes over the years, Murphy has noticed how contemporary architecture lends itself to trailer design.

“What’s interesting is that, since the trailers are small, people will take more risks they wouldn’t necessarily take at their main residence,” she shares. “Siding has been a way to make the exterior of your trailer more interesting. I think a lot of people in the park are taking direction from Scandinavian summer cottages and Japanese small house living. If you only have 1,000-square-feet you better make it work for you and your family…and all the surf boards!”

Not every trailer community is like Montauk Shores, especially with the hefty price tag of nearly $1 million for prime pieces of real estate. Affordable mobile home parks, like Millbrook Community in Calverton, replace old units with brand new ones for around $130,000. Only, they are not called trailers.

“We call them ‘manufactured housing’ now,” says George Buckingham, resident manager of Millbrook Community for nearly 20 years. “They’re more like actual houses.”

Owned by Garden Homes Management Corporation of Connecticut, there are three East End locations including Calverton, East Quogue, and Hampton Bays with a total of 284 homes. As current older properties come up for sale, like the old school mobile homes of the ‘70s and ‘80s that were smaller and had metal siding, they are replaced with modern styles that are larger and more energy efficient.

“They have regular features that make them look more like a house,” Buckingham says. Like other prefabricated homes, they are built in a factory and then brought into a location. “They’re up to HUD (Housing and Urban Development – Minimum Property Standards) codes, have better vinyl siding and better windows. It’s a new way of living. I personally think it’s the best way to live.”

Smaller and easier to maintain in comparison to traditional homes, trailers, manufactured housing, prefabricated houses, modular homes, mobile homes, or whatever you may refer to them as, are a draw for consumers due to the low cost, maintenance, ease of construction, and for some, the nostalgia of times past.

“Spending the summer in the Montauk Shores park is like being teleported back to the 1970s,” shares Murphy. “[Our] kids leave the trailer in the morning on their bike and come back when they need food. Giving the kids that freedom and independence was paramount to us as they live in New York City full time.”

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