Trailer park worth $30 million
By Lucy Nicholson
Too often in America, being old means being lonely, isolated and depressed.
At Village Trailer Park, a leafy oasis surrounded by busy commercial streets about two miles from Santa Monica’s famous beach, elderly residents are fighting to preserve a different way of life.
Owner Marc Luzzatto wants to relocate around 50 residents from the quirky trailer park to make way for nearly 500 residences, office space, stores, cafes and yoga studios, close to where a light rail line is being built to connect downtown Los Angeles to the ocean.
Village Trailer Park was built in 1951, and 90 percent of its residents are elderly, disabled or both, according to the Legal Aid Society. Many have lived there for decades in vintage mobile homes they bought.
The nearly 4-acre site is valued at as much as $30 million, according to the Los Angeles Times. Buildings that have grown up in the neighborhood in recent decades now feature offices of media empires such as Yahoo! and MTV Networks. Santa Monica once had nearly a dozen trailer parks and now has just two.
As I walked around the park, trees swayed in the breeze, birds sang, and residents emerged from their homes to greet me. When I explained I was shooting a photo story, they reeled off names of neighbors I should visit. Everybody knows everybody, and each has a story to tell.
I asked what the loss of this community would mean to them.
MARY HERRING, 78 (resident for 20 years)
“This place means to me an awful lot because I’ve been here since 1992. I don’t like change. I thought I would be dying here.
It’s beautiful here. We have large trees and jacaranda with the purple blooms. There are a lot of seniors here and most of us know each other. I felt very depressed when I first got the eviction notice. We got six of them, one month apart.
I’m not very easily frightened, but right now I’m trying to make my decision where to go (if the City Council votes in favor of the developer), and that frightens me because I don’t have a place where I want to move. I know almost everyone in the park, and we help one another, and try to boost each other up if something happens health-wise.”
VERNON VAN WIE, 91 (resident for 20 years)
“I’m used to this place. I’m partially blind. My girlfriend lives nearby and takes care of me. I’m a veteran of the Santa Monica fire department and a World War II veteran.”
GAYLE COOPER, 66 (resident for 16 years)
“This is my 22 x 34 ft Eden. If you live in an apartment, you don’t have outdoor space like this.”
BILL NIEDERBERGER, 81 (resident for over 30 years)
“It’s nice and quiet. It’s my tranquil place.”
GERI MEEKS, 78 (resident for 15 years)
“This home means everything to me. We love the community. Our doctors are close by, my children and grandchildren are close by, which means a lot, and my sister lives next door.
I was shocked and upset (when she received the eviction notices). We were concerned where we would go at this stage in our lives. I’ve had a heart problem, so it was very difficult and frightening. At this age, it’s not easy to just pick up and go.
My husband was a Santa Monica police office for 37 years, and he served and protected everybody, and now he’s got to go? It’s upsetting, because we’ll lose friends and people we’re close to, and we’ve helped each other here.”
RUTH LEWIS, 84 (resident for 15 years)
“My daughter lives across the street, and my sister (Geri Meeks) lives next door. The climate is ideal. I’ve been in this area all my life. My lung collapsed, and so I’m on oxygen.”
JUNE MANNING, 84 (resident for 18 years)
“I have privacy. It’s about the quietest place I’ve lived, and my neighbors are friendly. You can ask a neighbor for a lift. I like the community feeling. I could knock on anyone’s door and say ‘I need help’. I hope the park stays open, for everybody. Just let us be.”
PETER NORTON, 63 (home in family since 1986)
“It’s a secluded oasis, which is a non-urban environment, right in the middle of the urban environment.
I’m a professional land use planner. Preserving this community is vital, to show that this city belongs to all kinds of people, whatever their income group.”