A different breed of singlewide

A few weeks ago, I casually leafed through the resort town newspaper I used to edit. Not much had changed. The same issues still dominated the headlines, the layout was approximately what it had always been, and many of the same faces filled the photographs and advertisements. However, I stopped leafing, grinned and then started chuckling when I stumbled upon a short letter.

It stated, “We want to thank all of you who helped us destroy our house and deliver it to the dump and all of you who helped us set up our new house and make it ready to live in.”

The letter brought a grin to my face partly because it was the first time I’ve heard of a home being destroyed and delivered to the dump. It made me chuckle because I was more than familiar with the “house” that had been destroyed.

From one view, it was a vintage single-wide trailer, the most simplistic of metal boxes and little more than an Airstream. There was no trim around the windows, no paint on the outside, no pitch to the roof and probably little or no insulation. From all appearances, the box would have been more comfortable on the side of an oil rig, in a border town or on a jobsite than on a postage stamp-sized lot on the edge of Crested Butte.

However, the home’s original owner tired of living in a cube back in the roaring ’90s. Surrounded by a haze of tequila and tobacco, he sat down at a local watering hole and literally began designing an addition on bar-napkins. After a couple months of casual sketching marked by a habit shift from tequila to bourbon, the architectural plans were complete. Over the course of that summer, he received design approval, took his limited abilities as a carpenter and built the fairly elaborate and actually attractive greenhouse/sun room. The new view of the structure was of carefully stained trim, artisan quality angles and cuts and the nearby splendor of the East River Valley and Paradise Divide. That old metal box was nowhere to be seen.

Paradoxically, after a winter in his upgraded slice of heaven, our barroom architect packed it up and left town for southern climes. Rumor had it that he was headed for Tequila, Mexico or at least somewhere closer. That singlewide-plus went on the market that spring.

Now remember, this was a trailer home, on a trailer sized lot, surrounded by trailers but with an unusual and inspired 200-square-foot meditation chamber attached to its back. However, that home went on the block for $185,000 and believe it or not, the trailer and its sun room sold in shockingly quick time. The little metal shack and its glorified hood ornament were also widely hailed as affordable housing.

However, as I found out a few weeks ago, it wasn’t a case of “you get what you pay for.” According to that letter to the editor, the $185,000 affordable housing option is now sitting in the Gunnison County landfill, likely replaced by a modern doublewide. No word on whether the architectural drawings are available for sale.

I’ve given occasional thought to that home and specifically its price-tag since leaving Crested Butte. Its memory was particularly poignant a few years ago when I took my mother-in-law on a tour of the Animas Valley beginning on West Animas Road at Baker’s Bridge. Her first views were of the gated palaces immediately adjoining the bridge, and she was pleasantly stunned, even enraptured. But the former East Coast realtor’s jaw really dropped a mile down the same road when we hit a pod of doublewides.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “It’s practically the same piece of property. It violates the rule.”

And therein lies one of Durango’s great beauties – a lot of things around here still violate the rules. It’s still possible for someone of modest means to share a neighborhood with a CEO who spends extended vacations in Durango. Affordable in La Plata County is still well below $185,000 and consequently, we’ve retained a working class.

There’s no doubt that prices are exploding locally. But $185,000 can buy you a small fleet of doublewides on substantial acreage with river frontage. While many towns in Colorado edge toward a monoculture of wealthy white transplants served by commuting laborers, Durango remains a relatively successful melting pot. Virtually everyone can still take in their share of blue sky here. And a sizeable trust fund is still not needed to get through the front door of that singlewide.

– Will Sands




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