Only in Sarasota

By staff April 1, 2004

The countdown has begun. Yes, in just a few short years - fewer than would have ever seemed possible - I will finally be able to meet a lifelong goal of mine. I'll be able to live in a "55-plus" trailer park.

Don't laugh. I love trailers and have ever since I was a child. There is something about their ingenious compactness, their tinnish, metallic veneer, all those odd little built-ins. To me, they are the perfect building. The problem was the trailer parks. They just didn't fit my idea of my status in life. Living there would be like one continuous episode of "Cops."

That why these 55-plus parks - also known as "senior" parks or "retirement" parks or the unintentionally racy "adult" parks - are so great. They are the height of respectability, spotless and manicured. Some are even gated. Sarasota and its environs has some of the best parks like this in the state, and the hard part will be which one to choose.


Very little has been written about trailers - or mobile homes, or whatever you want to call them. They have not been examined architecturally, aesthetically or even sociologically. Doing research on them - the various styles over the years, that sort of thing - is virtually impossible, as none of the original source material (catalogs, booklets, etc.) seems to have survived. Still, they have been an integral part of Florida life since the 1920s, when the "tin can" tourists began arriving each season, and set up migratory patterns that remain to this day. In other words, they're largely to blame for all the Michigan license plates each winter.

If I had to pick one Sarasota trailer park to show visitors it would definitely be Windmill Village North on Tuttle. I find it much preferable to Windmill Village South, which is right next door but doesn't even have a windmill. Windmill Village North sure does. It is the first thing you see, with the pool right in front and the social hall in its base.

Several things combine to give Windmill Village North its charm. It is not brand-new, and the trailers, many of them traditional single wides with the lanai attached to the side, look like trailers - that is to say, there's a hint of the '50s in their fins and curves - not the Colonials and Georgians of the brand-new parks. And as with any park, there is a sense of having left the real world and entered a new world, where the people travel by trike and the streets are named after Dutch cheeses.

Windmill Village North is certainly what I would call affordable. Most homes are in the $30,000 to $40,000 range. But unless I can pressure the boss into giving me some sort of retirement package, even that modest sum may be out of my sights and I will end up at the Orange Trailer Park on Orange Avenue, across from the old Welfare Home. I can't decide if the place is picturesque or shabby. I do know that the trailers are real close together and that some of them are so old, or so small, that they look like candidates for the Trailer Museum. But on a sunny day the place has a bright Florida charm, with pots of plastic flowers dotting the narrow lanes. Here you can get a trailer for $2,500.

I was there one day when I noticed a great big blue and white Cadillac parked in front of one of the trailers. It was the last car you expect to see in the Orange Trailer Park. A few minutes later I saw it again, parked in front of a different trailer. What on earth was going on? Cautiously, I approached the Cadillac, whereupon I noticed a bumper sticker. It was a Meals on Wheels volunteer.

I took it as a good sign. At least I won't be totally forgotten in my declining years.

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