No fixed address: Talkin' trailer-movin' blues

ADDRESS: Carlton Avenue

ASKING: $1,500,000.

SIZE: 2.23 acres plus three detached homes



CURB APPEAL: 2 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Sybil Mahanes of Real Estate 111-West


Trailer parks make a lot of people wince. Even the industry that builds and supplies "mobile" homes goes to a lot of trouble to soften the negative vibes associated with trailer living. At the beginning of the politically correct era in 1980, even Congress approved a bill to upgrade the oxymoronic "mobile home" to "manufactured home." A rose by any other name... (is still a bloomin' rose).

So, there's always a little jolt of surprise when you drive by a well-established stretch of these semi-permanent homes in downtown Charlottesville. Sandwiched between the ever-encroaching gentrification of downtown and the historical sanctity of Monticello, these 24 lots of Sunrise Trailer Court sit on some pretty fancy real estate.

Encompassing two and a quarter acres that also include three detached (non-mobile) homes, the land is fairly level, with unobstructed views of Brown's Mountain. The houses sit separately on three different sides of this city block. Each house has a large yard that has obviously been lovingly tended for many moons.

The trailer court itself is one paved street with 12 units on either side. Contrary to the lyrics of some country-music songs, there's no evidence of household appliances being used as lawn decoration. Each home is roughly 10 feet across and 30 feet long; none are– as they say in Mississippi– "double wads." Of course, technically, the trailers do not convey with the land. Currently, each trailer owner rents a space for $200.

The first mobile homes were built in the 1870s in the Outer Banks region of North Carolina as moveable beachfront property when horses were still used for travel. The mobile home we know today made its debut in 1926, when Americans took to the roads and wanted a little home away from home on camping trips.

Returning World War II veterans created a phenomenal demand for "trailers" as residences. Cheap and quickly assembled, they allowed families to move to where jobs were.

But there was a lot more open land then.

The owner of this property, Julius "Red" Lively, has lived in Charlottesville all his life. His family owned most of the land from Meade Avenue down to Moore's Creek. When he returned from the Army in 1947, he decided to start building houses instead of returning to farming. With a lot of property and no money, Lively says, "I took a wild gamble," starting a trailer court where he used to cut hay.

"There were a lot of poor people in Charlottesville who needed homes," he explains, conceding that even "Miss Fern," whose family owned and operated the cinderblock factory across Carlton Avenue, was aghast. And this all in 1955.

Twenty-eight years ago, Lively sold off a large piece of the trailer park, which became Carlton Court. That parcel is now a less manicured trailer park where ramshackle cars, plastic covered windows, and discarded aluminum cans and siding are strewn about; it looks like a tornado has already hit.

But Lively quickly points out that this is no "fire sale." He has had offers to buy certain parts of the land or just one of the houses, but he says he's in no rush to sell.

"These people need a place to live," he says, referring to the current trailer inhabitants. "If I was younger I'd keep it, but I just can't do it anymore." At 76, he may be right, but he's not willing to hack up the land just to make a quick buck. "It's time for it to go, but it's all got to go," he says.

Charlottesville hangs in residential limbo. Apartment complexes and high-end houses sprout like grass, and affordable housing becomes another oxymoron to those living on fixed incomes or otherwise. No doubt there's money here for some developer or interloper, but people already residing in Sunrise Trailer Court are undoubtedly hoping that the sun never sets.