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WESTSIDE COVER STORY : Where Life Is Prefab-ulous : Residents Say Mobile Home Parks in Malibu and Pacific Palisades Are the Best-Kept Secret in L.A.; They Offer Housing on Prime Real Estate at Affordable Prices

July 10, 1994|KATHLEEN KELLEHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The day kick-starts with a rousing game of tennis on a Malibu hilltop court skirted by sinus-clearing Eucalyptus trees and Australian pines.

Lunch is a turkey sandwich--sans the fat--and herb tea. At 2 p.m. and at 6 p.m., a bucolic quarter-mile walk takes you to a private beach where you engage in a bracing half-mile swim in the Pacific Ocean.

To thaw, you slow cook in a hot tub with a perfect, sweating Manhattan cocktail nearby for the quaffing.

Summer dinners are beachside, where retirees, academic administrators and entertainment executives--generations apart in age--rub elbows, trade jokes and nosh on a potluck food fest.

"It's just absolutely a beautiful life. . . . Paradise Cove is just what it is named--Paradise," said Joe Hecht, 74, who has been living this life for the last 14 years.

Witness life in a slice of rustic Bohemia high atop towering ocean bluffs overlooking the pricey Malibu coastline. But this is no multimillion-dollar mansion compound. It is a mobile home park, one of five--two in Malibu, three in Pacific Palisades--situated on prime real estate near the Pacific Ocean.

"It's a sort of hedonistic vacation, ongoing," said Hecht, whose monthly space rent at Paradise Cove mobile home park is $385. "We all love the ocean, the sand, the people . . . it's lots of love."

At the coastal mobile home parks, the quality of life spans the spectrum from the luxurious--complete with lavish landscaping and a carwash--to the spartan, an asphalt-paved tract with a run-down clubhouse.

And beneath the surface of this seeming utopia, where an inadvertent reference to trailer parks sets off angry responses from residents who abhor that seedy image, anxieties lurk.

Some pensioners worry about rent increases. Some fear they will be ousted to make way for a hotel and marina. Others complain about noisy children. And the few who want to leave are worried that they will not be able to sell their residences because banks do not readily finance loans on pre-1976 mobile homes.

Still, the Shangri-La lifestyle goes on in the land of prefabricated homes, known more informally as coaches, single, double and triple-wide.

Mortgage payments are low or nonexistent for those who buy theirs outright. A 10- to 15-m.p.h. speed limit throttles noise pollution. Gardens are optional. Crime is rare. Neighbors are close and the sense of community is palpable.

In Malibu, the more elaborate of the two mobile home parks is Point Dume (pronounced Du-May) Club, a gated park that feels more like a country club than a prefabricated-housing facility.

Situated above Point Dume state beach, the 297-space park, built in 1968 by the Adamson Cos., a major Malibu landholder, is arguably one of the most luxurious mobile home sites in the nation.

Governed by an exhaustive list of rules and antiseptically clean, it is guarded by security gates behind which there is an Olympic-size pool, a clubhouse, a library, a carwash, a state-of-the-art septic facility and a helipad for medical emergencies. Visitors to the park are told they cannot walk through unescorted.

One resident recently joked: "My only complaint is that I can't get a chicken salad sandwich and a slow-gin fizz after my morning swim."

The amenities help make the park's monthly space rents some of the most expensive on the coast, ranging from $600 to $1,500, depending on ocean views.

Coach owners are an eclectic mix, ranging from the well-to-do to struggling schoolteachers, salespeople, senior citizens and single parents with children.

Allan Edwards moved from New York to the park with his wife in 1974 and has never looked back.

"It's a tranquil life," he said as he sat on his porch with a Michael Crichton book in his lap.

"The sense of community is the main thing. When something is wrong, you have family. People come and sit with my wife when she is sick and bring her food. It is part of our life now."

Down the way, Wendy Pietzak, 31, who runs the Malibu Community Center, walked her dog into the hills, where an expansive view of the ocean opens up.

"It's a real mix of people," she said. "A younger crowd is moving in. Pepperdine students lease here now."

According to Thomas D. Curtis, an economics professor at Southern Florida University who has studied mobile home parks since 1979, seaside mobile home park tenants buck the stereotype of the retired, bingo-playing resident.

"The type of people living in mobile home parks by the ocean, with the exception of the elderly, are well-educated and working," said Curtis, who is familiar with the Westside parks. "It's a landlubber's version of living on a boat. And it's the best buy, given their incomes."

That is certainly the case at Malibu's Paradise Cove mobile home park, where newly arrived families, young executives and academics live alongside senior citizens who have been there for decades.

The rustic park, located just off Pacific Coast Highway, is as different from the Point Dume Club as a run-down country house is from a trim suburban tract home.

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