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One retro remodel, to go

The trailer's futuristic shape caught his eye. Then the roadside find turned out to be a prized collectible.

October 12, 2006|Bettijane Levine | Times Staff Writer

BARDY AZADMARD never wanted a trailer, never even set foot in one until seven years ago, while driving to land he'd just bought in Leona Valley. That's when he spied an oddly shaped hulk alongside a dusty canyon road.

"It was beat up and had 'for sale' spray-painted in huge letters all across its side. But it had an amazing shape. Like a yacht, or something that floats. It was retro and futuristic all at once, like something from 'Star Wars,' " he says.

Azadmard, 53, is sensitive to such things. An architectural designer who specializes in luxury homes -- his current project is a 14,000-square-foot house in Beverly Hills -- he stopped to investigate.

He needed a tool shed for the 7 acres of raw land he was making into a ranch. "I was buying shovels, mowers, all that stuff. I thought, I'll buy this old trailer, clean it up and use it instead of a shed. It's much more interesting to look at."

He had no idea that he was looking at what may be the first trailer built of fiberglass. And the only trailer designed by renowned industrial and race car designer Charles "Chuck" W. Pelly, whose Chaparral and Scarab cars (only seven were produced) are vintage collectibles. They sell for about $1 million each and have been owned by such money men as Wal-Mart heir Rob Walton and beer scion Augie Pabst.

No, Azadmard thought only about gutting the thing so his tools could have a place. He paid $1,500, towed it home to West Hollywood and realized he'd been tailed. "A guy in a pristine 1960s Cadillac convertible followed me all the way down I-5 to my house."

"He said, 'Would you sell this to me?' "

"I said, 'No, I just bought it myself.' "

The man, a vintage car and trailer buff, said the trailer was unique, that a collector should own it -- someone who would appreciate and restore it. He urged Azadmard to take it to Iowa Boys, then in North Hollywood, which specializes in trailer restoration. "They'll tell you what a treasure you have."

Azadmard read the binder of 40-year-old documents he had been given by the seller, and agreed maybe he did have something special. Built by an Oregon firm, Holiday House, in 1961, the Geographic trailer was touted at the time as "the lightest, strongest 24-foot mobile home ever seen," sheathed inside and out with fiberglass, and "designed on aeronautic principles that borrow from the latest jet aircraft, satellite and missile development.... It has forward windows which allow 270 degrees visibility, and was developed at a cost of $1 million in Van Nuys, California, by skilled craftsmen from the aircraft and missile components industry."

It has a full bathroom, two double beds, a stainless steel kitchen with double sink, four pull-down gas burners, a refrigerator and built-in heater and air conditioner. The original sales slip showed the first owner had paid $8,700 in 1961.

Azadmard called a few museums, he says, and was told his trailer was either the only one of its kind, or one of four that might have been built before the company decided not to continue the model. He had no idea that the trailer's famous designer, Pelly, was alive and well -- and living just a few miles away in Woodland Hills.

Reached by phone this week, Pelly, 68, laughed to hear that the trailer he had designed was still around. "It's like an old girlfriend coming back," he said, when told of Azadmard's odd tale. "I just assumed they were all lost and no more existed. This could be the only one left, although I have no idea."

Pelly, who is a consultant for BMW, a catamaran designer and a partner in Design Academy Inc. of Woodland Hills, says he believes no more than 10 of the trailers were ever built. And though technical development took place in Van Nuys, production of the trailers occurred in Medford, Ore., "until a devastating fire burnt down the plant, the tools, the molds -- everything. So there will never be another trailer like it. I haven't thought about all this in years."

He was young, designing cars for Detroit, when he was hired as a freelancer to design the trailer by the late David Holmes of Harry & David "Fruit of the Month Club" fame. Production was in Medford because Holmes wanted to provide work for his employees during the off-season. "David said he wanted to make a radical design statement, as I recall, and at the same time do something to keep his workers going. So I designed this rather swoopy thing that had long lines very much reflecting the style of American cars of those days -- '60s cars that had fins and bumps. I gave the trailer fins down the side, and the front was styled to be as car-like as you can make a trailer. It was definitely a fun project for me."

Azadmard has been having his own kind of fun with his acquisition. At first unsure what to do with it, he took it to Iowa Boys owner Sue Murphy, who said it was well worth restoring -- an undertaking he wasn't quite ready to commit to. What would he do with a restored trailer?

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