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Trailer Park Class

Mountain Life

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You hear the words “trailer park” and what comes to mind? Certainly not Aspen, Colo., known for its glitzy celebrity guests and multi-million-dollar homes. But one of the city’s most intriguing and thoughtfully designed¿not to mention affordable¿homes sits on a 44-by-74-foot-lot inside Smuggler Park (formerly called Smuggler Mobile Home Park). And it’s now valued at $800,000.

Scott Lindenau owns Studio B Architects in Aspen and designs single-family homes as well as affordable housing condos in Aspen. However, his own home is the first he’s designed that’s fit for a trailer park. In 1989, he and his wife, Beyron, decided to buy a home, but with home prices hovering around the $1 million mark, little was within their means. Refusing to sacrifice a downtown location, the Lindenaus settled for a 14-by-60-foot trailer and the lot beneath it for $57,000.

Let’s face it, an architect living in a trailer is like a chef eating SpaghettiOs. The trailer had no space, no character and little room for creativity. Still, the location offered unobstructed views of Ajax, a two-minute walk to town and a six-minute walk to the gondola. Best of all, the $900 per month mortgage allowed the couple to save money. But after the pipes froze Christmas Day 1997 (for the 20th time), the Lindenaus decided it was time for a major overhaul. And their first step was to sell the trailer and design a new home.

With the 44-by-74-foot lot and a 16-foot height limitation, Lindenau was limited in space and essentially confined to the trailer’s dimensions. He designed accordingly. Rather than building upward, he dug down, building a basement that houses a play room, his two boys’ bedrooms, a bathroom and a separate guest apartment. He was determined to depart from the cowboy-and-mining architecture that many Aspen homes embrace and instead used cinder blocks, wood, corrugated metal and plastics¿all of which remain in their raw colors, exposed and functional. Inside the home, the layout is open and airy. The interior walls stop short of the vaulted ceiling, allowing light and air to flow from room to room; the bathroom walls are sanded Plexiglass, bringing in even more light. Stained concrete kitchen counters and floors make for a stark, sleek look, which is softened by maple-veneer cabinets. Lindenau saved space in the master bedroom by doubling the headboard as a closet; in the entryway, a built-in media center serves as a dividing wall. The exposed rafters and industrial lighting give the home a clean, raw look¿somewhat of a New York-loft feel.

All of Lindenau’s touches make his home unique, but he’s not the only one in Smuggler Park who sold his trailer for more permanent digs. There are about a dozen traditional wood-framed homes with foundations. Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper says she’s one of only four that still lives in an actual trailer. That will change next summer when she breaks ground (after she’s through campaigning). The remaining 70 are modular homes.

With more Smuggler residents building permanent homes, neighbors have grown accustomed to constant construction. Longtime resident Jean Jacobi says, “The place is a mess all summer. There are construction trucks everywhere.”

The construction trend is fairly recent. The residents formed a co-op in 1983 to buy the park (each lot cost $25,000), but it wasn’t until 10 years later that they were permitted to build a foundation. After the park’s namesake Smuggler Silver Mine shut down, the EPA deemed the area a Superfund site. “Before 1993, you weren’t allowed to dig even a garden, never mind a foundation,” Jacobi recalls. That is largely what saved Smuggler from joining the rest of Aspen’s astronomical real estate market.

Smuggler may well be one of the last affordable places in Aspen, but in Aspen everything is relative. Mark Hesselschwerdt, president of the Smuggler Homeowner’s Association, owns a permanent home currently listed for $1.2 million. (It replaced a “throwaway” trailer that he bought for $117,000 in 1993.)

There are no more trailers on wheels in Smuggler. “We cleaned up the zoning and eliminated any legal verbiage referring to a trailer park. It’s now really more of a subdivision,” Hesselschwerdt says. The banks agree, too. “Local banks are tuned into what a great spot this is, so it’s not unusually difficult to get a loan,” he says. Since the residents own their lots, it fosters home improvements and upkeep.Other trailer parks in the valley are following suit, but are not nearly so well-positioned financially. The residents of the Aspen Village Trailer Park just got approval to purchase their lots. Woody Creek Trailer Park is in the negotiation process. But unlike Smuggler, both will be deed-restricted in order to ensure they remain “affordable housing.”

Smuggler is safe from morphing into a second-home community, as is occurring in many resort towns. Owners are required to make it their primary residence and must live there at least six months a year. As Commissioner Clapper says, “It’s still a neighborhood where you can reach over the fence and borrow sugar. The rest of Aspen is losing that.”