Trailer Park Transformation

by Tom Bentley
Copyright 2005, Tom Bentley


As Roger Gilliam said when he first entered this transformed 1972 Airstream CCH, “I couldn’t believe my eyes. It rocked my world when I walked in.” Roger was the first owner of the trailer after its renovation, the result of an interesting collaboration between the city of Seal Beach, California and the trailer park’s original owner, Bill Dawson. Dawson convinced the city that rather than get rid of a funky trailer park, the city would allow occupants that had extra space around their sites to build onto – literally – existing trailers, with new property taxes going into city coffers. Dawson created a company, Afcom (Affordable Community Housing) to build a plan prototype, and he used this Airstream as his model.

The city guidelines said the trailer part of the dwelling had to contain the kitchen and bathroom, with the addition being living quarters. This CCH had one side cut off so that it’s open to the rest of the dwelling, with its initial new connection point (and partial roof) being the full-length skylight that then leads into the dining room, sunken living room, hallway and bedroom. The Airstream section was remodeled with new JennAire appliances and American Standard hardware. (However, the original running lights still work at the flick of a switch.) City council members and other officials came down to approve the work. Total remodeling costs were $85,000.

Since the Airstream’s renovation, many of the dwellings in the park have been extensively remodeled, with some becoming 2-story, 2,500-square foot residences. However, the agreement between the city and the park maintains that even those big dwellings have to have axles underneath them, so beneath everything else, they are still trailers of a sort. Gilliam put an office and a loft in the Airstream itself, as well as building the trellis and gate in front.

Gilliam lived in the converted Airstream for 10 years, until he got an offer he couldn’t refuse. “I had no intention of moving anywhere, but I had a guy walk in, a collector of antique motorcycles and surfboards and he loves old Airstreams and he said, ‘I want your house, get out.’ I told him, ‘I’ll give you a price and if you don’t take it, don’t ask me again.’ I gave him a price and he took it.” But Gilliam’s not too far away—he parted with the Airstream, but he bought the trailer park itself. He can go visit his Airstream any old time he pleases.