I have arrived here on the first breath of spring, a few moments when the desert is luminous with a delicate yellow-green glow. Unlike the broad effulgence of spring elsewhere, the dry desert air leads you from one beautifully discrete scent to another.
Few RV parks live up to this heady background music of the senses. Most, I have to admit, strike me as collections of very large appliances. If they have merit, it is in their community, not their beauty.
Except for Monte Vista.
Inside the gated entry you drive by streets of Park Models with well-tended plantings. One has an artful spiral staircase leading to a margarita patio. Beyond that, a large fountain--- one of three in the complex--- and a grouping of Santa Fe style community buildings. Up and down the streets there is a village feeling to the side-by-side houses, with everything softened by tall palms, flowering plantings, and decorative banners fluttering in the breeze. This is a lovely place.
In the sales office I learn that all contracts are annual and the cost is about $400 a month or slightly more. There are no transients. You can buy existing units from $4,700 to $64,900. Of the 61 units currently for sale, 25 are available for $20,000 or less. You can also go in the direction Monte Vista is moving and buy a new Cavco home--- two bedrooms, two baths, around 1000 square feet--- for about $60,000. Buy one completely furnished for $75,000, let Monte Vista rent it, and they'll assume all costs and pay you 6 percent interest on your investment.
Exploring Monte Vista like a potential buyer, I scour the site map and match units for sale with lot positions that are likely to have good light, nice corners, or open space. Number 2004, vintage 1992, is listed at $30,000. Behind it there is a large open space filled with a meandering garden.
Mrs. Mickey Bennett, at 2008, tells me her husband is a retired nursery owner. She takes me on a guided tour of their garden, a trellis here, a covered table there, and wandering paths. Nearby neighbors have made similar, but smaller, gardens. She loves living here. The person who made all this possible is Craig Bollman, the owner and developer of the park. Now 66, the former Marine and Harvard Business School graduate had no idea 40 years ago that he would create a resort that would become the model against which others would measure themselves or a model for the future.
In a telephone interview he said he learned about mobile home parks at age 27. That's when an investment firm sent him to salvage a mobile home park investment in Phoenix.
The assignment went from weeks to a year and a half and to taking the park through receivership. "During that time I lived in the same mobile home park. I liked this part of the country. And I learned this was real--- some 5 million people lived in mobile homes."
After that, he worked on other troubled properties. But he saw something bigger. "I realized that people were of an age where their house meant less. And their friends meant more. Making a statement about who they were with their house just wasn't very important," he said.
"I began to see the power of creating community for people of that age."
In the seventies he co-founded one of the first real estate investment trusts to invest in mobile home communities, Mobile Home Communities of America. After that, he put in more years of working with distressed properties. Then he started Monte Vista. "It's a pretty egalitarian kind of community," he said. "There is no way to express your status. Living here is a lifestyle decision, not a cost decision. Most people pay cash. I can't remember a delinquency. So the motivations are completely different (from many parks).
I asked if he intended to retire.
"I can't imagine doing that."
Instead, he's working on a plan to develop Monte Vista further, with an even more village-like design and houses with larger porches. Already in the works: a nearby shopping center with direct access by bike or golf cart from the resort. Also looming: a deal with a larger organization to spread his vision of community.
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Monte Vista Resort
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