TRAILER LIVING Part Three; “Home Sweet Home”.
July 18, 2012 • 2,182 views
Editor’s note; this is Part Three of four segments of the popular “Memories of El Monte” column to which our late colleague Richard Cortez contributed. They are about travel trailer manufacturing in El Monte and are guest written by author Wyman Kinders in tribute to Mr. Cortez.
Mr. Kinders owns a 1954 Empire 12 footer. Proudly, “Made in El Monte”.
Readers are encouraged to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with their recollections of those days.
The post war years were prosperous in the US. With suburban industries in full swing, housing shortages offered trailer makers the opportunity to expand their offerings to include towable, but largely stationary “Park” models or what we now call “Mobile Homes”. Existing travel trailers were lengthened and widened, put on truck or specially built steel girder frames with 2×4 framing, insulation, house wiring and plumbing. Designers intended for them to be destination, summer places as well as permanent housing, all the while remaining on wheels so to avoid the regulations and taxes of standard homes built on foundations. The life expectancy of these Park models was generally thought to be about twenty years. Cruising some of today’s older parks one can easily find trailers made in the 50’s and 60’s still going strong. El Monte builders were manufacturers of numerous styles of these Park models.
Not to be outdone by home builders of the day, Park models offered nearly every amenity available. Interior walls, bathtubs and showers, large kitchens, living rooms, lean-to car ports, covered porches, bay view windows, air conditioning, “all electric” heat, cooking and outlets, paneling or wall board, full carpet, lots of storage, refrigerators, modern ovens, pressure hot and cold water systems and so on. Buyers were offered numerous floor plan options on the bigger models, some as large as 40′ and costing upwards of $10,000 dollars! So for the cost of buying or renting a postage stamp sized parking “pad”, utility hookups and an annual license plate, one could afford a very comfortable habitat.
The competition was stiff among builders. Innovations and modifications to standard designs took the form of extended decks, full garages, second stories, vaulted ceilings, roof top observatories, and ultimately, the option of joining two or more units together at the hip, creating floor plans nearly like those found in tract homes. Enter the era of the “Manufactured House”. The first models of which were made in factories across America, including El Monte.
But the 1970’s became the travel trailer industry’s swan song. The Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, higher material costs and labor forced a consolidation of manufacturing. So much so that all of El Monte’s factories closed or were moved under the ownership of makers in other cities, mainly in the mid-west. Most trailer brands disappeared or were changed in name. The last El Monte maker, “Terry” trailers was discontinued in 1993 under the ownership of a manufacturing conglomerate, even though Terry had long since moved away from California production. A boom-bust cycle of American manufacturing had completed its cycle.