Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: Little pink house

When Jane Putnam painted her mobile home pink, it was all part of her plan. The plastic pink flamingo in the yard was, too.

When Jane Putnam painted her mobile home pink, it was all part of her plan. The plastic pink flamingo in the yard was, too.

“It’s just like trailer perfect,” jokes the 66-year-old resident of Menaul Terrace, a mobile-home community near Menaul Boulevard and Washington Street Northeast that Putnam has called home for seven years. “You’ve got to be pink and plastic flamingos all over the place.”

While some mobile-home communities offer upscale amenities and a sense of wealth, others have been stereotyped as everything from enclaves for the lost to bastions of the off-kilter tackiness that Putnam playfully elevates by utilizing it as a decorating technique.

Built in 1960, Menaul Terrace – 4300 Prospect Ave. N.E. – is one of the city’s oldest, and its 3 acres near the Big-I are marked by neatly trimmed trees and clean-swept streets. Tenants – many of them elderly retirees who have called the park home for more than 20 years – live together like a tightknit circle of friends, whom the park’s owner, Harold Tidenberg, calls family.

Putnam, a cheerful artist who shows paintings in an Old Town gallery, painted her home pink to brighten it up and make it stand out a bit.

“I don’t see why everybody’s got to have a white trailer,” she says.

Her interior design aesthetic is equally colorful: pink walls in the bedroom, and black-and-white kitchen tiles with similar checkerboard patterns on the refrigerator.

At her request, a local graffiti artist decorated the inside of the wooden fence around her yard. She liked the result – two spray-painted, cartoonish characters wearing backward baseball caps and holding pencils over the words, “Choose your mark,” in bulging, three-dimensional letters. But she’s excited for him to return.

“When he comes back, I’m going to have him make me something much brighter,” she says. “I want it to be a little wilder.”

Pearl Gabaldon, Menaul Terrace’s manager, says Putnam is one of the community’s most unique residents. She says the lack of a space for children to play in the park is partly why it is geared toward older people. And even though there is no community center, residents still walk about and visit one another.

“I was raised in a small town, and this reminds me of my neighborhood,” she says.

Gabaldon says the park’s residents are quite unlike the unsophisticated and unfriendly caricatures she has seen portrayed by comedians such as Jay Leno. “We’ve evicted only one person in the eight years that I’ve been here,” she says. “It just isn’t the stereotype.”

Putnam is one example of a resident defying the stereotypes. She recalls her travels to Japan, India, Lebanon, Egypt, Europe and, most recently, China. A wooden mask – a long, narrow sliver of a face with a hooked nose – hanging near her front door came from New York City, where she lived for years.

“I’ve been nearly everywhere I ever wanted to go,” she says. “I like New Mexico because you have different cultures here.”

A little lesson in mobile-home semantics: Referring to the buildings as trailers isn’t accurate, especially as the homes have evolved, says Tidenberg, who has owned the park since 1972. Mobile homes have frames like a regular house, and many stay on their lots for years, he says.

“Manufactured housing” is the term pushed by the industry in order to encompass the idea of a portable home permanently placed somewhere – some resting on their own wheels, others set atop trailers pulled by semitrucks.

“Trailers” refer more to residences that are pulled behind a vehicle from one place to the next.

“In the old days, they were called trailers . . . like an overgrown camping trailer,” Tidenberg says. “These homes have to be moved with a special truck.”

Many of the homes in Menaul Terrace have been there for 15 to 20 years, Tidenberg says.

With people using mobile homes more as permanent homes, a tighter sense of community has developed, and the term trailer park – connoting a spot temporarily visited on the way to somewhere else – has been gradually replaced with mobile-home community or manufactured-home community, he says.

And like a member of any community, Tidenberg cares about what happens to the people in it. He rarely raises rental rates – currently $200 a month for one of the neighborhoods’s 50 spots, all of which are rented – because the area lacks amenities that might justify higher rates. And because he worries about the well-being of residents, whom he describes as “family.”

“I’ve got several people there on Social Security just barely making it,” he says. “I don’t need to cause them anymore grief than they’ve already got.”

Tracy Pastiva, 50, a Vietnam veteran and resident of the park for more than two years, once chased off someone from his neighbor’s home who he thought was acting suspiciously.

“That was six, eight months ago,” he says. “He was just kind of running through the park. Overall, the crime rate here is great; the location’s great.”

Pastiva – a big man with a beard and gravelly voice regularly punctuated by deep, scratchy laughter – expected much worse.

“I figured there was going to be a meth lab on both sides of me; I’m going to get blown up. There’s going to be people kicking in your door and beating on your door at night. Trash everywhere, bottles and cans – party city at night when the sun goes down. The music’s going to be blasting, and there’s going to be people puking,” he says while 14 birds – his *censored*atiels, parakeets and a parrot named Blade – chirp from inside and atop cages arrayed inside his home.

“But that never happened, not at all,” he says. “I love it here. Even if I could afford the bigger places, I don’t believe I would move.”

SIDEBAR

MOBILE NATION

Of 117.3 million U.S. households, 8.8 million are mobile homes, or 7.5 percent.

Florida ranks first for the greatest number of mobile homes with 849,304. New Mexico is 25th with 145,087, while the District of Columbia falls in last place with 203 mobile homes.

Top 10 states, by percentage, with mobile-home households:

1. South Carolina, 20.3 percent

2. New Mexico, 18.6 percent

3. West Virginia, 16.9 percent

4. Mississippi, 16.6 percent

5. North Carolina, 16.4 percent

6. Alabama, 16.3 percent

7. Wyoming, 15.9 percent

8. Arkansas, 14.9 percent

9. Montana, 14.3 percent

10. Kentucky, 14.1 percent

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2000census.

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