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Patrick’s Mobile Home Park
With the 2013 television debut of Myrtle Manor on The Learning Channel (TLC), Patrick’s Mobile Home Park, the show’s location, became famous. The producers erected a flashy sign and moved some unusual trailers into the existing park to increase its retro look and they set up a stand to sell souvenirs to the visitors who were soon flocking to gawk at the place. Patrick’s, a real life stage set for the so-called reality show, became yet another draw for the tourist town of Myrtle Beach. Despite its transformation into a simulacrum of itself, Patrick’s Mobile Home Park remained an actual residential complex, home to real people doing some of the real jobs that keep Myrtle Beach going.
Patrick’s Mobile Home Park lies in a lower middle class neighborhood in the northern part of Myrtle Beach, where several other trailer parks are located. This is a part of the city tourists generally do not see. In this context, Patrick’s does not present a complete picture of mobile home living in South Carolina, but rather one segment of a larger and more complex phenomenon—a relatively high end of suburban mobile home living in coastal South Carolina
Like many mobile home parks, Patrick’s began in the 1960s when Cecil Patrick Jr. and his wife bought a trailer and installed it in a cornfield. They soon followed this purchase with another mobile home for another family member. In time, the Patricks re-conceptualized their family compound as a small business, with Cecil Patrick Sr. taking the lead in developing the land into a mobile home park.
With more of an intentional plan than many rural and suburban mobile home parks, the Patricks laid out lots along two long streets, Patrick and Mobile Streets, and several short connectors. The scheme avoided overcrowding the trailers, and, overall, emphasizes orderliness and maintenance. The mobile homes within the park, which are mostly single-wides, are similarly well maintained. They are set on neat lawns that merge into each other to form a unifying grassy carpet for the whole park. Some of them have been landscaped with trees and shrubs in the manner typical of American suburbs, and the park offers a middle-class appearance.
Before television found it, Patrick’s had little room for tacky, theatrical intrigue. Even today, garishness is rare within the real Patrick’s Mobile Home Park. In Myrtle Beach, Patrick’s is a place of decency and, compared with many rural areas in South Carolina, relative prosperity. The aesthetic markers of a tawdry lifestyle are confined to those small parts of the park that are staged for Myrtle Manor to project an alternate identity.
By creating an iconic trailer park in place of the ordinary one that existed, Myrtle Manor glamorized the mundane reality of mobile-home living in South Carolina. That reality is accurately depicted not by television but by statistics. Figures from the U.S. Census reveal that a significant percentage of South Carolinians lives in mobile homes: in 2008, 17.9 percent of South Carolina families were mobile home dwellers, up from 16.6 percent in 1990 and 10.7 percent in 1980. These families were not necessarily poor—because mobile homes are not infrequently used for retirement and resort living, some of dwellers may even have fairly well off. But the likelihood is that throughout South Carolina, mobile homes were, and still are, inhabited by the working poor and the lower-middle classes, many of them in poverty or experiencing a decline in social status.
Mobile homes have become ubiquitous features of the South Carolina landscape, part and parcel of the vernacular architecture framing the state’s everyday life. They are sometimes isolated or clustered on unimproved rural land and sometimes grouped into more organized “parks” in suburban locations like that occupied by Patrick’s. Mobile home parks tend to be located on rural land and the outskirts of towns and cities because such land tends to be inexpensive and generally free of encumbrances from zoning regulations or subdivision covenants, usually put in place to thwart their implantation or expansion in urbanized areas. Once as commonplace in some areas as car dealerships, mobile home dealerships are similarly located on the periphery, convenient both to suburban and rural customers and to the parks in which many of them end up.
Mobile homes are manufactured buildings distinct from prefabricated houses in that they are delivered to their site fully assembled (and even furnished) as complete units. In the mid-twentieth century, mobile homes began to evolve from travel trailers into forms suitable for relatively long-term occupation. Most of this evolution took place in the 1940s and 1950s. In those decades, trailers saw extensive use as temporary housing during the development phase of military bases and plants like the Savannah River Project, around which some 5,500 trailers were located in four government-run parks and around 130 privately owned ones. As mobile home parks proliferated, their design became a matter of increasing local concern. In 1952, the Federal Housing and Home Finance Board issued recommendations for park density, and, in 1955, the Federal Housing Agency issued further guidelines intended to assure that mobile home parks would provide safer and more pleasant living environments.
By 1955, a trailer ten feet in width became the standard for units deemed suitable for dwelling purposes. Such a unit, later available in widths up to eighteen feet, became known as a “single-wide.” A later creation, the “double-wide” connects two single-width units along a longitudinal seam. The double-wide thus overlaps conceptually with the modular home, which is generally distinguished by a higher, more traditionally pitched gable that requires either a more costly, hinged roof structure or more traditional roof construction. For large numbers of South Carolinians, the double-wide is now the model of homeownership to which they can most realistically aspire. They provide relatively spacious rooms and, because of their width, look more like traditional houses than single-wide trailers do.
Mobile homes are remarkable achievements of modern building technology. Though seldom designed in a modernist idiom, they represent the fulfilment of what Gilbert Herbert characterized as the modernist “dream of the factory-made house.” In accordance with the economic aims of mass production in general, mobile homes can be produced more cheaply than site-built structures. Hence, their appeal as low-cost housing units to people of limited income; in places like South Carolina, where relatively low earnings prevail, they have become widespread. Because they are mass produced, boxes-on-chassis, they are also easily adaptable to non-residential use. Thus in South Carolina, and of course elsewhere, manufactured buildings are found used as offices, stores, churches, and frequently temporary school buildings.
Drury, Margaret. Mobile Homes: The Unrecognized Revolution in American Housing. New York: Prager, 1972.
Rodriguez, Jason M. “Owners of ‘Myrtle Manor’ Talk Trailer Park History.” The Sun News(Myrtle Beach), January 4, 2014.
Wallis, Allan D. Wheel Estates. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
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