Fla. Trailer Town May Agree to Disappear

Keith Hatfield, a part-time resident of Briny Breezes, brings home a bunch of milk jugs he is making into luminarias to line his street for Christmas.
Keith Hatfield, a part-time resident of Briny Breezes, brings home a bunch of milk jugs he is making into luminarias to line his street for Christmas. (By Nicholas R. Von Staden -- South Florida Sun-sentinel)

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By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 27, 2005

BRINY BREEZES, Fla. -- The news traveled fast, as it usually does in this tiny trailer-park town.

A secret suitor was offering to buy the entire municipality for $500 million -- more than $1 million per mobile home. Over shuffleboard courts, pinochle tables and whittling benches, word of the fabulous price soon spread.

" 'A million is a million' and 'Wow, a million dollars!' " said Bob Kraft, 78, a retired high school English teacher from Detroit, recalling initial reactions to the proposal. "That looks good to a lot of people."

If the gargantuan sale goes through, the buyer is expected to wipe this unpretentious beach enclave off the map, obliterating one of the most conspicuous vestiges of the long-ago era when a Florida seaside paradise could be had cheap.

Hundreds or thousands of luxury condos would probably rise in its place, a prospect that has evoked an unexpected surge of nostalgia for this cluster of boxy aluminum homes that are just somewhat wider than rail cars. They sit just feet from one another.

"We used to be an embarrassment," said Tom Byrne, 67, a retired insurance sales manager from Long Island, who had just been boasting to neighbors of reeling in a bluefish. "Now it turns out we're quaint."

Trailers of one kind or another have been on the property since the 1930s, when a farmer allowed passing "tin-can tourists" to park on his beachfront acreage. But in recent decades, many Florida beaches have proved far too pricey for trailer parks, and some communities have forbidden them in fits of snob zoning.

"Briny," as it is known locally, was becoming increasingly noticeable as a throwback, particularly as the coast has become lined with ostentatious mansions and million-dollar condos. But with the specter of so much more development in this area north of Boca Raton -- even though it would be far more grandiose than a trailer park -- has come a sense that a way of Florida life is disappearing.

"It'd be like selling my hometown," said Mayor Jack Lee, 56, who grew up there. He opposes the sale. "We're already living a millionaire's lifestyle -- even without the millions."

"I don't want to live in a condo," said Polly Brady, a retired teacher from Massachusetts.

She and her husband, Tim, a retired vice principal, bought one of the most valuable trailers in town -- on a lot overlooking the beach -- for $150,000, three years ago, they said.

"My kids thought I was crazy," Tim Brady said. "People have preconceptions about trailer parks. But we love it."


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