Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Oasis Park - A 50-year-old Oasis in the Desert

Residents of Oasis Park in Scottsdale, Arizona, have different stories about how they discovered their particular mobile home community and why they stayed. One current resident was on her way to California with her husband 34 years ago. Doctors advised her husband to move to a warmer, drier climate because he was suffering from shrapnel wounds from World War II. The couple stopped at Oasis Park to visit relatives, and fell in love with it. They were torn about leaving. On the morning they were supposed to leave, there was a large earthquake in California. That quickly helped them decide to call Oasis Park their home.

National Geographic magazine photographed Oasis Park for an article about palm trees. In 1959, Jack Bailey’s Queen for a Day flew Mrs. Doris Herbison from Oregon to be Queen of Scottsdale’s annual Parada del Sol; she and her husband were guests at Oasis Park. In 1969, Time magazine featured Oasis Park in a story about immobile mobile home parks, a 1950’s trend that succeeded in some areas and not in others.

Oasis Park is now over 50 years old and has become eligible for historic status. Though HUD once estimated that mobile home communities only had a life span of 14 years, Oasis Park and a few others like it have been the exceptions to that rule. Oasis Park is still a thriving community.
Oasis Park was created in the mid-1950s by a developer who carved almost 15 acres from a Scottsdale, Arizona cotton field into lots, built a clubhouse, and christened the whole place The Oasis. When it was originally built, it was flanked by more cotton fields and it was across the street was a drive-in theater that has been replaced by office buildings. Its history has been pieced together by current residents (some who have been there almost 40 years) from scraps of paper found in the mobile homes when they became residents.

In 1957, the first residents began to move in. At the time, Oasis Park had shuffleboard courts, a putting green, a 54-foot heated pool with a rock waterfall, a library inside the clubhouse, an on-site hobby shop for men, and a pink laundry room with matching pink washers and pink dryers for the women. The amenities alone help categorized the mobile home community as upscale. Eventually 95 couples filled the park, maneuvering massive 55-foot mobile homes into their designated lots. Residents were required to add ramadas to the existing structures, and some opted to add more than what was required.

In the early days, there were weekly potluck dinners usually preceded by fancy cocktail parties. Men and women dressed up. The men wore coats and ties, and the women wore elegant gowns or long Mexican dresses. On other occasions, residents proudly showed slide shows after returning from exotic vacations. There were parties to celebrate everything from Halloween to anniversaries to birthdays, and inevitably, memorial services for residents who died. In its heyday, Oasis Park had an endless array of activities from buffets, pool and poker parties, craft sessions, bingo nights, dances, exercise clubs, and visiting speakers.

Over the years, the residents have included a diamond merchant, bankers, ministers, politicians, doctors and nurses, hairdressers, schoolteachers and college professors, electricians, pilots, journalists, architects, an airline owner, and a judge. Most residents were (and still are) winter visitors, maintaining homes elsewhere. Among the many famous people to pass through Oasis Park over the years were Colonel Earl Henry “Red” Blaik – head football coach at West Point, Hale Irwin – pro golfer, and Paul Parent – right-hand man to Howard Hughes.

Oasis Park residents have never counted themselves among the typical mobile home owners, and Oasis Park was never known as a typical trailer park. Though originally a rental community, residents now own their homes and are shareholders in the Oasis Park Company, the corporation they formed in order to buy the land on which their homes sit. Each resident now 1/95th of the total land and decisions about the park must be approved by the majority.

The community was always meant for older couples whose children were grown. I is restricted to members 55 years old and older. At one time, Oasis Park would not let in widows; however, many of the homes are now occupied by single women. Prospective buyers are interviewed and must be approved by the Oasis Park membership. Though some people might find the rules oppressive – no pets, no outside noise on Sundays and holidays, no clotheslines, and no wind chimes – residents don’t seem to mind. In an area where homes tend to take on a cookie-cutter appearance, Oasis homes are at least twice the original size, and each is very distinctive in style. The original mobile home is still part of the structure – that’s a rule, but each home has a uniqueness of its own – from Kokopelli sculptures to wishing wells, from cowboy weathervanes to unusual lawn statues; some homes are brick, some are river rock, some are shingle, some have brick arches, and some have tile doorways. The yards are landscaped with immaculately groomed citrus, yucca, prickly pear, ocotillo, bird of paradise, and lantana.

Oasis Park still maintains a full schedule of activities – exercise classes, bible study, bridge, and poker. In the summer when many residents return to their other homes, the schedule slows down. Though residents have changed, potlucks are still held regularly and are attended by most members of the community. Neighbors look after each other. If someone needs a ride, a neighbor is available to provide it. When someone is ill, neighbors provide wheel chairs and meals. Oasis Park may be in a big city, but it has the feel of a small town right out of another era.

©2002, Felice Prager. All Rights Reserved. This blog is copyright protected. No item on this blog, including this essay or any photographs, may be used without the author's express written permission.

Originally Published at Rewind the Fifties.

Oasis Park
6700 E. Thomas Rd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251