Wally Hofmann of Hofmann Architecture in one of his custom refurbished Airstream trailers available for rent at the new Santa Barbara Auto Park.

Paul Wellman

Wally Hofmann of Hofmann Architecture in one of his custom refurbished Airstream trailers available for rent at the new Santa Barbara Auto Park.

Airstreams for Rent in Santa Barbara Auto Camp

Mesa Lane Partners Gives Aging Trailer Park Major Facelift

Tuesday, January 8, 2013
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On upper De la Vina Street, off the beaten path of weekend shoppers and bike tourists, Santa Barbara Auto Camp has been home to a variety of temporary and permanent residents for 90 years, since commuting merchants and travelers created it in 1922. In recent years, however, the site had begun to show its age; though a core group of residents still called it home, several sites were vacant, and the entire property was in dire need of a facelift.

Santa Barbara Auto Park
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Santa Barbara Auto Park

Enter Neil Dipaola, the fresh-faced, late-twenties head of Mesa Lane Partners, a homegrown developer that cut its teeth in style by creating The Loop in Isla Vista, thus far the most successful of the town’s new mixed-use housing and retail complexes. Last August, Mesa Lane and its investors bought the rundown Auto Camp, setting their sights on a unique project to revitalize the site and surrounding area. In just three and a half months, the Mesa Lane team, led by project manager Ryan Miller, has transformed the Auto Camp into more of an auto resort, with a carefully landscaped entryway and a sparklingly whitewashed dividing wall.

Santa Barbara Auto Park
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Santa Barbara Auto Park

But the highlights of the refurbished camp are the four renovated Airstream trailers they added. The bright-silver Airstreams are relics of an earlier era, with no less than 30 years of use in their past. But thanks to Hofmann Architecture, a father-son team based in Santa Barbara and specializing in Airstream renovation, the trailers have been customized and modernized into self-contained luxury units available to rent on a nightly basis.

This is Dipaola’s brainchild — Mesa Lane focuses on projects that will encourage community interaction, remain environmentally sustainable, and make a fair return on the investment, without sacrificing boundary-pushing designs for the sake of profit — and an Airstream hotel fits the bill perfectly.

“I’m fascinated with the idea of being able to build a pre-fab dwelling in a factory in a controlled environment,” Dipaola said. “What’s great about what we’ve done here is we’ve reused vintage trailers. It’s a great way to debunk some of the preconceptions people have about living in trailers, and it’s a new way of experiencing Santa Barbara.”

Santa Barbara Auto Park
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Santa Barbara Auto Park

Each trailer is equipped with a stove, fridge, full bathroom (one even has an old claw-footed tub), outdoor electric grill, and sleeping accommodations for up to four guests. The retro-hip interior design is lead architect Matthew Hofmann’s specialty. Still in his twenties, Hofmann left his job at a major S.B. firm to live in an Airstream and start his own business, specializing exclusively in the repair and renovation of the vintage trailers into functional small-space living units. While Hofmann was unavailable for comment (he’s in Australia), his father, Wally, was on hand to show off their designs.

The trailers also come with two beach-cruiser bicycles on a rack outside, giving guests easy transportation to explore the city’s downtown and the Auto Camp’s surrounding “Wishbone” district, a bustling network of residences and businesses in the triangle of land between De la Vina and Upper State streets. “If you ask some of the old timers, they’ll say this is the real S.B.,” Hofmann said.

But old-timers aren’t the camp’s only target demographic. “I think the appeal of it can be for any age group,” Miller said.

Santa Barbara Auto Park
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Santa Barbara Auto Park

Alongside bringing fresh traffic to the Wishbone’s businesses, which include the timeless Jimboz bar and popular Edomasa sushi restaurant, Miller said the camp’s renovations have gone over well with existing residents, especially as Dipaola guaranteed that Mesa Lane’s control of the property would not force any of them out. “They’ve been really supportive of it now that they’ve seen the improvements we’ve done,” Miller said.

As of last week, the Santa Barbara Auto Camp is open for rentals, and Dipaola said that reservations are already coming in. The project has even garnered national attention, as the popular Home and Garden TV network spent a couple of days shooting on-site for an upcoming special program on small-space living. To see more, check out


Independent Discussion Guidelines

While it is true they're not forcing any current tenants out, they are raising the space rent, causing many to have to look elsewhere to live.

Muggy (anonymous profile)
January 8, 2013 at 1:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"While it is true they're not forcing any current tenants out, they are raising the space rent, causing many to have to look elsewhere to live."

They do the same thing in the Santa Ynez Valley. The wine bars insist they aren't driving the existing tenants out but the game is the landlords see the potential increased $$$ and jack the rents way up which forces out the existing renters. One example of this was the Judith Hale Art Gallery; she was paying $5000 per month, and the landlord increased it to $10,000 per month which put her right out of business. The only problem was, month later, the place still wasn't being rented out, then the price was lowered to a much more working-class friendly $7500.

Then there is the story of the Carrillo Hotel, but you get the picture.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
January 8, 2013 at 3:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

But they have to say they're not forcing anyone out so they don't get a bad name. Raising the rents to an extreme is the same thing. Bad moral ethics if you ask me.

Muggy (anonymous profile)
January 8, 2013 at 5:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The unwarranted and piss-y comments above relating to rents by "billclausen" and "Muggy" are submitted without substantiation and run counter to statements attributed to Neil Dipaola and Ryan Miller:

: : "...especially as Dipaola guaranteed that Mesa Lane’s control of the property would not force any of them out. “They’ve been really supportive of it now that they’ve seen the improvements we’ve done,” Miller said."

"Bad moral ethics" indeed, Ms. Muggy. Please provide any facts which would allow you to yank and fling such malodorous aspersions out of your batty badonkadonk.

- - -

I like the Dipaola's innovative approach to development in our town.

Both this update of the Auto Camp and The Loop development -- areas I have lived next to and experienced over many years -- are the best they've ever been.

I wish Mesa Lane Partners enough success to continue such forward-thinking ventures in S.B.

binky (anonymous profile)
January 8, 2013 at 7:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Binky, I notice that whereas before you used to dismiss me as foolish, your post seem more hostile. Is the fact that you're getting older starting to bug you?...don't worry, it happens to all of us.

Can they guarentee that they won't increase the rents?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
January 8, 2013 at 8:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

While I am sympathetic to those who have found themselves priced out of the local housing market, I don't see anything in the article that states how much rents went up. Perhaps Muggy could provide some details from one of the tenants?

Until someone provides some data to refute the article, this looks like a win-win.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
January 8, 2013 at 10:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Why don't we just face it Muggy, Binky isn't going to buy us birthday presents this year.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
January 9, 2013 at 2:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I've driven by the revitalized park and it is beautiful. Kudos for trying to brighten up what was previously an eyesore.

Fancy (anonymous profile)
January 9, 2013 at 8:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The Carrillo Hotel was demolished because it was prohibitively expensive to earthquake retrofit the existing building. It the State hadn't required the retrofitting, it would still around.

Unfortunately, I can't imagine anybody would pay over $50 a night to stay in a renovated Airstream on De La Vina, when a motel room can be had for the same price. It's just weird.

Lars (anonymous profile)
January 9, 2013 at 10:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I strongly disagree that the cost of earthquake retrofitting was what shut down the Carrillo Hotel. You're telling me the cost of demolition then construction of the new multistory hotel plus the loss revenue was cheaper?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 9, 2013 at 11:06 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Wish there had been more background on the auto camp and interviews with the longtime residents there. This seems more like a PR piece promoting a new business.

Moonrunner (anonymous profile)
January 9, 2013 at 11:08 a.m. (Suggest removal)

It's been traditional throughout newspaper history for articles on new businesses in a community.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 9, 2013 at 11:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

My point is that the State's mandated earthquake retrofitting required demolition. How could a private owner destroy, then rebuild a low income elderly housing facility in Santa Barbara? There was no possible way that could happen economically.

A hotel, on the other hand, did make economic sense. Where in the world would financing come from to build a 30 million dollar charity project?

Lars (anonymous profile)
January 9, 2013 at 12:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It'd make economic sense to kick everybody out of Montecito and create a Wild animal Park to attract tourists too.
While it may have been legal, what happened with the residents of that hotel was wrong in every way. When do you decide you have enough money?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 9, 2013 at 12:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The owners paid to move all 100 residents to Garden Court on De la Vina. Such torture!

Nothing bad "happened with the residents." Oh, no. . . they had to move.

Lars (anonymous profile)
January 9, 2013 at 1:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Wrong, Lars: one of the residents was so upset that she jumped out the window of her room, bounced off the mailbox in front of the building, and died. That's pretty bad, I'd venture to say. The effect of what was done at the Carrillo was horrific; those old people were traumatized and in fact the ones who were shuffled offsite were sent out to Isla Vista to Friendship Manor, which is essentially a desert when you are old and can't drive. There is nowhere to walk to but out into the traffic of El Colegio Rd.

I know this and much more because I used to work at the Carrillo Hotel, for the "Urban Group", consisting of two rather vapid yuppie couples who owned the place and FM in IV. Lovely folks they were; elevators were a hazard that they refused to fix, the meals were the cheapest possible, the place was allowed to fall apart, etc. They quartered a series of European nannies in the hotel, rotating them every 6 months, reasoning that they didn't want their kids getting "too attached" to anyone. Yep...they were the very best of the SB "me" culture.

The retrofit did NOT "require demolition". It simply required safety retrofitting. Oh and... getting up to speed on years of deferred maintenance (like the busted elevators, bad plumbing, etc) the UG had engaged in as it waited for its chance/excuse to tear down and replace the old hotel with yet another high-dollar tourist trap.

There are several of us still around who were actually there and who remember what really happened. Existing, affordable housing for seniors was demolished to accommodate rich tourists. That's what happened. You cannot put enough spin on that truth to make it fit a preferred image.

I will see AE (initials to protect identity), that lovely, gracious lady from Europe who had survived unspeakable horrors of war and occupation, who ended up dead on the front sidewalk, for the rest of my life. I can still hear her voice, her laughter as she sat on the lobby sofa with her daughter and grandchildren. She just couldn't take one more awful loss in her life...yet another loss of home, safety, security.

There were a few others who ended their lives in less spectacular ways, and also the majority who hung their heads and shuffled off wordlessly and tearfully, to their isolation in IV, far from stores, entertainment, restaurants and downtown vibrancy. Vibrancy reserved for the upper-caste tourists. Progress...

As for the hideous Airstreams; well...the cold, industrial style doesn't appeal to me. If I'm going to spend money on a hotel, it has to at LEAST be comfortable and inviting. If I want to sleep in a prison cell, I'll go break some laws and get myself checked into the local greybar hotel...and stay for free.

Holly (anonymous profile)
January 9, 2013 at 2:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Amen Holly.
Photographer Kim Rierson did an excellent show projecting images of the evicted tenants on the building when that whole scandal went down.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 9, 2013 at 2:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Sorry, but renters don't own the buildings they live in. It's terrible that a woman killed herself, but it's not the owner's fault. It made no economic sense to renovate and retrofit with the low rents the old building commanded.

Lars (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 10:06 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Lars you are a heartless soulless lump of unsympathetic bile. I wish people like you would move the heck OUT of SB. Seems money and the rich are the only thing that matter around here. Well, I don't buy it. Most SB landlords are evil. Show me one who isn't...

biguglystick (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 3:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I don't agree that all landlords are evil, but anyone who excuses greed and injustice certainly are.
Wealth and the status only matter to people with no values.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 3:46 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The wealthy of SB give millions to local nonprofits. They feed and house the homeless. They finance wonderful schools like SBCC. Without them we'd be Bakersfield or Oxnard.

Lars (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 6:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

As a collective whole, yes. We weren't talking in generalities.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 6:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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