The last week in Lowry Grove: Another mobile home park shutters

Jean Christianson gives volunteers a thumbs down.
Jean Christianson gives a thumbs down to St. Anthony Village volunteers Andrea Voss and Nancy Robinett Tuesday afternoon.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Jean Christianson has spent the last few months sitting on her front porch, watching the homes around her being hauled away.

There's been noise and chaos — and a lot of goodbyes.

Jean Christianson sits on her patio.
Jean Christianson sits on her patio.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"I lost my two best neighbors," she said. "It's sad. Just sad."

Christianson, who is in her 80s, is one of the few remaining residents of Lowry Grove, a mobile home park in St. Anthony, Minn.

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Lowry Grove will close forever this Friday, after 70 years of operation.

The park, which once held more than 90 households, has gradually emptied over the last year. Residents first learned it would close when a letter was dropped in their mailboxes last April: The Village LLC had purchased Lowry Grove, with plans to demolish the park and build roughly 800 new units across several new buildings.

An abandoned trailer in Lowry Grove.
A trailer with the siding ripped off sits in Lowry Grove last fall.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The letter spurred a fight over the park's future: There were protests and marches; impassioned testimony at St. Anthony city council meetings; a lawsuit.

Residents argued that Minnesota law gave them the right to buy Lowry Grove and keep it open. The state's attorney general weighed in and agreed, calling the sale illegal and saying the new owners should have to continue to operate the park.

But the residents' case is still working its way through the courts. There are no remaining legal options to keep Lowry Grove open. The park was originally scheduled to close in March, but the new owners pushed the closure date to June 30, 2017, to let the children in the park finish out the school year.

Christianson wasn't sure where she would end up, until yesterday. She's lived in the park for over a decade. She thought it would be her last home.

Her first priority was to find a place for her one true love — her piano. Movers came earlier this week to put it in storage.

Eleven-year-old Ydira Sanchez holds the door of her mobile home.
Ydira Sanchez, 11 holds the door of her mobile home open as volunteer Nancy Robinett loads her family's belongings into the back of Robinett's minivan.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Christianson learned to play the piano growing up in Minnesota. (The French horn was her first choice, but fate has a way, she said.) She used to play for crowds of golfers and sailors at a bar in La Jolla, Calif., she remembers.

She doesn't play much anymore, though, because her piano's out of tune — and tuning is expensive. She wanted to wait to see where she would land before investing in it. She's going to move in with her daughter, for now.

Christianson wasn't alone in her difficulty finding a new place. Some residents still aren't sure where they'll go, with just three days until the deadline.

A sign outside Bill McConnell's trailer protests Lowry Grove's closure
Bill McConnell, who has lived in the park for 31 years, still had a sign outside his home protesting the closure on Tuesday, four days before the deadline.
Maria Alejandra Cardona | MPR News

Lowry Grove had been one of the few affordable housing options in St. Anthony. Residents rented the land their mobile homes sat on for about $480 each month. Comparable situations are hard to come by.

Since the park's sale — and with some money from a state relocation fund and some from the park's new owners — many residents have been able to move their manufactured homes to other parks, in Fridley or Blaine or Little Canada.

But mobile home parks in the Twin Cities metro area with available space are getting harder to find: Roughly half of all park closures in Minnesota in the last 30 years have been in Hennepin County, according to Dave Anderson, a board member of the nonprofit All Parks Alliance for Change. These days there are fewer places to move your home to.

And then there are the residents who can't move their homes, even if they could find a place, because they're too old, too rusted.

Antonia Alvarez's home is one of those: It rolled off the factory line in 1962.

Over the last year, Alvarez has led the residents' efforts to keep Lowry Grove open. She became the face of defiance at city council meetings. She walked barefoot, carrying a cross, for the six-mile march between Lowry Grove and the county courthouse the first time their case against the developers was heard.

She'll move in with a friend who lives nearby when Lowry Grove closes, so that her middle school-aged daughter can stay in the school district. But Alvarez has promised her neighbors she'll stay in Lowry Grove until the end.

She'd like to buy a house, she said, but she's in limbo because of the legal case against her.

In response to the residents' lawsuit over the park's closure, The Village filed a counterclaim, alleging that Alvarez defamed the company. The suit claims that Alvarez's statements about dangerous conditions in the park and racial discrimination against residents — many of whom were Hispanic — are false. That case, too, is ongoing.

Lowry Grove residents clean out their homes before tear-down.
A memorial is shown on the steps of Frank Adelmann's mobile home, A-13.
Maria Alejandra Cardona | MPR News

In the last days of Lowry Grove, Alvarez has taken it upon herself to make sure everyone has a place to go. She wants to make sure everyone's getting comparable money to move, and that no one's getting left out. On one of her last rounds, she ended up knocking on Frank Adelmann's door.

The two had never spoken before, Alvarez said later, but she introduced herself. Adelmann had lived in the park for 13 or 14 years. It was the only place he'd lived that he'd owned himself, his sister said.

"I'm worried about how you're going to get out of the park," Alvarez remembered telling Adelmann.

"He told me very carefully: This is my home. I'm not going to leave Lowry Grove."

His sister came by later that week, to let him know that she'd found a new place for him to move, but he didn't come to the door.

Adelmann died on June 20. The St. Anthony Police Department confirmed he took his own life.

In one of their last gatherings as a neighborhood, the residents of Lowry Grove held a vigil for Adelmann, outside his trailer on lot A-13. Many of the surrounding lots are now empty — just a pair of stairs leading to a door that's gone.

The remnants of a memorial for Frank Adelmann.
The remnants of a memorial sit on the steps of Frank Adelmann's mobile home.
Evan Frost | MPR News

More than 40 neighbors attended the vigil. They held balloons and sang and prayed. Adelmann's sisters joined the group. A close friend who identified herself as Nancy spoke about their decades-old friendship.

"I love you, Frank. I'll miss you forever," she said, looking skyward. "And I will take care of your cat."

The mayor of St. Anthony, Jerry Faust, made a brief appearance. Alvarez called over the crowd to him.

"I don't want his death to be in vain," she said. "I want you to make sure that there will be affordable housing here."

Faust said affordable housing has always been part of the plan for the redevelopment of Lowry Grove. Early proposals from The Village included nearly a hundred units of affordable housing as part of the redevelopment, out of 800 new units. The company is currently working on revised sketches to submit to the city for approval.

Some residents of St. Anthony Village, from neighborhoods that surround the park, think 100 units is not enough. They've been outspoken about Lowry Grove's closure, and the lack of affordable housing in the city as a whole. When it became clear the park would close, a group of neighbors began organizing to help in any capacity they could: helping people pack, providing dinners, calling other parks — and, in one case, moving a Lowry Grove family into their own home.

Bill McConnell, a retiree who has lived in the park for 31 years, appreciates the help — and the meals.

Lowry Grove residents clean out their homes before tear-down.
The trailers' remnants make a blueprint of trash and garments from an empty home.
Maria Alejandra Cardona | MPR News

This Friday, when McConnell walks out his front door for the last time, he said he's not going to lock it behind him.

And he's not going to look back.

It won't even be his house anymore by then — it will just be scrap metal. It's among those that are too old to move.

Ask McConnell where he's going next, and you'll get a joke: "Coming soon to a Walmart parking lot near you."

Then, he turns serious. Maybe a parking lot, maybe a highrise, maybe a house. But not another park. His experience with Lowry Grove's closing has left him wary.

"I'll probably give up on parks," McConnell said. "Because now they're a bull's eye for any developer."

Clarification (June 29, 2017): An earlier version of this story was unclear on the options Frank Adelmnann's sisters had found for moving his mobile home. The story has been updated.