A boutique hotel in South Africa is about to unveil seven new rooms with a twist. They are Airstream trailers, those classic American RVs. But that isn't the strange part: These trailers have been hoisted on top of the building, creating what is billed as the world's first rooftop trailer park.
But there will be nothing rustic about them. Jody Aufrichtig has already put seven of the Airstream trailers on top of his Grand Daddy Hotel in Cape Town, where they enjoy views of Table Mountain, the city centre and the Atlantic Ocean. Guests in these unlikely penthouses, starting mid-December, will be able to get a drink at the rooftop bar, see a movie in an outdoor cinema and collect mail from their own mailbox. There isn't a campfire, communal shower or playground in sight.
Aufrichtig and his business partner, Nicholas Ferguson, had to close the street outside the hotel for a crane to lift the trailers onto the four-storey building. He spent $193,000 on the Airstreams, the heaviest of which weighs 3½ tonnes. (They have now been bolted to the roof.)
The gleaming vintage trailers will be decorated in different themes by local artists. Among the themes will be one inspired by John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1969 Bed-Ins For Peace, featuring a giant bed along with art utensils and musical instruments; and a Goldilocks and The Three Bears theme, with a largely wooden interior, three sets of cutlery and plates, a bunk bed (for Baby Bear) and bear costumes in the closet.
Aufrichtig, 35, a former chartered accountant, said the trailer park is a sort of commentary on the instability of doing business in some parts of southern Africa. He got the idea last year while daydreaming about opening a hotel in the wilderness of nearby Malawi. His wife's answer, he recalls, was pragmatic: "Yes, it would be great, but governments here have a habit of coming along when something's successful and taking it away" - a pointed reference to neighbouring Zimbabwe.
Then Aufrichtig remembered an Airstream trailer he had seen in the film What's Eating Gilbert Grape. "I thought we could put them on the roof - and friends could take them away if we got in trouble."
Bullet-like Airstream trailers, with their rounded aluminum bodies and luxury interiors, have cult status in the U.S. Famously, Neil Armstrong and the crew of Apollo 11 were quarantined in a modified Airstream after their successful moonwalk mission in 1969.
An estimated 100,000 have been built since production started in Ohio in the 1930s, with around 70,000 still in use. "They're a design classic," the hotelier says.
Five of Aufrichtig's trailers were bought on a trip to Ohio in May, another on eBay from a seller in Florida and the seventh was purchased from a local trailer park.
But who does he expect to stay at the rooftop site, especially during the winter months, when Cape Town suffers regular downpours and high winds? "We're offering something different, a bit alternative which we hope will appeal to free spirits," he says.
Anyway, there's not much for the hotelier to lose. The rooftop "is all wasted space for us," he adds. "I don't know why people leave them empty."
38 Long St., Cape Town,
South Africa; 866-539-0036; www.daddylonglegs.co.za.