Entrepreneur John Boll Who Has Died at Age 93 Built Largest U.S. Chain of Mobile Home Parks

(Source: Wall Street Journal) –The following are excerpts from an obituary by James R. Hagerty for WSJ.

John Boll, who started his career as a digger of sewer ditches, relaunched himself in the mid-1960s as a highly successful developer of mobile home parks. One of his goals was to escape the “trailer trash” stigma and prove that such developments could be comfortable and stylish.

The size of his ambition was clear from the name he chose for his company: Chateau Estates.

In what Mr.Boll dubbed five-star communities, residents weren’t allowed to let weeds grow or to perch old cars on cinder blocks. He provided clubhouses, swimming pools, and sometimes fitness centers. Through organic growth, acquisitions, and mergers, the company, renamed Chateau Communities Inc., spread to more than 200 locations in 36 states in the early 2000s. It was the largest mobile-home park company in the U.S.

Once he could no longer visit all the parks, Mr.Boll found it harder to ensure quality. He grew tired of pressures to hit quarterly earnings targets. In 2003, he sold Chateau to Hometown America LLC, owned by the Washington state pension fund, for about $1 billion plus $1.2 billion in assumed debt and preferred stock.

In 1960, a terrible shock interrupted his career: His mother was murdered during an armed robbery at the family’s motel.

Mr. Boll dove back into work and switched from excavating and construction to developing mobile home parks, initially in the Detroit suburbs. He had to overcome opposition from local officials and residents who feared the parks would attract “riff-raff.”

“Most people simply wanted mobile home parks to go away – or at least hide them,” Mr.Boll wrote in a 2021 memoir, “A Wheelbarrow and a Shovel.” He argues that a well-managed mobile-home community could make a town more appealing and attract business.

He also struggled to persuade lenders to finance mobile-home developments. “We don’t lend money for trailers,” one of his bankers told him in the early years.

After convincing the financial doubters, Chateau went public in 1993 and later fought off a hostile takeover bid from Sam Zell’s Manufactured Home Communities Inc.

Mr. Boll is survived by his wife, Marlene Boll, three children, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.


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