Ohio-built Airstreams become penthouse campground in Cape Town

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA They're more commonly seen being towed along the nation's roads or sitting s
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

They're more commonly seen being towed along the nation's roads or sitting solidly in trailer parks.

But seven Ohio-built Airstreams have gone up in the world by crossing the Atlantic and parking on top of a South African hotel. They're now being billed as the world's first penthouse caravan park, a piece of Americana.

The gleaming vintage caravans were hoisted onto the roof of the four-story building in Cape Town by businessman Jody Aufrichtig, who had to close the main street to allow the crane to lift them into position.

When it opens in mid-December, guests may choose between different-sized units boasting downtown views of Table Mountain, the Atlantic Ocean and the famous V&A Waterfront. They can take a drink from the rooftop bar, view a film in an outside cinema and even collect post from their own U.S.-style mail box.

Each two-bed trailer is decorated in distinctive themes by local artists. Among the themes are the Ballad of John and Yoko, featuring a giant bed and musical instruments; a polka dot design that creates optical illusions; Goldilocks and the Three Bears, with a largely wooden interior and a bunk bed for baby bear.

There's also a trailer called the "Love of Lace" which is designed in plush upholstery and draped fabrics mostly in pink.

The seven Airstreams, heaviest of which weighs 3.5 tons, have been bolted to the floor and will be surrounded by decking.

Aufrichtig, 35, spent $160,000 on the seven trailers that range from 1959 to 1981 models. He bought one on eBay from Florida, another one from a Cape Town trailer park and the remaining five from Helena, Ohio's P&S Trailers.

"I arrived in northern Ohio and spoke to a few people, and they directed me to a little place called Helena, near Sandusky," Aufrichtig said.

Helena is about 33 miles west of Sandusky and 10 miles west of Fremont on U.S. 6.

"We went to this farm where they had 10 Airstreams ... I ended up buying five of them - it was a real stroke of luck, because I didn't want to spend time driving around."

He then spent months dealing with paperwork and suffered 17 rejections for import permits before they were allowed in and he could begin arrangements to hoist them on top of the Grand Daddy Hotel in central Cape Town.

Steve Ruth, one of two brothers who manage the family-owned P&S in Helena, said the experience of having his Airstreams on the roof of a South African hotel is pretty wild.

"It's innovative to come up with this idea," he said. "I've never heard of anything like it before."

Aufrichtig has invited the Ruth brothers over to see their Airstreams, and Steve said he hopes to someday travel to Cape Town to visit the silver bullets he so lovingly restored.

An estimated 100,000 Airstreams have been built since production started in Ohio in the 1930s. Some 70,000 are still in use.

"They're a design classic," the hotelier said. "We're offering something different, a bit alternative, which we hope will appeal to free spirits."