2009-05-07 / Sam Bari

A world of cheesy names

You can't beat a system you can't understand
By Sam Bari

The last time I checked, false advertising was against the law, at least in most of this country. Nonetheless, the law does not appear to apply to some businesses. Every day we see evidence of products that do not live up to the claims made by advertisers. Leading the pack are the land developers.

You know, those sleazy people who build "gated communities" on spec, then give them exotic names that have absolutely nothing to do with the structures for sale on the other side of the gates.

First, let's look at the gate. Is there a gate? Yes. Is the gate locked, or even closed? More than likely - no. Do they post a live, human guard at the gate? You must be kidding.

The gate is at the entrance to the development so the builder can call the designer community something like, "Iron Gate Estates." I do not believe that being two-thirds accurate is enough to warrant impunity when we are talking about adhering to a city ordinance covering false advertising.

Yes, the "Iron Gate" does exist, but "Estates?" I don't think a onebedroom cinder block house on a piece of property less than a quarter acre in size can be considered an "estate" by the popular definition of the word. However, the accepted dictionary definition, "an extensive area of land in the country, usually with a large house," is not specific enough to be legally challenged.

The point is developers have attempted to mislead prospective buyers by tacking exotic names to cheesy developments for years. It all started after W.W.II, when armed forces personnel returned from war zones to start families and get on with their disrupted lives. Two things hindered their progress, lack of jobs and housing.

Developers with the entrepreneurial spirit immediately filled the housing shortage and the government took care of the jobs … well, sort of. The developers purchased large tracts of land and instantly erected entire communities of one and two-bedroom houses. The little homes were affordable to anyone with a GI bill.

These neighborhoods turned into the baby factories that put "suburbia" on the map, and they needed identity. Thus the cheesy name syndrome was born.

The obvious ruse on the part of the developers was taken with a grain of salt for several decades, providing fodder for columnists, late night talk shows, and water cooler conversation. This worked until the people living in those homes needed to find new digs for their expanding families.

Then they had to sell their poorly constructed cracker box houses in subdivisions with names like "Tropical Acres," where streets were named after exotic fruit. Addresses on Mango Lane, Papaya Drive, and Guava Terrace might sound exotic, but not when the neighborhood is in South Dakota. Buyers in the age of accountability just laughed at the prospect of making a purchase in such a place.

One would think that the builders had learned their lesson, but alas, no such luck. They saw opportunity knocking again, so they went out and bought more land and built bigger houses for the up and coming social and corporate climbers who had big bucks and wanted to show off their pseudo wealth by living in mini mansions.

The new "burbs" needed upscale names that made them sound much more expensive and ostentatious than they really were. Names like "Deer Run" come to mind. The name came from the last thing the builder saw when the bulldozers showed up to clear the neighborhood. If the name were accurate, the development would have been called "Deer Butt," but I doubt that would have sold many homes.

Florida was experiencing the biggest building boom in the country at the time, and the names of the developments were a constant source of entertainment. Can you imagine calling a neighborhood "Green Hill Manors," in Florida? The entire state is four-feet above sea level, if that. The state is flat as a pancake.

However, the community was aptly named. The green hill came from the landfill that was underneath it. The locals called the neighborhood "Mount Trashmore." Every community has one. I cannot imagine anyone being dumb enough to buy a home on, or even near a landfill.

One of the best names in Florida was "Turtle Run." Show me a turtle that can run and I'll train him for the Kentucky Derby. They might scurry for short distances, but believe me, their feet never leave the ground.

Turtle run was on the edge of the Everglades. Turtles were in the area; that is true. But if the neighborhood were accurately named, the builder would have called it Gator Flats, or Possum Hollow, because the gators and possums outnumbered the suburbanites who lived there.

The funniest name of all however, was in Cobb County, Ga. A high school French teacher was horrified by a subdivision with the snotty name of Les Chateau. She called the developer and told him to either drop the S in Les or add an X to Chateau because she refused to live in the grammatically incorrect status quo.

I must admit that I am guilty of buying a home in a community where every house had a plaque with a name on it. The names were like Casa del Sol, Oak Ridge, and The Retreat. I called mine - Porky Pines, just to annoy the neighbors.

Tune in next week for more reasons why we live in a system we can't understand.

Return to top