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Notable housing site cleared for development

All the trailer houses are gone and this site overlooking Lake George is now for sale. The late Bruce Foster's home is also boarded up. Phil Pfuehler photo

Judie Babcock admits to getting a lump in her throat.

She grew up in a nearby house and later helped her father, the late Bruce Foster, administer the mobile rental homes that made up Foster's Trailer Court.

"It's bittersweet to see it all gone," she said Friday. "There used to be a lot of activity there. You would like to keep a property that's been in the family for five generations. But we didn't have a lot of choices."

The 2.2 acres just southeast of the Falls Street Bridge was recently cleared of its 16 trailer houses. The land that overlooks Lake George and the White Kinnic Pathway is now on the real estate market. Asking price: $750,000.

When sold, Babcock said a developer would likely build townhouses or apartments.

The trailer home park began after World War II.

Babcock said her grandparents, Letha and Earl Foster, were asked by university and city officials to set up the trailer court to accommodate the wave of married college students after the war. Many were returning GIs hoping to earn a college degree. There was no on-campus student housing for married couples.

A family corporation called Foster Associates was later established to oversee the trailer park and other rental properties in River Falls.

Bruce Foster, who died of a heart attack at age 70 in March 2007, did much of the administration and handyman work on the property since the mid-1980s.

Bruce Foster's great-grandfather, Joel Foster, who explored the Kinnickinnic River region in the late 1840s, is regarded as the founder of River Falls.

Judy Babcock said her father pretty much ran the low-rent trailer court for philanthropy.

"He was lenient with the rent, especially for people who really needed a place to live, and he did most of the repairs himself," she said. "It was not a moneymaking proposition."

Babcock said the rental trailers were aging and the city wouldn't allow them to be replaced.

She added that, in her opinion, the city's burdensome and costly regulations prevent small, private property owners from redeveloping.

"That's why we're trying to sell it to someone who's already in the business and has the money to deal with these things," she said.

David Babcock, Judie's husband, said trailer court renters were given notice long ago that the site was in transition to close.

As tenants moved out, he said, their trailers stayed empty. By July, when the trailer park closed, David said only two occupants remained and they have since found housing.

The Babcocks said great care was given to clearing the site.

"As much as possible, everything from steel frames, aluminum siding, concrete blocks, wiring and the appliances were recycled and resold," Judie Babcock said. "We did it as 'green' as Dad would have wanted it. It was the right thing to do."

David and Judie said their general contractor, Billy Liddle, did a "phenomenal, immaculate job" with the demolition so that "the Kinni (Lake George) was protected."

The large, two-story house that Bruce Foster lived in, next to the trailer court and close to the bridge, still stands.

David Babcock said the house has been broken into by vandals several times. It's now empty and heavily boarded up to prevent future break-ins.

Bruce Foster's house will probably be razed if the site is bought and redeveloped. Foster Associates also owns two rental houses next to the old trailer court on West Cascade Avenue that are also for sale.

"They could be sold separately or together," Judie Babcock said. "We're just waiting for a buyer."

The Babcocks said they're getting out of the rental business and all properties associated with Foster Associates have been sold or are up for sale.

Craig Pechacek of WESTconsin Reality is the agent to call if anyone is interested in buying the old Foster Trailer Court site. He can be reached at 425-8133, ext. 7509.