Lawrence Welk will probably kill me for this, but I found paradise eight miles north of Escondido. You see, Mr. Welk owns paradise and he's already got a waiting list of about 5,000 people who want in. So if everyone who reads this wants in, too, that means about 25,000 more candidates for paradise. Not that you could get in.
First of all, you have to be retired.
And you should have a strong liking for golf. You’ll have to submit to a thorough screening. But most of all you have to be willing to live in a mobile home. Not a trailer, but a 24-feet wide mobile home you will own and whose site you will rent. Because paradise is Lawrence Welk's Country Club Village, a neatly laid out mobile-home-park-golf-course-hotel-restaurant resting on the green, boulder-strewn hills of a snug little valley 45 minutes from San Diego.
Want a glimpse of paradise?
Then take Highway 395 north to “Champagne Boulevard” and make a sharp right. Aside from the name of that thoroughfare, the only other clues you're nearing Paradise are two light brown signs with red arrows pointing the way.
Your first view of the promised land is from Champagne, the main drag, the only drag: light green golf course, dark green trees, green green hills, pale green hotel and clubhouse, a few green mobile homes sprinkled in with the others.
Bert Carter is manager of Country Club Village. He is 60ish, calm, relaxed, Lawrence Welk’s close friend and your introduction to life in paradise. Mr. Carter greets you in his wood-paneled office in the clubhouse. He is wearing a green sweater. How, you inquire, does one go about living in paradise (a name that will be used often not only by Mr. Carter, but by residents, visitors, employees and Mr. Welk himself in his Village brochures? “Well, first you write your name and address on one of these pages.” Mr. Carter says, reaching for the last spiral notebook in a bulging file cabinet drawer. “Then, if we have an opening, we ask you to fill out an application form, check your references and if we approve you.you can move in. Of course, we haven't had a vacant space in five years. You won't find any for sale signs here. When someone does leave, we take care of the sales for them.”
You also won't see any street signs. Each of the 205 mobile homes is identified by a black and white nameplate bearing its residents’ names and assigned site number. The sole exception is a long, brown, rectangular residence set apart from the others by its perfectly manicured front lawn, stucco-like walls and rich wood awning. No nameplate needed here. This is the personal abode of Mr. Welk and his family, who visit paradise when the rigors of Champagne Music-making require respite. The home is valued at $100,000 and, like the rest of the $10 million complex, is owned entirely by Mr. Welk. “This place is just a drop in the bucket of Mr. Welk's real estate holdings," Mr. Carter says. While Welk's “mobile home” (I defy you to find the wheels) is not at the highest point in paradise, it does have a commanding view of the golf course, the hotel and the restaurant, the Welkome Inn. Which gives rise to the query: Does the image of Lawrence Welk loom large in attracting potential paradisians and keeping the home folks satisfied? Mr. Carter: “I don’t know if you need Lawrence Welk's name to attract people. The only thing his name does is assure people everything here is first class. People fall in love with this place the first time they see it. They say it’s because of the peacefulness, the serenity. And we’ve not spent five cents for advertising since Lawrence bought the place 10 years ago. Of course. Lawrence mentions it on his show once in a while." (The estimated number of Lawrence Welk Show viewers is 30 million, a brochure points out.)
Indeed, Welkian images at paradise are few. An accordian-playing Welk grins from a painting to clubhouse visitors. Champagne Music is piped into the restaurant and gift shop, where one may buy Welk records (albums by the Lennon Sisters, who have left the Welk show “they were going to set the world on fire,” says Mr. Carter — are tucked in the bottom corner, in the back), souvenirs and autographed copies of Mr. Welk's autobiography marked down to $1.95 from the original $7.95 in appreciation of your visit to paradise. Plaques and other honors accorded Mr. Welk line the restaurant waiting room wall. Not much else in evidence. A few residents admit that they don’t even like Champagne Music and that Mr. Welk's name had nothing to do with their moving in. But Joe Moss, a three-year resident, may express the general sentiments of his 400 fellow Villagers when he says. “You get a different kind of feeling knowing that Lawrence Welk owns the place, rather than someone like, say, Frank Sinatra.”
Mr. Sinatra himself may be chagrined to learn that there apparently are no strangers in paradise. Everyone waves to each other, resident and visitor alike. Doors are left unlocked, even when Villagers venture out to Escondido or Vista for shopping. “We’ve never had a burglary, an incident, not anything. There is an occasional wetback or two who stop by looking for food and water on their journey north," one resident says. Residents may have discovered paradise the same way Mr. Welk did — by accident. As he tells it in a brochure. “Two years ago (it's an old brochure), while driving along Route 395, I was attracted by an area situated in a valley, surrounded by green hills and studded with oak and sycamore trees. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen in my life." Mr. Welk soon after purchased the faltering golf course in the valley and began the conversion to paradise. He still pops in often to check up on things, unwind in his home or on the course, and mingle with the folks. He's especially fond of potluck dinners and can be coaxed into entertaining at those he attends. And although he has homes in choice locations throughout the state. Mr. Welk “aspires to retire here,” Mr. Carter says.
To the casual observer. paradise is an almost unbroken stream of happy retirees towing their golf clubs behind bicycles down to the links. There are other attractions: a pool, a game room, the clubhouse, organized social events.
“The chief complaint residents have is that they come here to retire hut are kept too busy,” Mr. Carter reports. In a word, everyone seems content. And well they should. Almost financial soulmates to Lawrence Welk, they have paid cash for their homes. Trailer size is limited by California State Highway laws, so there is little keeping up with the Joneses. There is no infighting, no neighborhood cliques there is only one neighborhood. A lot of this is due to the screening process, which boils down to one screen: Mr. Carter. Says one resident, “If you get the wrong type of people in here you get a lot of friction. Bert Carter is very careful about the type of people he allows to move in. He doesn't want any friction. He meets everyone on the premise that there aren’t any spaces available. Then he gets to know you from there.” What kind of people live in paradise? Well, Joe Moss was head of interior decorating at Paramount Pictures for 40 years, Kd Christensen owned a pattern shop. Dr. William McCann was a professor at Stanford, and Geoffrey Brown was chief steward for the Matson line for 40 years. They are all of some means. They are all into or past middle age. Most prefer golf to shuffleboard. And they are all white. In short, they're probably very much like you, if you want to live in paradise.
Okay, you’re still interested. You agree that heaven on earth is for you. There’s one consideration you’ll have to keep in mind, though, a rule that is strictly enforced: Liquor is taboo in paradise. Not in the privacy of your mobile home, naturally, but in the clubhouse, by the pool, on the fairway and at all social functions. You see, Lawrence Welk is a teetotaler. Honestly now, will you ever be able to listen to Champagne Music again? Sorry if that bursts your bubble about paradise, but if you can live with that knowledge, you’re an obvious candidate for the place. Pack up all your cares and woes and waltz on out to see Mr. Carter. And if you should get in, leave your Frank Sinatra records at the gate.