Wings & Water: Lofty Living

  • Liz Swaine

Greg Farbolin will go a long way for a good omelet, sometimes as far as 50 miles. Nearly every Saturday morning, Farbolin and the other two dozen members of the Gaggle Group, an informal club of aircraft enthusiasts, fly their biplanes and Piper Cubs from the Daytona area to one of a handful of different airports in southern Florida to sample the eggs, bacon, and pancakes on each airport restaurant’s menu. “It’s like turning back the clock,” says Farbolin, who owns a Great Lakes biplane and a Turbo Commander. “At one airport, we walk across to a gas station that looks like Goober would be working there, and then eat at a classic breakfast diner that surely has not changed or been redecorated for 30 years.”

The members of the Gaggle Group are not just friends, but neighbors who share a passion for planes—as well as a runway. Farbolin, 43, is one of 250 full-time residents of Spruce Creek, a 1,200-acre gated residential airpark outside of Daytona. Like his neighbors, Farbolin lives in a hangar home, where his 2,000-square-foot master bedroom is only steps away from his two planes. Instead of loading his car with gear and driving 30 minutes to an airport, Farbolin can board one of his planes seconds after finishing his morning coffee, taxi to the runway, and take off. “I’d rather live in a pup tent in Spruce Creek than in a mansion in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta,” says Farbolin, who is one of the owners of the Original Honey Baked Ham Co.

Spruce Creek is one of more than an estimated 550 residential airparks in the United States, and the interest in hangar homes continues to rise each year. Residents cite the ease of accessing their planes as one reason for their popularity, but Ben Sclair, copublisher of Living With Your Plane, a newsletter devoted to hangar homes, believes an airpark’s neighborhood atmosphere is its strongest selling point. “Back in the 1950s and ’60s, towns were communities,” says Sclair. “You knew your neighbors, and you didn’t just pull into your driveway, open your garage, and never see the person next door. In an airpark, you reach back to the ’50s and ’60s when people did get together with their neighbors. There’s a sense of that community.”

At Spruce Creek, 13 miles of taxiways connect the homes of Farbolin and his neighbors to the main runway, a 4,000-foot lighted stretch of concrete. The taxiways also connect the homes to each other, and just as the front porch was once the gathering place for a town’s neighbors, the hangar has become the social epicenter at Spruce Creek and other airparks. “We have authors who live here, CEOs, even the guy who invented the computer hard drive,” Farbolin says. “There is such a concentration of wealth and talent that no one brags about what they do. We just all talk airplanes. If you come down here and try to impress the guy wearing greasy overalls, it will bite you in the butt, because chances are, this guy has led a life that will put yours to shame.”

Farbolin, who has lived at Spruce Creek with his wife, Tina, and two children for two years, says he chose the airpark and his house because he was buying a lifestyle, not just a home. His 13,600-square-foot residence, originally built for NASCAR racer Mark Martin, was not on the market, but Farbolin saw the property and wanted to buy it. Martin sold him the house turnkey, leaving Farbolin with every rug, painting, and piece of furniture. “It’s just absolutely over the top,” Farbolin says of the home. “The sunken living room has a 25-foot ceiling. I joke with my wife that when I sit in there, I need to wear a ball cap with a brim that gives me an artificial ceiling. That way I don’t feel like I’m sitting on the floor of the space shuttle assembly center.”

After transporting his planes (as well as a BMW Z3, two Harley-Davidsons, and a Prevost motorhome) to his porcelain-floored hangar, Farbolin wasted no time in plugging in his headset and flying every Saturday with the Gaggle Group. On Sundays, they ride their Harleys around Daytona. During the week, the neighbors shuttle back and forth between their homes to talk planes and enjoy each other’s company. “I’ve told people that there’s a thin line between a community and a commune, and Spruce Creek is on that line,” Farbolin says. “It’s very nice to know most of the people you bump into in such a place. The 13 miles of taxiways are really the life of the place. To be at home with the hangar door open means that you are going to meet people.”

One Spruce Creek hangar home—the largest house in Volusia County—is currently for sale for $5.7 million. Ken Renner, a realtor at Spruce Creek Fly-In Realty, calls the 27,000-square-foot house Sub-Tropical Paradise, but Spruce Creek residents refer to it as the Swiss Embassy in reference to its owner, a resident of Switzerland. The owner visits the home five or six times a year to fly his 1998 Cessna 182, which is parked in one of the home’s two hangars. The mansion took two and a half years to build, and contains Italian tile laid by European craftsmen who flew to Florida to complete the project.

Sub-Tropical Paradise is not the only hangar home in the area for sale. Jumbolair, a new residential airpark that will contain 125 hangar homes, is being developed 75 miles away in Ocala. The first home, which belongs to actor John Travolta, will be completed in January.

In 1980, Arthur Jones, the inventor of Nautilus exercise equipment, and his then-wife, Terri, purchased the 550-acre plot and converted Jumbolair into their home, as well as a sanctuary for exotic animals. They also built a 7,550-foot runway to fly in orphaned elephants from Zimbabwe on their Boeing 707.

Five years ago, Terri, who has since remarried, bought Arthur’s share of Jumbolair and decided to turn it into an airpark. Jumbolair already has a club and an equestrian center, and plans call for tennis courts and perhaps a golf course. “We’re out here in the country,” Terri says. “If you don’t know where we are, it would be tough to drive and find us. The town will have no idea that the high-profile people have been here. They’ll come, spend time on the property, taxi out their back door, and leave, and no one will have any idea they’ve visited.”

Discretion is not a primary concern for all hangar home residents, certainly not for the members of the Gaggle Group. A sign on one of the Spruce Creek taxiways reads: Caution. Children (And Adults) At Play. It’s an accurate description of the airpark’s lifestyle. “We have a lot of people here enjoying their second childhood,” Renner says. “We have a lot of people with a lot of toys who like to go out and play.”

Spruce Creek Fly-In Realty, 386.788.4991 or 800.932.4427, www.fly-in.com; Jumbolair, 352.401.1990, www.jumbolair.com

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