August 3, 1997 in City

Hillyard Renaissance Proud Parade, Artsy Face Lift Reverse Fortune Of Neighborhood Plagued By Disreputable Past

Virginia De Leon Staff writer

Some people will go the extra mile for a parade.

Take it from Hillary Steeneck, a 9-year-old who built her own float for the annual Hillyard Festival.

She had planned on riding a bike with her little sister in an attached baby carrier.

But the bike was stolen just days before.

So she made a float - a small, rickety contraption crafted from an old skateboard, a cardboard box and pink Christmas tree garland.

On Saturday, she proudly pulled it down Market Street with her 1-year-old sister, Mattea, sitting in a box of sand.

“I wanted to do it for my sister,” she said, glancing toward the toddler in a bathing suit who played with a pail and shovel. “It’s called ‘Off to the Beach.”’

The siblings were among thousands of people who took part in the parade. For less than a half-hour, the two rambled along the route, sandwiched by a fire truck and bus.

They marched along with dozens of entries, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, antique car collectors and political candidates who smiled and waved from convertibles.

“We’re very proud of our community,” said Wendell Banning, one of the organizers and owner of Hillyard Florist. “We love the people out here.”

Others, including Karen Baker, also made an extra effort to take part in the parade.

Stricken with degenerative arthritis, Baker hobbled down the street with the help of two metal crutches secured to her arms. Despite her struggle, she comes to the Hillyard parade every year wearing a blue wig and a red and yellow clown costume.

“It’s the community coming together to celebrate diversity,” she said, smiling through the thick, white makeup on her face.

As children scrambled for candy thrown from passing cars and grocery carts, many adults and store owners stood nearby waving and cheering for the parade participants.

Hillyard has changed dramatically over the years, they said. And the parade and the annual Hillyard Festival are proof of that.

Located near the railroad tracks, the area used to be “a rough drinking town with a blue-collar history,” said Brooke Plastino, longtime Hillyard resident.

Now, it’s leaning toward artsy, he said, pointing to the rows of antique markets and cozy cafes.

The parade and festival shows how businesses and residents have worked together to change Hillyard’s tainted image, many said.

“It’s more hometown,” said Fern Woods, 83, who moved to the area in 1952. “People got sick and tired of being run-down. … We love it here.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 color)

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