Twenty years ago, three Revere Street residents in Maplewood grew concerned when they saw a growing number of “for sale” signs sprouting up on local lawns.
The three were worried that their neighborhood was facing disinvestment and deterioration. So they decided to act.
The three residents leafletted Maplewood’s Hilton neighborhood — which roughly spans the portion of Maplewood south of Springfield Avenue — and formed the Hilton Neighborhood Association.
Current Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca was the HNA’s first president.
“They put up a meeting at Hilton United Methodist Church in June 1995,” said DeLuca, crediting those Revere Street residents — Linda Sperco, Gail DePaul and Mike Gera. “One hundred people showed up, including [Mayor] Ellen Davenport and [future Mayor] Jerry Ryan and from there we decided to set up an organization.”
“We agreed from the beginning on two things,” said DeLuca: (1) picking a date every month to meet and never wavering; and (2) putting out a monthly newsletter. “It was important to have that consistency, to build an institution.” (See two early editions of the newsletter below.)
DeLuca said that the group decided to fight disinvestment and dropping land values by “embracing the diversity of the community and the resilience, and that’s what we did. We celebrated the multicultural aspects of Hilton.” This is a credo that has followed HNA through its 20 years of existence and flowed through the greater Maplewood and South Orange community. DeLuca noted that HNA celebrates Black History Month each February as well as religious and cultural events like Kwanzaa, Christmas and Hanukkah and “various Muslim celebrations.”
“This has always been a thread,” said DeLuca, “respecting, honoring and celebrating diversity.”
DeLuca said that the HNA was also instrumental in getting the town to “pay attention” to Hilton. “Some of first battles were to get the front of the Department of Public Works [on Boyden Avenue] to look more presentable.”
HNA was also forming at the same time as the College Hill Neighborhood Association on the north side of Springfield Avenue. Together the two organizations were instrumental in the ultimate formation of the Springfield Avenue Partnership, which is charged with revitalizing the neighborhood’s main commercial corridor. “We understood the impact,” said DeLuca. (DeLuca also credits another former Mayor — Fred Profeta — for his involvement in the formation of the SAP as Planning Board liaison.)
DeLuca cites the formation of the Springfield Avenue Partnership and the ongoing revitalization of Springfield Avenue as one of HNA’s major accomplishments. “There’s been progress there. It has helped to make the Avenue a more attractive place and a safer place.”
Realtor Mark Slade of Keller Williams — who is also a former board member of the Springfield Avenue Partnership — agrees.
“You can’t ignore the fact that the years of work on Springfield Avenue have contributed greatly to this re-invigoration [of Hilton] as new businesses have come in to supplement the new police station and courthouse, making Springfield Avenue a working ‘bridge’ between the Hilton neighborhood and the adjoining College Hill neighborhood,” said Slade.
The HNA’s other major accomplishments?
“Branding Hilton as a desirable community is the No. 1 thing,” said DeLuca. “We have t-shirts and all that. It’s just important. There’s a robust interest in people moving here and staying here and being a part of the community.”
And people are moving to Hilton.
“I happy to say that the Hilton Neighborhood has become one of the more vibrant neighborhoods for home sales in the past year,” said Slade.
Slade noted that part of Hilton’s appeal was a result of some buyers being priced out of neighborhoods that are closer to Maplewood Village and the train station, but he also said that Hilton has other appeals: “I view the Hilton neighborhood as one of the coveted locations for first-time buyers who were renters in Brooklyn and Hoboken.”
How hot is Hilton? Slade reported that home sales in 2012-2013 averaged $269,000, with buyers paying 97% of asking price; while in 2014-2015 with the year not yet half over, “homes in the Hilton neighborhood are averaging $298,500 and selling for virtually 100% of asking price.” Slade said that unit sales are also showing “huge increases as there were 19 closed sales in 2012-2013 and we already have 19 closed sales with seven more ‘on deck’ and three more actives with another six-plus months to go.”
HNA’s other major accomplishment, according to DeLuca, is “creating the premiere place for political dialogue at election time.” The HNA hosts candidates forums for every Township Committee primary and election and every South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education election.
Current HNA President Carol Buchanan has been involved with HNA throughout its two decades. “It’s been very enriching in my life getting involved with my neighbors, some of whom we never would have known,” said Buchanan, whose husband Jim is also a longtime HNA member. “The township listens to us now because they know we have an organization.”
“We love our neighborhood,” said Buchanan. “A lot of young people are moving in and the houses are looking better than ever and we love it!”
“It’s not easy to do that for 20 years,” said DeLuca. “A lot of people have come and gone. There is a core group of folks.” The next step, said DeLuca, is to get younger residents involved.
“It’s a challenge because they are raising their children,” said DeLuca. But HNA membership age diversity may just be the organization’s next big accomplishment.
Interested in joining the Hilton Neighborhood Association or receiving the monthly newsletter? Contact Carol Buchanan at email@example.com.