|1964: Neighborhood on the rise|
|By PAUL MICKLE / The Trentonian|
|Mayor Arthur Holland and his young wife were idealistic newlyweds with a baby daughter in 1964 when they decided to restore a house in Trenton's crumbling, if historic, Mill Hill neighborhood.
Betty Holland wanted nothing more than a sturdy house in an old section like Georgetown in Washington D.C., where she had worked, and Mill Hill filled the bill. She and the mayor, an ex-seminarian, gave little thought to the neighborhood being mostly black.
But the media saw the significance and symbolism behind the mayor of an aging American city moving in with his poorest and most disgruntled constituents and Art and Betty Holland became worldwide news. The day after word of the Hollands' planned move hit the Trenton newspapers in February, America's two big news services were calling the couple's home on Tyler Street to hear more from the mayor.
"It was a big story," Betty Holland recalled the other day. "There were big headlines: 'White mayor moving to black neighborhood," and before long every time I picked up the phone it was some reporter. When The New York Times called, I said, 'Art, this is really serious.’ ”
On Feb. 24, four days before the move to 138 Mercer St., Holland's story -- along with a picture of him, Betty and 10?month?old Cynthia Holland -- appeared on the front page of The New York Times.
Life, Look, Ebony and other magazines, plus a host of reporters from the rest of the media, were on hand to record the historic event and interview the mayor, his wife and their former and new neighbors.
In the days that followed, Holland was written up in newspaper reports as a prospect for national office. The Catholic Interracial Council named him Man of the Year. Civil rights groups from around the country invited him to speak.
In June of 1964, Holland told a Washington group that promoted equal housing that reporters ended disappointed after calling to ask if he'd had any "trouble" yet in his new Mill Hill home.
"Unless you want to call it 'an incident' that on Mother's Day, when I was in the hospital, our next?door Negro neighbor baked a pie for my wife and brought it over.
"Our neighbors are just people. There are good and bad in every group. So far, we've found nothing but good and we hope they have the same opinion of us," the mayor said.
It was a "tragedy," he added, that the move attracted so much national attention.
"It's indicative that racial segregation in neighborhoods is a problem not only in Trenton and Washington, but in cities throughout the country," Holland told the group.
The Hollands received congratulatory letters from all over the world, the wife recalled, "and a few letters blasting us." For years afterward, people meeting Holland for the first time would recall his story, Betty Holland said: "Oh, you're the mayor who moved into the black neighborhood.”
But the couple never sought out the notoriety. Their real agenda, Betty Holland said, was to raise a family in an urbane old neighborhood like Washington's restored Georgetown section, which she had come to know while working in D.C. for U.S. Senator Phil Hart of Michigan.
Mill Hill, Trenton's oldest and best situated neighborhood, was a collection of about 300 brick Victorian and Federalist rowhouses that dated to the mid 1800s. By the 1960s, many had been broken up into single?room apartments, which made the neighborhood too crowded, and were falling apart because the owners couldn't afford to maintain them.
Her husband did stand for racial harmony and integration, of course, but Betty Holland said her desire to fix up a battered house and help make a Georgetown of Mill Hill was really what landed them on Mercer Street.
The Hollands were living on Tyler in his boyhood home, which the couple had sold and were renting from the new owners, when the mayor told his wife he had found a suitable place on Mercer near a grassy knoll George Washington had traversed during the Revolutionary War.
It cost $7,000 and, before they could move in, needed at least $20,000 worth of electrical, plumbing and roofing work. The work wasn't finished when the Hollands, strapped by a new mortgage and the rent on Tyler, decided they had to move in and have the restoration finished while they lived there.
A throng of newsmen and neighbors gathered to gawk both on Tyler as the moving van was being packed up and on Mercer to see the arrival of the mayor, his wife and their baby. On Mercer, the Hollands were greeted by neighbors happy to see them and by newsmen happy to poke microphones in their faces.
Always patient with reporters, the Hollands explained repeatedly that they felt Americans of all ethnic backgrounds should and could live together without strife. Betty Holland remembered some people who thought it all politics and predicted they wouldn't last there two years.
"But we lived there for 24 years and we raised five children in that neighborhood, so we proved those people wrong."
And the politics of the move might have ended up working against her husband, Betty Holland said. When he ran for re-election two years later, for instance, Holland lost to Carmen Armenti, and the wife said some analysts blamed it on the move to Mill Hill.
Art Holland never reached national office, but he did win back the mayoral post in 1970 and held on to it until he died in 1989. And through most of the years, until selling for $90,000 and moving to Hiltonia in 1987, he lived in Mill Hill.
Betty Holland said that while she lived there, the restoration of
Mill Hill never seemed to be moving fast enough for her. But Art was a true believer: "He'd say, 'Don't worry. It will take time. It may take 25 years. But it will happen.’ ”
And anyone looking at or pricing a home in Trenton's Mill Hill neighborhood today knows that Holland was right ? that conditions today are vastly improved over what they were in the 1950s and 1960s.
These days, Mill Hill is home to a mix of business, professional and other working people from a variety of ethnic and social backgrounds who pay taxes and have enough money to keep their homes looking nice.
And the developers who are continuing to restore and sell houses in Trenton's Mill Hill section, and making a bundle at it, can thank the late Art Holland and his wife for making it happen.