Pushing Tin

Nestled in the middle of the Twin Cities, the tiny trailer-park city of Hilltop (pop. 766) has been getting shoved around since the day it was born

What follows is the once-upon-a-time story of a group of trailer park residents who were spurned and kicked around until one day they got fed up and created a humble little city they could call their own, complete with a magnificent 24-hour Flameburger restaurant. This all happened a long time ago, but before we proceed with this largely neglected chapter of local history, I'd like to ask each and every one of you to look into your heart of darkness and unburden yourself of the more uncharitable notions you harbor there. I ask you to pause for just one moment--it won't take long--and think about some of the things the phrase "trailer park" inevitably conjures in your mind. 'Fess up, you hateful wretches: Trailer trash. Tin gypsies. Human Humane Society. Blatz Babylon. Hee-Haw Heaven. Redneck Reservation. Arkansas Timeshares. Methamphetamine Inc. NASCAR Fantasy Camp. George Jonestown. Disgraceland. Hillbilly Hilton. Unplanned Parenthood.

There. I must admit, the harshness and inspired malice of your associations astonishes and appalls even me. I'd like you to leave these odious judgments behind for a time. I want to introduce you to the little city of Hilltop. It is, I contend, a tough and charming exemplar of the best sort of bootstrap democracy, and I'd like to think that you're going to be very ashamed of yourselves.

Study a map of the Twin Cities sometime. Chances are good you've never even noticed Hilltop. Even if you've driven past the city along Central Avenue Northeast, its roughly four-block eastern border, you probably wouldn't have paid it much mind. The town is completely surrounded by its longtime antagonist, Columbia Heights. Like Lesotho, the little country marooned in the middle of South Africa, or San Marino, the diminutive republic in central Italy, Hilltop is an obscurity contained entirely within someone else's borders. It's a time-warp island in the middle of the metropolitan map, and its history suggests that the town owes both its survival and the frequent threats to its existence to the same unavoidable reality: It's so completely, essentially different.

To those accustomed to the relatively roomy grid of the city, with its orderly plots and endless right angles, the tiny north suburban community of Hilltop seems like a claustrophobic tangle of one-ways and dead-end lanes. To a first-time visitor the town feels like a squat, isolated place, and wandering its trailer-lined streets you'd never know you're in the middle of a sprawling metropolis. With all the local businesses clustered along its busy border avenues, the interior of Hilltop is stripped of the sort of commercial hustle that you associate with an actual town; there are no billboards, no neon signs, no clinics or convenience stores or dry cleaners. Its 16 square blocks of little lots and narrow streets are, for practical purposes, a single neighborhood. Or, in the eyes of many outsiders, a trailer park masquerading as an incorporated city.

One night in late December, a damp fog settled on the town, and the trailers were lit up in the fog like Halloween pumpkins or Chinese lanterns. Walking the disconcertingly dark streets, you'd have had the feeling of walking among houseboats docked along a quiet river. Light snow was falling through the lamps along the narrow lanes, and the modest displays of holiday lights up and down the rows looked poignant and forlorn. But then, Hilltop is full of poignant and telling details: American flags, decorated mailboxes, handmade signs routed with the names of the homesteaders, children's playthings strewn about, small garden plots presided over by lawn statuary of trolls, miniature deer, the Virgin Mary. Through windows I saw the familiar blue glow of televisions looming in living rooms, a little girl doing jumping jacks, and a group of people gathered around a kitchen table, playing cards. Granted, it was a cold evening, but I did not encounter a single keg party or front-stoop banjo picker or roving pack of insolent peckerwoods, no feral strays or cockfights or randy housewives. I didn't even see many pickup trucks. I guess it was a quiet night in Hilltop. Or maybe those colorful and entertaining things you think you know about trailer parks are based almost purely on some of our broadest and most stubborn cultural stereotypes.

 

Hilltop's city offices are located in a modest building tucked away behind Big Bob's Carpet just inside the town's eastern border. Built in 1988, on the former site of Shaky Al's Junkyard, the Hilltop community center is a serious upgrade from the modest trailer that once served as the town hall. The little burg consists mainly of four mobile-home parks crammed into 80 acres. Oh, Hilltop also has a few apartment buildings, a handful of condominiums, a dozen or so site-built homes, and a couple of strip malls along its periphery, but the great majority of the town's 766 residents live in the 263 mobile homes that sit within the city's borders. (Hilltop is one of only two incorporated cities in America that consist primarily of "manufactured housing"--trailers, that is; the other is the St. Paul suburb of Landfall.)

The official history of Hilltop, such as it is, stands recorded in a couple of fat blue binders in the city's office. Browsing through these archives--scrapbooks, really, containing brochures, newspaper clippings, and vintage photographs--conjures a community that seems equal parts Mayberry, Peyton Place, and Twin Peaks. The city had its own police department for years, until 1972, when one of its officers drove the town's only squad car into a tree. The city couldn't afford to replace the car and the Hilltop PD was history. The city's archives also include the recorded proceedings of the Hilltop Village court, which as recently as April 1964 was issuing fines for petty crimes that included driving the wrong way on a one-way street, disorderly conduct, and smoking in bed ($55). The city's early ordinances (signed into law on June 4, 1956 by William Wychor, the town's first mayor) wisely prohibited such indisputably undesirable vagrants as "fortune tellers and other such like imposters"; "a person known to be a pickpocket, thief, burglar, yeggman, or confidence man and having no visible or lawful means of support"; anyone "procuring or attempting to solicit money or any other thing of value by falsely pretending and representing himself to be blind, deaf, dumb, without arms or legs, or to be otherwise physically deficient"; and "a person wandering about and lodging in taverns, groceries, ale houses, market places, sheds, stables, barns, or other uninhabited buildings or in the open air, and not giving a good account of himself." I'd ask you now to pause once again and consider: Does this meticulous concern for matters of public decency and safety, as evidenced by the vigilant and fiercely moral tone of these ordinances, jibe with any of the cruel notions from our earlier catalog of affronts? I think not.

 

Ruth Nelson is the Hilltop city manager, and the town's only full-time employee. She's a modest, pointedly efficient woman, and a one-woman chamber of commerce. She's not defensive, exactly, but it's clear she's proud of her town and doesn't suffer fools gladly.

"Convenience and affordability are the two big reasons why people come here," Nelson says. "But the independence, privacy, and sense of community are the reasons people stay. Despite what people think, there is nothing mobile about the homes and nothing transient about the population." Nelson estimates that the community experiences a turnover of less than five percent of the populace in an average year. "People tend to stay long enough to get to know each other," she says. "This is a town where everyone pretty much knows everybody else, certainly much more so than in a suburban neighborhood. And the location is convenient; we're right on a bus line into the city, and there's stuff going on all around us that people can walk to if they want. It's a good place for people who are just starting out, and it's easy and comfortable for seniors who are on their own."

The economic factors Nelson's talking about are easily enough grasped. In 1998, when Hilltop inaugurated a wildly successful campaign to upgrade its housing stock (to date 40 homes have been replaced under a Minnesota Housing Finance Agency program), more than half the existing trailer homes in the city had a market value of $2,000 to $7,000. Six percent were valued at less than $2,000. A new, two-bedroom singlewide trailer today runs in the range of $30,000, while a top-of-the-line doublewide can go for more than $50,000. Maintenance is relatively inexpensive when compared with standard, site-built housing, and lots in Hilltop rent for $250 to $300. Since 1978, when HUD initiated a strict building code for mobile homes, trailers have become safer, more fire-resistant and energy efficient. According to 2000 census figures, 450 of Hilltop's 766 residents were between the ages of 20 and 54, and the community's median household income was $26,528, compared with $47,111 statewide. The town's population, like that of the rest of the state, was overwhelmingly white.

Nelson took the Hilltop job in 1991, after her predecessor, Karen Danz, who has been the city's clerk for 20 years, was arrested and convicted for embezzling more than $200,000 from the community's treasury. The scandal drove the little city to the brink of bankruptcy. Hilltop's annual budget at the time was only $250,000, and the city came within a week of losing its police protection from Columbia Heights, but insurance and a fidelity bond kicked in and ultimately saved Hilltop from extinction.

The Danz scandal wasn't the first time the city's existence had been threatened, nor was it the town's only controversy, yet despite the occasional sordid drama Hilltop has largely managed to evade public notice for almost 47 years.

Part of that, of course, is by design; that's the way Hilltop likes it. But there's also that question of the public's perception of trailer parks in general. In The Unknown World of the Mobile Home (Johns Hopkins Press), University of Minnesota geography professor John Fraser Hart, along with co-authors Michelle J. Rhodes and John T. Morgan, contends that "many Americans simply pretend that mobile homes do not exist, and if they think about them at all, which is not very often, they perceive mobile homes as cheap, flimsy, and undesirable housing for unattractive people. They assume that the residents of mobile homes are seriously deficient: deficient in income, deficient in education, deficient in intelligence, and deficient in moral fiber."

Even if they weren't so plainspoken on the issue you'd know damn well what the authors of The Unknown World of the Mobile Home were getting at. Trailer park residents, along with fat people, are among the last safe targets for all manner of bigotry and abuse in the form of satire and crude humor--what's easier than a trailer park joke?

 

I lived in atrailer once upon a time and have fond memories of the experience. It was, as Nelson says, a cheap and convenient way to live, but it was also comfortable and ridiculously uncomplicated. I enjoyed the close camaraderie with my neighbors, an interesting and deeply eccentric crew that included a retired naturalist, a couple of Indian potters with a Saint Bernard, a Bob Dylan obsessive who did tai chi exercises outside in his baggy white briefs, and a guy who was trying to carve out a career for himself as the most incompetent and underemployed private detective in Maine. My singlewide afforded me a level of privacy and even solitude unlike anything I'd ever known. At the same time I've never since been part of a community where storytelling served such an important social function. I could never live in a trailer now, and that saddens me. It's also, of course, an indictment of my lifestyle. I have too damn much stuff, and though I make frequent resolutions to pare my life down some day, I know that I'll never be that unfettered again. These days I live in a crowded house in the middle of the city, and the extent to which my neighbors remain utter strangers never ceases to disturb and amaze me.

"Many of these mobile home parks can be compared to some of the little villages in Europe, Quebec, or Mexico," says Professor Hart, who visited dozens of parks in the process of researching his book. "A mobile home has a limited amount of space, so there's not much room for home socializing. There's little in the way of privacy, so you really have to be neighborly to get by. You find that folks will do a lot of socializing outside their homes. Life is very much in the streets, and there seems to be a much closer-knit sense of community than you might find in a suburban neighborhood or in the city."

Yet for generations communities have attempted to legislate, regulate, and zone trailer parks out of existence. The mobile home industry was launched in the late 1920s by a Michigan pharmaceutical executive named Arthur Sherman, and by 1937 Forbes magazine was already decrying the growth of "trailer shantytowns," branding them "crowded rookeries of itinerant flophouses."

"Many people think that mobile home parks depress the value of adjacent properties and increase traffic and crime," according to The Unknown World. "They are widely perceived as hotbeds of sex and violence, and the media are all too happy to pander to this perception. On the scale of general social acceptability, mobile home parks rank somewhere in the neighborhood of junkyards, but junkyards for people rather than for automobiles. They are segregated to remote and unattractive places, and discreetly distanced from other kinds of residential areas."

In large part, Hilltop owes its existence to those attitudes. In 1956, a man named Les Johnson--who was then the owner of the Trailer City Park--led the drive to incorporate the community. The land that is now Hilltop was then a part of Fridley Township, and home to two mobile home parks; Johnson and a number of other residents were concerned that Fridley was planning to eradicate the trailers. They approached neighboring Columbia Heights and requested that the city annex the land that included the parks. After being rebuffed, Johnson circulated a petition for a vote on incorporation, and on May 1, 1956, the residents of the parks voted on the issue. The incorporation passed resoundingly, 137 to 34.

Soon thereafter Columbia Heights came to regret its blunder and proceeded to gobble up the remaining land around the new community, effectively surrounding it and curtailing its expansion. Heights also fired the first volley in what would become an ongoing battle between the two municipalities when it threatened to cut off Hilltop's water and sewer service on purely punitive grounds. That particular issue became a constant source of friction between the cities over the years. Columbia Heights was also concerned about Hilltop's proposal to issue liquor licenses, which would threaten the sales of Heights' own municipal liquor store, a business that at the time accounted for a third of the city's operating budget. And then there was the matter of Hilltop's police and fire protection. The city contracted with Fridley for fire protection and established its own police force, hiring a retired highway patrolman to serve as police chief and supervise three part-time officers.

As Hilltop was organizing its city government--electing its first mayor and a four-person city council--all of these issues were playing out in the local papers. "Are we forgetting what happened in Hungary, where an outside government tried to force their will on the people?" a Hilltop resident wrote to the Record in 1957. A later editorial in the same paper echoed the prevailing mood in Columbia Heights at the time: "We've heard many, many people predict that the new village will fall by the wayside. They all contend that it's merely a matter of time when the village will...be forced to discontinue its existence." By 1959 the Metropolitan Municipalities Commission had entered the fray and asked then-Attorney General Walter Mondale to contest the Hilltop charter to the state supreme court. A month later the Record reported that the city council had "directed its attorneys...to study ways of erasing Hilltop from the metropolitan map."

Yet in 1961, when the Minneapolis Star ran an article headlined "Hilltop, 5 Years Old In May, Still Fighting For Its Life," the town was not simply limping along and steeling itself for inevitable extinction. Hilltop's population was growing, and city officials were out trying to attract new businesses. The Central Plaza strip mall--built by a developer who had been spurned in Columbia Heights--opened in 1958 on the south edge of town, complete with a supermarket, drugstore, and 4,000-square-foot off-sale liquor store, providing an influx of much needed tax revenue for the fledgling village. Another liquor license had been granted to a bowling alley, and the city council had approved a permit for construction of the 20-unit Starlite Motel on Central Avenue, a structure that even today stands as one of the city's few recognizable landmarks.

Throughout Hilltop's early years there was constant tussling at both the local and state government levels over the issue of liquor licenses for the city, and the Columbia Heights Record pitched in to further inflame public sentiment. Ed Kaspszak intimated in his "Clips and Quips" column that there was something fishy about the characters muscling in on Columbia Heights' liquor turf. "The people to whom these licenses were issued were reportedly associated in some manner to the celebrated Twin Cities liquor syndicate of which Kid Cann is supposed to be a member," Kaspszak wrote, only to publish a retraction in his column the next week. That, however, didn't stop his paper from publishing another piece of gossip about the situation a few weeks later. Under the heading "Rumors of the Week," an anonymous scribe wrote, "Heard a rumor that one of the reasons Mike Troup, former owner of the White Horse restaurant in Golden Valley, obtained a liquor license in Hilltop Village was that he would be required to 'kick-back' 12% of his gross sales to the Village treasury...."

In the mid-'60s the community finally completed construction of its own water tower, which allowed it to tap into the Minneapolis water supply and put an end to one of its running battles with Columbia Heights. From its inception until 1967 Hilltop's population more than doubled, rising from 461 to 1039. Remarkably, the city seemed to be thriving--in characteristically modest fashion--despite the efforts to do it in, and with each small triumph it was cementing a reputation for independence that bordered on orneriness.

By 1967, when Hilltop broke ground for Leon's, a new supper club, the Record was trumpeting its survival. "Where others have failed, this lusty little village has succeeded," an article on the new restaurant proclaimed. "Soon it will have the only licensed, glamorous, high type night club and restaurant in the Northeast suburban area." The first breakthrough in the stormy relations between Hilltop and Columbia Heights came in 1968--21 years before the collapse of the Berlin Wall--through what a headline in the Record called a "History Making Conference," during which "Hilltop mayor Vivian Caesar faced Columbia Heights mayor Bruce Nawrocki across the table," and council members from the two cities sat down to talk about mutual problems.

 

A hundred years ago hilltop was a dairy farm and, later, the location of the old Oak Grove Riding Academy and Stables. The first trailer park on the land opened in the 1940s, and an early brochure proclaimed Les Johnson's Trailer City "The Queen of Trailer Parks," promising a "well-stocked grocery store, super service station, modern baths, and laundry rooms." Trailer City, the brochure attested, was "exclusively designed for modern living" and "more than meets all sanitary requirements of the state board of health." The community allegedly took its name from a drive-in theater that was located across the highway from the park. Highway 65 (the modern-day Central Avenue) was at the time a two-lane gravel road, and virtually all the land to the west was open country and farms.

By the early 1950s, when Erv and Eva Shear came to town, there were two trailer parks on the land that is now Hilltop. The Shears have been married for 55 years, 48 of them spent living in trailers in Hilltop. In 1954, shortly after moving into Les Johnson's Trailer City, the Shears bought the neighboring Sunnyside trailer park, and they have been there ever since.

The Shears currently live in a relatively roomy 44-foot doublewide in the park they own and manage. Their trailer is decorated with family photos and assorted Lutheran bric-a-brac. Erv was involved in the original drive to incorporate Hilltop and has been a member of the city council. The couple raised their three children in the park, and one son, Jim, still lives there and has served terms as both the mayor and a city council member. Eva is the unofficial town historian, faithfully clipping and saving every newspaper article that has mentioned the city. Those fat scrapbooks of clippings at the city office belong to her.

"When we first moved here we were looking to settle down," Erv remembers. "I was working for a natural gas company, and my job took me all over the country. We were always moving in those days, and trailers were easy and convenient. Wherever you went there was always a trailer park handy."

As far as the Shears are concerned, the incorporation of Hilltop was born out of simple necessity, complicated as it may have been. "Columbia Heights didn't want us," Erv says. "Fridley didn't want us. And once we made the move we discovered that we liked our independence and could get along just fine."

"Hilltop's always been just the same as any other little town," Eva says. "In the early days I could go into any one of the trailers up and down the road and have a cup of coffee. These days people would probably wonder what I was doing nosing around. It was a good, safe place to raise a family. We had a skating rink, and sledding hills all around us, and a drive-in theater across the road that was run by good operators."

"Now we've got these inspectors that come around all the time," Erv chimes in. "It's not like it used to be."

"Oh," Eva says, "It's not so bad. What we're seeing now is that a lot of the old timers are starting to move out into the retirement homes. The park's getting younger. For the most part it's still not too exciting around here, though. We haven't had any tornadoes, thank the good Lord, and now Channel 4's got the computers to pinpoint the storms before they even get here, and we have the basement shelter up at the office."

Despite living just up the road from downtown Minneapolis, the Shears have never spent much time exploring the big city. "We used to go into the city to get our loans or to see the windows at Dayton's," Eva remembers. "But we didn't go into town more than a few times a year. We were always pretty contented to do our shopping around Hilltop. We had everything we needed right here. We had Apache Plaza nearby. When I go down to the drugstore, they still know my name."

As contented as she's been in Hilltop, Eva will nonetheless admit that she continues to be flummoxed by some of the common notions about trailer park living. "It gets me," she says. "Even on some of these good TV shows you'll still hear remarks degrading people who live in trailers. That 'trailer trash' business, it's unnecessary and uncalled-for."

Across the Shears' kitchen table, I think I see Erv roll his eyes. Erv's clearly a guy who's been around the block and has long since made his peace with the ignorance of this world. People can think whatever they want. What he'd really like to do is get this intruder out of his home so he can head out to the shed and have a beer with his son.

 

For a city with such a low profile, Hilltop has nonetheless found itself in the local media spotlight from time to time. Browsing through the city's archive serves to confirm Professor Hart's contention that "the media like trailer parks, because they associate them with scandal, sex, and violence, and those are subjects that sell." There was a minor dustup that made for droll local news in 1970, when then-mayor George Reiter attempted to replace the village clerk--a woman--because, he said, men were temperamentally better suited for the position. "I don't like to work with women," Reiter told a reporter for the Columbia Heights paper. "They get in your hair. You can't talk to them like you can talk to men."

In 1976 there was a triple murder in one of the townhouses along the city's western Monroe Street border. The men arrested in the killings were from International Falls, but the case got big play in the local papers and rattled residents. Throughout the 1970s Hilltop led the metro area in population loss, falling from a high of 1,015 to 817 in 1980. That same year the city was back in the local news when three prison escapees were captured at a Hilltop trailer owned by the mother of one of the men. Then there was a murder-suicide involving a brother and sister in 1987, and the Danz embezzlement scandal in 1991.

In 1995, as Hilltop prepared to commemorate its 40th anniversary, the city made the biggest news splash in its history when a headline on the front page of the Star Tribune's Metro section proclaimed, "Tiny Hilltop is Crime Capital." That claim, bolstered by 1994 state crime statistics, led to a rash of unwelcome attention for the city. According to the numbers, Hilltop's 131 serious crimes boiled down to one for every six residents. The statistics included 108 larcenies, ranging from shoplifting to bicycle thefts.

"It's all about the math," Ruth Nelson says. "If you have a couple Snickers bars stolen from the drugstore or one bar fight over the course of the year and you spread it out over a population of 766, well, all of a sudden you're right there at the top of the list. Somebody from one of the television stations got a hold of the statistics and was convinced they'd need an armed guard to come in and check out the community. We didn't appreciate all the publicity, but for the most part when it was mentioned in the media they took a tongue-in-cheek approach to it. Reporters would come in here and ask residents on the street if they realized they lived in the crime capital of Minnesota and people would just laugh."

Tom Johnson has been the police chief of Columbia Heights since 1995, and his department is responsible for patrolling Hilltop's streets. The city pays Columbia Heights $144,000 a year for police protection, plus a per-incident fee for the services of its rescue squad (which tacks on an additional $10,000 to $30,000 annually). Johnson agrees that the crime statistics for Hilltop are deceptive. "I certainly don't feel that the reputation is justified by the things we see," Johnson said. "It's one of those areas where we mostly see small stuff going on. You'll have some shoplifting arrests in the strip malls that will make the numbers look worse than they really are. Since I've been here we really haven't had to deal with anything of a very serious nature, and we've had a terrific relationship with the mayor, the city administrator, and the residents."

Linda Johnson married into Hilltop's unofficial first family (her husband is Les Johnson's son, Steve) and moved into the city in 1970. Together with her husband she now runs one of the four parks in Hilltop; her nephews own and operate one of the others. She is also serving a term on the city council. "We have three generations of our family living in Hilltop," Johnson says. "My dad, my two sons, and my husband and I all live here. At one time my sisters were here as well." Johnson's a jovial woman who laughs easily at her little town's reputation as a hotbed of crime. "I never even lock my doors," she says with a shrug. "It's really like any other small town, with the same sorts of advantages and problems. We probably could have moved out of the park, but we like it here; it's homey and neighborly, and the nice thing about being owner-occupied is that you tend to keep a much tighter rein on things. You're much more vigilant when you're living in a park and raising your own children there. That sort of stability makes a big difference in Hilltop. I've been here 30 years and we have people in our park who have been here longer than I have."

It seems like just about everybody who sticks around Hilltop long enough eventually takes a turn in the mayor's office. The job is very much a no-frills position--it pays $300 a month; council members get $250. Jerry Murphy has been the Hilltop mayor for the past six years. Before that he served on the city council for 14 years. Murphy is a former drag racer with a bad back, and he has lived in Hilltop for 26 years. "I like it here," Murphy says. "This is the little town that could. Back when I was still doing a lot of racing I wasn't around that much, and I wanted a place that didn't require a lot of maintenance. It's a close community, and you can always go out and find somebody to talk to." Murphy admits that his first mayoral bid was something of a lark. "Nobody else was running," he says. "I figured I was pretty much done for the rest of my life, and this sort of allows me to keep my nose in things. I stop in up at city hall once a day, and when people need something they'll call me. There's not a whole lot to the job other than trying to stay on top of the budget. I suppose it eats up about an hour of my day."

 

Hilltop's survival has been nothing if not improbable, and, while most of the challenges facing the city these days seem like the pedestrian concerns of any small town (Murphy mentions that he'd like to resurface all the streets and build a city garage), there are still people in Columbia Heights who believe that it's only a matter of time before practical concerns effectively erase the little town from the metropolitan map. With suburban communities increasingly feeling the pinch of the state's budget woes--Hilltop receives 51 percent of its annual projected revenues from state-allotted local government aid--the consolidation of the two longtime antagonists makes more economic sense now than ever to city officials in Columbia Heights.

Bruce Nawrocki, who as mayor of Heights sat across the table from Hilltop's Vivian Caesar at that "historic" 1968 conference that signaled a thaw in the relations between the two cities, is now a member of the Columbia Heights council. "I understand that people in Hilltop probably like things the way they are," Nawrocki says. "I also think it's a fair statement that things have been pretty amicable between our cities for quite some time now. There's quite a lot of water over the dam. That said, however, I think in this day and age it would be much more cost-effective for everyone involved if we were to somehow merge the two cities. My personal opinion is that it's only a matter of time. At some point they're going to have some sort of major financial crisis and they're going to see that a merger makes sense. Notice that I don't use the term 'annexation.' It's not like we're interested in gobbling them up."

Columbia Heights mayor Julienne Wycoff is even more blunt on the issue. "They cannot survive alone," Wycoff says. "If they have a major financial crisis or lose government aid, Hilltop would be sunk. The truth is that economically it would be a lot better for both cities if we were to consolidate. And, yes, mobile homes would be against Columbia Heights ordinances, but there are a lot of good people who live in Hilltop, and I would never go to those people and tell them that they have to leave their homes. It would take a number of years to phase out the mobile homes and perhaps replace them with low-income housing. As things stand, the issue isn't on our list of priorities right now, but maybe Hilltop wants to come to us. I'd welcome Mayor Murphy and anyone else from the community to come in any time to discuss the issue with me."

Wycoff probably shouldn't hold her breath. I also might recommend that she pay a visit to the Hilltop offices and spend some time poking through Eva Shear's archives. And listen to Jerry Murphy. "We like our place just fine," the Hilltop mayor says. "We enjoy doing things ourselves. When we need people, they're there. We always seem to find a way to get by. If push comes to shove we can always go begging and sneaking."

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