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Holiday Heights neighborhood thriving again

MANATEE — Not waiting for some government program to solve their problems, residents of Holiday Heights have joined together to bring back their neighborhood to the clean and friendly community they remember.

Holiday Heights, generally located east of 25th Street West and west of 18th Street West, between Cortez Road and 53rd Avenue West, was platted in the 1930s.

Construction of the modestly priced homes for young families began in the 1950s and 1960s.

“It was a beautiful neighborhood to grow up in,” said Virginia Rapone, who was raised in the community.

Rapone said in the 1970s the single family housing market slowed, and developers started building duplexes on some of the lots closer to 26th Street West.

But even then, the neighborhood maintained a neat and clean appearance.

“The owner of the duplex would live in one side and rent the other,” Rapone said. “They would be there to keep the property up.”

The neighborhood started to become a little run down when the original owners would pass away and their children, who did not want to be bothered with rentals, would sell the units to investors.

Then the foreclosure crisis hit the real estate market, leaving the neighborhood with many bank-owned, vacant homes, with over-grown yards and deteriorating exteriors.

Rapone and several other residents decided they needed to do something to stop the decline and revived their neighborhood organization just more than a year ago.

Rapone was elected president and Gini Solokis, treasurer, of the Holiday Heights Neighborhood Association.

The two have been the driving force of the group and have organized several events and activities to inspire a sense of community among the residents, such as monthly meetings, community yard sales and hot dog socials.

“We just want to revitalize the neighborhood,” Solokis said.

At a recent association meeting, Manatee County Commissioner Ron Getman and commission candidate Norm Luppino suggested the re-establishment of a Home Beautiful Campaign.

Judges from outside the neighborhood — Luppino was May’s judge — will choose each month a home or duplex yard that is clean, free of debris, has a trimmed landscape and is in well-kept condition.

The winner has a sign posted in their yard designating it as the Home Beautiful of the Month.

The residents also receive a gift card from Lowe’s or Home Depot, and a certificate from the association.

Debbie and Paul Ewers, who have lived in their home in the 5100 block of 19th Street West for more than 30 years, were chosen as May’s Home Beautiful.

“For us, it’s just a hobby,” said Debbie Ewers as she stood in the lush, tropical landscape she and her husband have created.

Paul Ewers said the award was recognition for the 30 years of work they put into their home.

But the two do not stop at their property line.

Paul Ewers has been known to mow the lawns of several neighbors who have for one reason or another neglected their yards.

“I, like, adopted the street,” he said. “There are a lot of single moms.”

Debbie Ewers is a fourth-generation Manatee County resident and has seen all the changes in the neighborhood.

“We’re just working together to bring it back,” she said.

Luppino, who was a former planner with the county, said Holiday Heights was always a desirable place to live through the 1980s and 1990s.

“People would be proud to say they lived in Holiday Heights,” he said.

And Rapone, Solokis and the Ewers want those days to come back.