15 minutes. That’s how long it took to demolish the Dillard family’s former home in order to make way for a new beginning on the Eastside.
In that short amount of time, a backhoe tore through wooden walls and abandoned furniture that symbolized early struggles, childhood memories, and neighborhood experiences for the family.
The house is one of many being torn down to create new, mixed-income homes in the Wheatley Courts Choice Neighborhood as a part of the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, a federal grant program that aims to spearhead an array of improvements in the area to spark revitalization. The program, which started in December 2012, includes opportunities for business upgrades, infill housing, and overall community investment. The new housing complex will be named East Meadows and will give other residents a new start.
“Everything, like life, has its time,” Cynthia Dillard said. “It’s time for it to go and time for something else to be built that’s possibly going to help someone else. I’m happy the City is doing this for this neighborhood, for this part of town, because it needs it.”
The Dillard family got a chance to visit the property before the demolition and reflected on the meaning of home.
“Home is my resting place, it’s my happy place,” Cynthia said. “Home is my heaven.” Cynthia and her husband Leonard Dillard raised their son, Brian, in that house until he was 17 years old. The house caught on fire in 2001, and the family was forced to move out. The Dillards were able to collect an insurance settlement.
“I don’t remember it being so small,” Brian said. “Walking into the house it felt almost claustrophobic, simply because my parents moved out of (this) house, that was 700 or 800 sq. ft., into something that was 2100 sq. ft.”
Brian’s grandparents’ house, which is located across the street from his childhood home, was also demolished. He remembers going there after school to watch cartoons.
Brian now lives in a 2,200 sq. ft. home on the same side of town with his wife, Frenchie. Cynthia is proud of her son for choosing to come back and be a part of the neighborhood revitalization.
“He could have bought anywhere, but he chose to come back to his roots to where he got his start in life and make this community better,” Cynthia said. “I’m proud of him, he’s doing all he can do to make it a better place. I think the world is going to be a better place. I think the Eastside is going to be a better place.”
(Words by Rocío Guenther)
Top image: Ethel Jewel Dillard walks through the kitchen of her former house for one last time. Photo by Scott Ball.