Pop Star: Marimba Milliones
It’s a warm day, and a quiet one, on Centre Avenue, in the Hill District, and Marimba Milliones is fussing unmercifully over Fashion Africana – nothing left to chance here. Subtitled A Tribal Bazaar, Milliones’ invitation features a drop-dead gorgeous African woman in a simply stunning outfit. Rushing, Milliones must get it ready before a week-long jaunt to Thailand. A friend put the package together and hey!
Then there’s the New Granada Theatre next door. She may be CEO of Milestone New Media Group, an advertising and interactive development firm, for which she and her staff create bright, canny, consumer-effective pitches for PNC, Penn State, and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, as well as clients in Virginia and Georgia, Chicago and New York City. But revitalizing the derelict 1920s theater-ballroom is her passion.
Vacant for nearly 30 years, at one time the New Granada hosted such musical royalty as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Lena Horne. “The historical importance of this building must find its proper place in the landscape of Pittsburgh,” she says. “We’ve forgotten this part of the cultural legacy, and we have to fill that void. It’s something we can’t ignore.”
Ignoring is hardly what Marimba Milliones is about. She comes by it naturally, all this fire, and vision, and energy. Her late parents -- mother Margaret Milliones, father Jake Milliones, and stepmother Barbara Sizemore – were all leaders, all educators, activists, do-ers. Deliberately returning to the Hill District after college in North Carolina, Milliones came home because felt she owed her community her best efforts. Working with the Hill District Community Development Corporation, which she chairs, and the New Granada Theatre Committee, which she co-chairs, her goal is nothing less than the revitalization of the entire Centre Avenue corridor. “I am committed to the Hill District,” she says. “People worked hard to get it to this level. I want to make sure that their work has not been in vain.”
From Crawford Avenue to Herron Avenue, Uptown to Bigelow Boulevard, the Hill District is buzzing – and for good reason. Sandwiched between two of the greatest economic engines in the state – Oakland and Downtown -- the Hill is shrugging off decades of sleep – and neglect. But neighborhoods hardly move on their own. Instead, they take time, talent, and leadership. The kind that Marimba Milliones brings.
“Collaboration,” she says, “is essential for every successful effort. It’s an exciting time now. I sense the energy. I feel the change. We’re on the doorstep of realizing a long-held vision. What’s more,” Milliones adds, “I’m the eternal optimist. I believe in the best of everything. I’m also persistent. I don’t hear ‘no.’ I hear ‘do it another way.’
“The Hill District is happening,” Milliones adds. “It has some great young people living here. There’s Hill House and the Kaufmann Auditorium. New housing. A new library. From Freedom Corner to the Upper Hill, people crave the promise of the Hill District.” Marimba Milliones looks down Centre Avenue. “What it will be.”
Award-winning writer Abby Mendelson is the author of The Pittsburgh Steelers Official History and Pittsburgh: A Place in Time, a collection of neighborhood profiles available from The Local History Company. His last Pop City piece was on the Top 10 Things Unique to Pittsburgh.
Milestone New Media Group portfolio
Rendering of possible New Granada Theatre makeover
New Granada Theatre facade
All photographs copyright © Jonathan Greene
Rendering courtesy of Centre Design Group, LLC