Juniper Valley Park was known as the treacherous “Great Swamp” in the 19th century. It was made up of underground streams and quicksand, and only useful for raccoon and possum hunting and mining peat, the dark vegetable matter formed by partial decay of plants in wet ground.
Many developers believed dirt is dirt and land is land. However, any geologist will quickly tell you this is not always true.
Arnold Rothstein, known for conspiring to fix the 1919 World Series, didn’t get the memo. He purchased the land and constructed homes that quickly collapsed and sank. After his murder in 1928, the project remained dormant until the city settled with his estate in 1931 for $5,700 an acre, to help pay off back taxes.
In 1937, Robert Moses, the head of the Parks Department, jumped on the chance to turn the land into a park.
But in 1955, other developers gambled on risky land next to the park to build row houses. Soon a nightmare began on 75th Place, as the homes at 61-48, 61-50 and 61-52 began to slowly sink into the ground during the winter of 1961. The proud homeowners tried to save their homes, hiring Paterno and Sons Construction to shore up the row. But by 1970 they were still losing the battle.
Stephen Paskor’s family at 61-52 had to leave. The Mussos at 61-50 and the Licarises at 61-48 quickly followed. The Mussos moved a few blocks away, while the Paskors and Licarises moved to Maspeth.
The site then sat empty for many years. By the late 1980s, after many had forgotten what had happened, a developer built a single multifamily house on the lot. Stanislaw Nowak, a Polish immigrant from Ozone Park, purchased the brand-new house, unaware of its history. He moved out around the year 2000, but the residences remain.