The JPCA was started back in 1938, with the sole purpose of being an organized body to fight adversity. Yes, even in 1938 they recognized the need for a united voice in the community.
I should tell you that my parents were active members of the JPCA in the early years and they instilled in me a civic pride to always work towards neighborhood improvement.
Before I list our JPCA accomplishments I should state that the Juniper Berry, our civic magazine, with our President, Bob Holden, as the managing editor, became a true force for “no spin” reporting. Bob built up the Juniper Berry to its present status in the print community. Stories and articles became hard hitting and informational, exposing problems that were usually left to the area newspapers to report, with their self-serving “spin” always apparent. With hotshot reporters like the young Christina Wilkinson, who now serves as the editor, Ed Kampermann and Bob Doocey and other volunteers, we manage to keep issues on the print front burner of importance. The Juniper Berry is in no one’s pocket, so to speak, and it is truly our “crown jewel,” with a huge distribution.
I personally came on the civic scene in the late 1970’s when the newly developed western portion of Juniper Valley Park was completed. At the time, with no input from the community, the NYC Parks Department placed a huge parking lot at the site of 77th Street and Juniper Boulevard North. This parking lot became a neighborhood nightmare with all night drinking parties, prostitution and drugs.
I recall going to the JPCA and its then President, Joann Benini, and our councilman, Arthur Katzman, and asking for their guidance so we could have the parking lot closed off. Armed with several volunteers we gathered petitions with signatures from hundreds of area residents who wanted the parking lot removed. We presented it to the NYC Parks Department, who was sympathetic to our plight. The JPCA won that battle in record time.What a high that was and it sure reinforced the legacy of my parents who often said, “If you don’t like what’s going on in your neighborhood, change it!”
Juniper Civic Victories
That’s a little of my personal story now let me give you a snapshot of the JPCA victories over the years. I recall the horrible condition of Juniper Valley Park in the 1970’s when drugs ruled and the city coffers were virtually empty. At the time the city found some money and began a project to install swimming pools in any park that would have one. Needless to say, Juniper Valley Park was at the top of the list. The JPCA was vehemently against the idea, feeling that with crime at an all time high, a pool would bring in hundreds of cars and people, with totally inadequate facilities to accommodate them. The JPCA, united as always, fought the good fight to defeat the pool and won.
Then there was the threat of an apartment house next to Our Lady of Hope. Again, there was a big JPCA fight, and, take a look, two family homes at the site, another victory for the good guys! Let’s not forget Silver Crest and the drama of that neighborhood threat when they wanted to close off 81st Street and make part of Caldwell Avenue their personal property. The JPCA fought Silver Crest for many years and did manage to defeat that idea. We ended up with a Walgreens on the site and after a year since its opening, Walgreens seems to be living harmoniously with our neighborhood.
One more negative that the JPCA successfully fought, was when the city wanted to put a homeless shelter where the Metro Mall is now located. That was yet another victory for the good guys, the Juniper Park Civic Association!
When Bob Holden came on the scene everything went to fast-forward. Bob brought a testy impatience to the civic table. He quickly formed COP 104 when he noted the very little attention and communication we had with the 104th Pct.
For instance, with hard work on the part of our new young leader, Bob Holden, and all our volunteers, Juniper Valley Park became one of the top parks in the city. When Bob saw the very real threat of a Home Depot at the old Elmhurst gas tanks site, he immediately put the message out there, “we need more parkland, not another Home Depot.” I kid you not when I say Bob Holden literally stopped the bulldozers that were at the ready to start a Home Depot. A park is in the planning stage for the site, another JPCA victory. Let’s not forget the Cross Harbor project with hundreds of additional trucks earmarked for our residential streets. Again, the force of the JPCA, accompanied by the newly formed Middle Village/Maspeth Task Force was the deciding factor in killing that crazy idea with all its negative environmental impact problems.
Another JPCA accomplishment of note – noise barriers on the LIE within the Maspeth corridor.
One of the biggest victories of the JPCA, was the zip code change which resulted in the whole area east of 74th Street on the north side of Eliot Avenue becoming Middle Village, with the zip code of 11379.
There were those out there who, for personal reasons wanted to keep the 11373 zip code of Elmhurst. They did their share of sneering and I still wonder where they all hid on that cold night when we had our victory parade along the streets of “Middle Village,” chanting, “Welcome to Middle Village!” Then there was the downzoning of the Middle Village Maspeth area, a big assignment which the JPCA spearheaded over four years ago. We had to deal with an underfunded Department of City Planning and we, community volunteers, had to go door to door, in effect doing the Department of City Planning’s job, bringing the housing stock of the neighborhood up to date. As of this date nothing tangible has resulted from this effort because of the City Planning Commissioner, Amanda Burden, stalling the project so that affordable housing can be erected before there is a zoning change.
More victories to mention: the JPCA got Con Edison to pay attention to their shoddy work in our neighborhood by publicizing and showing pictures of their sloppy electric pole wiring. Pullis Cemetery in Juniper Valley Park, with the help of JPCA volunteers and All Faiths Cemetery has been rehabilitated from a weeded, abandoned area, to a respectful burial site of one of the first families in Middle Village, the Pullis family.
I can’t write about the JPCA victories without mentioning the hockey rink which is neatly nestled in Juniper, just East of the running track. This was another huge JPCA fight because people who didn’t live in our neighborhood wanted to put this noisy sport right across from the houses on Juniper Boulevard North and Lutheran Avenue. The JPCA said, “no way,” and again, Bob Holden stopped the bulldozers with a plan putting the rink in its current location. I know, it sounds exaggerated when I say “bulldozers were stopped,” but, believe me, that’s how imminent some of the threats were and “bulldozers” were literally halted!
In recent years the formation of the Juniper Juniors helped bring in young civic-minded members to work on community projects. The Juniper Juniors were disbanded when the rogue council member from Middle Village stopped funding their excellent contribution to our community. Hopefully, with some funding from our current elected officials, the little kids can return to perform the jobs they loved to do in our neighborhood!
Three years ago the Juniper Park Civic Association began sponsoring the annual Juniper Park Concert Series. The summer of 2008 saw several concerts in Juniper Valley Park which were well received by thousands of area residents. We look forward to many more years of summer music in Juniper Valley Park. It has been 70 years since the Juniper Park Civic Association was formed and we hope that as we pass the torch of responsibility on to future generations they will continue the JPCA legacy of hard work and dedication that our predecessors instilled in us.