Baby Border Home
Paybarah, Liz Goff and Marsha
Five members of the Utopia Improvement Association were arrested in May
1987 and convicted of burning down a home in Flushing to prevent
then-Mayor Ed Koch from “destroy[ing] middle class neighborhoods in
Phillip and Rita Amato, shown here
outside Queens Criminal Court, were convicted in the firebombing of a
house that would have been a “Border Baby” home for infants and
The “not in my backyard” fight mushroomed
into arson, death threats, and a test of one stubborn Mayor’s will.
The unoccupied two-story wood frame home at
171-27 Gladwin Ave. caught fire at 11 p.m. on April 20, just before the
city converted it into a “Border Baby Home.” The site would have
housed infants and older children who did not belong in municipal
institutions or hospitals, but who did not have a home and family of
Koch flew by helicopter into Kissena Park,
rushed to the burnt home and declared, “If we can restore it, we’re
going to put the six kids in it. If
this house can’t be restored, we’re going to get another house in
President of the Auburndale Improvement
Association John Norris said, “You can’t fit two parents in one room
of some of these small houses . . . how are you going to fit several
children with cribs and furniture in one room?”
A police officer stands guard outside
the Gladwin Avenue “Border Baby Home” firebombed in 1987.
Residents also felt the unwelcomed shelter
would bring with it lowered real estate values, not to mention “drug
addicted” mothers searching for their babies.
Ironically, the same coupling of excuses –
“it’s too small” and “we’ll burn it if you do” – were used
to prevent a group home from coming to Gladwin Avenue earlier.
When asked about the fire, Associate Director
of the Jewish Child Care Association Dr. Paul Gitelson told the Tribune,
“It doesn’t surprise me.”
Death threats were made when his organization
tried to put a group home on Gladwin Avenue.
Gitelson withdrew his organizations’ plans and recalled “An
anonymous caller told us that our own homes would be burnt to the ground
should our agency occupy the home on Gladwin Avenue”
“Explosive” was how Trib reports at
the time characterized meetings between the JCCA and Community Planning
Board 7 of Flushing. Officially,
CB 7 rejected the JCCA plan because the house chosen was “too small
for eight adolescent girls to live in.”
Among those convicted of setting the Baby
Border Blaze were James Raffi, Ugo Serone, Michael Scotto, and married
couple Phillip and Rita Amato.
A neighbor testifying against the five Utopia
Improvement Association defendants said she had received a call from a
man she identified in court as Philip Amato who had said, “What the
hell do you think you’re doing? Your house will be firebombed and
you’ll be killed,” after she expressed support for the boarder baby
State Supreme Court Justice Joan Durante
offered to the Amato family, the opportunity they tried denying to the
infants at they Boarder Baby Shelter.
Phillip away to jail first and then Rita so that while one parent was
incarcerated, one could be at home with their school-aged children.