Once the fair corporation settled on the Queens for its "World of Tomorrow," it faced the daunting challenge of reclaiming a long – established dump into a successful site worthy of a world's fair.
Perhaps no greater praise for Grover Whalen's efforts for the world's fair rang truer than he "made The World of Tomorrow out of The Mudpuddle of Yesterday."
After reviewing Joseph Shadgen's research on possible locations for the fair throughout the five boroughs, the fair corporation agreed with the engineer and settled on the Queens borough's trash dump. But what to do with it? The Corona Dump was one and a half times larger than Central Park!
F. Scott Fitzgerald mockingly characterized the Flushing Meadows site in The Great Gatsby as "the valley of ashes – a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens."
The transformation of 50,000,000 yards of ashes accumulated over fifty years and sunk into the salty mud at a depth of forty feet into a breathtaking wonderland seemed a staggering impossibility. Especially with less than three years to accomplish this metamorphosis.
At the ground breaking on June 29, 1936, Grover Whalen observed: "Everywhere was an odor of buried and smoldering rubbish, which was evil enough. But there were mosquitoes of a size you couldn't believe existed." A friend pulled Whalen aside and lamented: "Grover, I hope you know what you're doing. Doesn't look to me as if anything can ever be done with this dump."
The ash dump covered roughly 300 acres of the 1200-acre site. Reclamation began by bulldozing the ash mounds. One, known as Mount Corona, stood over 100 feet high. After leveling the ashes, 30,000 men moved 7,000,000 cubic feet of fill in 190 days.
Working round the clock in seven and a half hour shifts, floodlights blazed from twelve eighty-foot towers through the night. The workers then added 800,000 cubic feet of top soil created from the salty, acid, fibrous root soil specially set aside for this purpose. The cost? $2,200,000!
As the reclamation project progressed, residents noticed a sizable decrease in the number of rats in the Corona area. However, an unexpected side effect of this rodent decline caused owls to seek out cats to supplement their diets. One particularly aggressive owl, known as Oscar, met an unlikely end.
Patrolman William De Nola, alerted by distraught neighbors, climbed a tree and threw his coat over the poacher. When taken to the local police station, officers discovered Oscar had a dislocated wing, apparently from a fight with larger food source. Veterinarians determined Oscar could not recover, even with surgery, and put him and his neighborhood out of their misery.
Underground improvements cost an additional $12,000,000: 13 miles of gas mains, 15 miles of water mains, 30 miles of sewers and 15 miles of electric cables.
As the surface settled, pavers constructed fifty-one miles of roads and pathways throughout the grounds. The bus routes and main highways consisted of a four-inch thickness of crushed stone overlaid with a three-inch layer of cold laid plant-mixed bituminous macadam. The lighter traffic paths were laid with a lighter bituminous mixture on a base of cinders.
George Ross now reassured his readers: "There's nothing to the rumor but perhaps you would like to know that there had been talk of the NYWF sinking in a marsh. It was one of those wildfire alarms, like the monthly discoveries of Judge Crater in a nearby hamlet."