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Posts Tagged ‘Levittown’

Happy Friday readers. We have reached the end of summer and Labor Day is only days away.  One of the things that Labor reminds me of is the American Dream…. you know, the neat house with a spacious lawn and white picket fence, 2.5 children and a freshly waxed family sedan gleaming in the driveway (or at least that’s what we are told the American Dream is).  To me, nothing reminds me of this more than Post World War II suburbs, and of course, the grand-daddy of them all is Levittown. That is today’s Fantasy, and while it is nowhere near as grand as our usual Fantasies  it is probably the most achievable, which was, after all, the point of Levittown!

NY Times photo of Levittown in 1947

Levittown (the original Long Island one, as there are OTHER Levittowns in Pennsylvania and in other places) is a Post WWII suburb developed for returning GI’s by Real Estate Lawyer Abraham Levitt. He had the idea to turn 60,000 acres of flat grassland on Long Island (which he bought when the original developer defaulted on a loan in the 30s) into a planned community of 2,000 rental houses. He made this announcement in the paper in 1947 and 2 DAYS later half of the houses were already spoken for.  Obviously the demand was great and Levitt and his sons (who helped their Dad with this venture) realized they needed to find a way to speed-up this process and make it cost-effective, so they removed basements from the plans for their houses, taking a cue from houses built on slabs in the south. This was actually against building code at the time, but with the baby-boom just beginning, nobody argued. In fact, the State of New York changed the building code to make concrete slab foundations allowable, because the need for housing was so great!

The Levitt’s used pre-cut lumber and produced their own nails at a nail factory they owned.  Using these precursors to prefabricated materials, the company was soon able to raise around 30 houses a day! The incredible thing is that even 30 houses a day was not enough to keep up with the demand for housing. Those original 2,000 houses were joined by another 4,000 houses, a school (and later additional schools) and post-office to accommodate the burgeoning town.

Levittown Houses. New York Times.

In 1949, the Levitts went from building rental houses to building Ranches for SALE, and they continued this until the last one sold in 1951. Levittown became such a part of American life that spawned American culture including Rock-star Billy Joel, who grew-up in a Levitt House (and was friends with Ash’s Mom when they were young… so ya’know, that’s AWESOME).

There is TONS of information on the different Levittowns out there, but one of the bests I think is the one-and-only Levittown Historical Society which many of my dates came from. I also came across this neat blog about life in Early Levittown.

Levittown Plans from Tessellar Blog

Real Estate Ad from Early Levittown Blog

Hope you enjoyed this look at American Developments and the 1950s American Dream! Enjoy those end of summer BBQ’s and have a great Labor Day!

-Etta

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Good day all.

When I was visiting family and friends for Easter  I met a new person. To explain exactly how we ended up in the same house at the same time is rather complicated, so let’s just say she was my best friend’s’ brother’s friend’s uncle’s cousin… got it? Good.  Anyway, exactly how she came into my life for this passing moment isn’t important, but what she said WAS because it made me re-evaluate my dedication to Preservation, although at the time I didn’t know it.

We started of with the usual,  “Hello, I’m __ ,and then moved on to, Where are you from?” That is when we found out we  both live in the same state. After a little small talk about places we had in common in said eastern state, we then moved on to, “What do you do”? Well, for a Preservationist this can be the 100,000 dollar question, a chance to get people on-board the train (yes I know there is a difference between a train and a trolley… It’s my blog I can make bad  link segues if I want!) to tell them why they should love old houses as much as you do! To gush on and on about historic molding and architectural details that didn’t come from a Home Cheap-o. Oh sweet Christopher Wren!

So I get ready to preach! Cue the Hallelujah Chorus, and heavenly light….I start slow with my title and a general list of my duties, testing the waters… her eyes didn’t glaze over, she may be receptive. Excellent, continue! Move on a little to how old buildings are green (it’s an “in” topic so surely she’ll want to hear more about this!) and how satisfying it can be to live in a house that has supported generations before you and, if loved, will continue to for generations after because it was built with good quality materials that were meant to last, not fall apart in 10 years! So, she listens and nods and makes comments about how interesting my field is… and how knowledgeable I sound.  Yes, excellent another convert! Then suddenly the mood in the room changes… her children seek her out for food and hugs and suddenly the magic is broken… after her children leave her side she turns back to me and shakes off the magic of our encounter and looks at me and says…..

Neat, but Old House are creepy… I’m not really into them!

NOOOOOOOOO

At the time I just kind of brushed it off, but now “the incident” has slowly been eating away at me (ya know like how I was a bad Preservationist and didn’t push my cause) and now suddenly I’ve burst like  Mentos in Diet Coke . And so now you’ve heard the story of how I was unable to sway a suburban soccer mom. At first I was ashamed. I felt like I should have fought tooth and nail for my righteous cause but after further discussion with my husband (who has decided he needs a name on this blog so will here-after be known as Asher Benjamin, or Ash for short) I have come to the decision that it’s not ME that needs to change it’s this Levittown fueled  “American-dream” (Yes we are ignoring the fact that Levittown is probably NR eligible now) that now you too can go “Somewhere That’s Green” and that your little cookie-cutter house can look just like your neighbors (“now, when your coming make sure you remember it’s the 26th house on the right”). I’m not wrong for wanting an Inglenook and rope molding it’s this world of planned obsolescence and if I can plant a tiny seed of that love in every suburban soccer mom I talk to maybe, just maybe that seed will take root in one or two of them and my enthusiasm will grow into a mighty oak and add another accidental Preservationist or two to the world.

So do any of you out there ever feel over-whelmed by our daunting task of saving the world one window at a time? If so I’d like to hear from you!

-Etta

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