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Levittown, New York The “original” modern car suburb
The first planned, commercially developed bedroom community: in 1947, in Nassau County, NY—a suburb of NYC
§ Bernard Hoffmann, for Life Magazine § Bernard Levey Family § An Early Family Poses in Front of their 1948 Cape Cod
Intentions of the builders *To build an original self sustaining community that is not a large city. "An early Luau"-- block party in Levittown, ca. 1951. Photo courtesy Charles Tekula, Jr.
• Bernard Hoffmann, for Life Magazine, • Bernard Levey Family Moves Up to the Ranch Model 1950
§ Levittown was the first truly mass-produced suburb and is widely regarded as the archetype for postwar suburbs throughout the country.
The target population: § After WW II, 16 million GI's were returning from either Europe, the Pacific, or from military bases in the United States. Many planned to marry and raise families. § At the end of 1945, the US was in dire need of about five million houses, as ex-GIs and their families were living with their parents or in rented attics, basements, or unheated summer bungalows. Some even lived in barns, trolley cars, and tool sheds.
The G. I. Bill § The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, known informally as the G. I. Bill, was a law that provided a range of benefits for returning World War II veterans (commonly referred to as G. I. ’s). Benefits included cash payments of tuition and living expenses to attend college, high school or vocational education, low interest loans to start businesses and low -cost mortgages
On a typical Easter Sunday. Notice the built-in t. v. and hi-fi.
Whose idea was it? § Three Levitts ran the company: Abraham Levitt, the father, was financier; Alfred Levitt was architect, and William Levitt the salesman and production manager. § When the U. S. entered WWII in 1941, Levitt and Sons won a Navy contract to build homes for shipyard workers in Norfolk, Virginia. Here, they developed and perfected the mass production techniques they later used in the construction of Levittown, New York. Tony Linck, for Life Magazine, William Levitt, Builder. . . June, 1948.
Levitt Cape In plan, the house was extremely simple:
§ The basic orientation of the house was a combination of historical precedent, social engineering, and sheer financial pragmatism. Putting the bathroom directly behind the kitchen on one side meant all the major plumbing, including the critical waste stack, could serve double duty.
Workmen and the materials to construct a house gathered in a lot before construction, June, 1948
Window frames are stacked in the rear, and the white picket fence can be clearly seen on the right-- purchasers had a choice of a rustic split-rail or a picket fence. The construction features modular, prefabricated parts, and tight organization.
Workman installing Bendix Washer Workers were specialized, and went from house to do their specific jobs.
After 1949, Levitt's Cape had a colleague-- the Ranch:
PRICE? § They would offer for sale at $7, 990. § All a prospective buyer needed was a $90 deposit and payments of $58 per month.
SIZE? § The Levitt ranch measured 32’by 25’ =800 sq ft. It came in five different models, differing only by exterior color, roof line, and the placement of windows.
§ Like previous Levitt homes, the ranch was built on a concrete slab with radiant heating coils. It had no garage, and came with an expandable attic. The kitchen was outfitted with a General Electric stove and refrigerator, stainless steel sink and cabinets, the latest Bendix washer, and a York oil burner.
Place in American culture § Levittown proved successful. By 1951, it and surrounding regions included 17, 447 homes constructed by Levitt and Sons. § As the first and one of the largest massproduced suburbs, Levittown quickly became a symbol of postwar suburbia.
§ Critics decried its homogeneity, blandness, and racial exclusivity (the initial lease prohibited rental to nonwhites). Today, "Levittown" is used as a term to describe overly sanitized suburbs consisting largely of identical housing.
“Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds § Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky tacky, 1 Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes all the same. There's a green one and a pink one And a blue one and a yellow one, And they're all made out of ticky tacky And they all look just the same.
§ And the people in the houses All went to the university, Where they were put in boxes And they came out all the same, And there's doctors and lawyers, And business executives, And they're all made out of ticky tacky And they all look just the same.
§ And they all play on the golf course And drink their martinis dry, And they all have pretty children And the children go to school, And the children go to summer camp And then to the university, Where they are put in boxes And they come out all the same.
§ And the boys go into business And marry and raise a family In boxes made of ticky tacky And they all look just the same. There's a green one and a pink one And a blue one and a yellow one, And they're all made out of ticky tacky And they all look just the same.
These days, many of the original Levittown homes have been remodeled and enlarged beyond recognition. A decade ago, there were perhaps 200 unaltered Levitts left, but only a handful remain today. At left, Polly Dwyer, the president of the Levittown Historical Society, is standing in front of the last unchanged Levittown home, which is located on Flax Lane.
This Levittown home has also retained its original humble proportions. Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times
Some of the many Levittown homes that have been remodeled and expanded beyond their original proportions. Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times