Levitt & Sons

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Levitt & Sons was a real estate development company founded by Abraham Levitt[1][2] and later managed by his son William Levitt. The company is most famous for having built Levittown, New York, USA.[1] The company's designs and building practices totally revolutionized the entire Home Building Industry and altered America's landscape with massive suburban communities.

Levitt & Sons had a profound effect on America's post-WW2 economy,[citation needed] and William Levitt was named one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.[3] Historian Kenneth Jackson wrote of Levitt & Sons: "The family that had the greatest impact on postwar housing in the United States was Abraham Levitt and his sons, William and Alfred, who ultimately built more than 140,000 houses and turned a cottage industry into a major manufacturing process".[4]

Timeline with some notable Levitt communities[edit]

Founding and early years[edit]

Abraham Levitt founded a real-estate development company near the start of the Great Depression. His son William was president, and his son Alfred was vice president of design.[7]

Prior to World War II, Levitt & Sons built mostly upscale housing on and around Long Island, New York. During the 1930s, they built the North Strathmore community at Manhasset, New York, on the former Onderdonk farm.[8]

Construction of Levittown, New York[edit]

Main article: Levittown, New York

After World War II, America's post-war prosperity and baby boom had created a crisis of affordable housing,[9] especially for returning veterans. Levitt & Sons moved to fill the void.

The company chose an area known as Island Trees near Hempstead, Long Island, as the site for a huge building project. The company named it Levittown. Levitt's innovation in creating this planned community was to build the houses in the manner of an assembly line.[3] In normal assembly lines, the workers stay stationary and the product moves down the line; in Levitt's homebuilding assembly line, the product (houses) stayed in place and specialized workers moved from house to house. Levitt and Sons built the community with an eye towards speed, efficiency, and cost-effective construction; these methods led to a production rate of 30 houses a day by July 1948.[10]

Houses sold for between $6,995 and $8,000 with monthly payments as low as $57, a low price even by 1947 standards. Residents started moving into Levittown in 1947. The residents would come to be known as Levittowners.

Levitt & Sons was the cover story in TIME Magazine for July 3, 1950. President William Levitt was pictured on the cover, with the tag line "For Sale: a new way of life."[11]

Other Levittown projects[edit]

Levitt went on to plan and build another community of more than 17,000 homes in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which saw its first residents in 1952. Willingboro, New Jersey was originally built as a Levittown, and bears several Levittown-specific street names such as Levitt Parkway.

Discord in the Levitt family caused a split in 1954. Alfred left the company, and William took full control of Levitt & Sons.[7]

During the late 1950s, Levitt and Sons developed the community known as "Belair at Bowie," in Bowie, Maryland. In 1957 they acquired the historic Belair Mansion and estate, home of Maryland's colonial Governor Samuel Ogle and his Belair Stables.[12] In 1959 the community was annexed by Bowie.

The company went public in 1960.[7]

Through the 1960s, Levitt constructed houses in Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.[6] In the early 1960s, the company built a 5,000-house community in north central New Jersey called Strathmore-at-Matawan; the Strathmore name had originally been used by Levitt & Sons in its upper middle class developments on Long Island in the 1930s.

Levitt & Sons even went international. Levittown, Puerto Rico, built in the 1960s, was one of Levitt's projects. The company built a large development near Paris at Lésigny in Seine-et-Marne, and at Mennecy in Essonne, France.[13]

By the late 1960s, Levitt & Sons had built more than 140,000 houses.[7]

Levitt under ITT[edit]

Levitt & Sons was sold to ITT (International Telephone and Telegraph) in 1967[7] for a reported $90 million. The company continued to build housing developments as an ITT subsidiary, under a variety of names that usually included "Levitt".[6]

In the United States, Levitt houses were built in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington state.[6] Around the world, Levitt houses were built in Canada, France, Puerto Rico, and Spain.[6]

Later years[edit]

Levitt under Starrett[edit]

Starrett Housing Corporation purchased ITT's Levitt subsidiary in 1979.[6] Houses continued to be built in Florida, Illinois, New York, and Virginia.[6]

A completely separate company called Levitt Homes Corp. operated in Puerto Rico during the 1980s.[6]

Levitt under BankAtlantic[edit]

Levitt was sold to BankAtlantic Corp. in 1999.[6] In 2003, Levitt was established as independent entity from BankAtlantic.[6]

Bankruptcy[edit]

At the end of its life, Levitt and Sons had shrunk to building in Florida alone. Levitt filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late 2007, a victim of the housing crash.[14] The parent company was renamed in 2008 to Woodbridge Holdings Corporation, which shortly ceased trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Levittown Historical Society
  2. ^ Alexander Garvin, American Cities: what works, what doesn't (The McGraw Hill Companies, 2002), 397.
  3. ^ a b Lacayo, Richard (December 7, 1998). "Suburban Legend WILLIAM LEVITT". TIME. 
  4. ^ "Levittown - History and Overview of Levittown". Geography.about.com. 2013-07-14. Retrieved 2013-07-21. 
  5. ^ Sylvester, Kevin (2004). "Strathmore at Matawan". LevittownBeyond.com. Retrieved 3 December 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Levitt Communities". LevittownBeyond.com. Retrieved 3 December 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f "William Levitt". Answers.com. Retrieved 2013-07-21. 
  8. ^ Austin N. O'Brien (February 1980). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Horatio Gates Onderdonk House". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  9. ^ Blackwell, Jon. "1951: American dream houses, all in a row". The Trentonian. 
  10. ^ Jackson, Kenneth T. (1985). "The Baby Boom and the Age of the Subdivision". Retrieved January 12, 2009. 
  11. ^ "HOUSE BUILDER LEVITT, For Sale: a new way of life". TIME. July 3, 1950. 
  12. ^ Baltz, Shirley Vlasak (1984). A Chronicle of Belair. Bowie, Maryland: Bowie Heritage Committee. pp. 84–88. LCCN 85165028. 
  13. ^ "France: A Lesson from Levitt". Time (magazine). 1965-12-10. Retrieved 2011-01-11. New European housing often looks elegant from the outside, but much of it is backward in kitchen equipment, bathroom layout, floor plans, heating, plumbing and lighting—the innards that make the shell truly livable. The gap yawns nowhere wider than in France, where 51 years of rent control have helped create a gargantuan housing shortage. Thus it is not surprising that the French have enthusiastically greeted an invasion by Long Island's William J. Levitt, the U.S.'s biggest homebuilder (fiscal 1965 sales: $60 million). More than 60,000 Frenchmen have poured out of Paris to gape at Levitt's recently opened American-style subdivision in suburban Le Mesnil-Saint-Denis (pop. 2,000). 
  14. ^ Brinkmann, Paul (July 18, 2011). "Levitt & Sons liquidation hits 75 percent return mark". South Florida Business Journal.