William Levitt

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William Levitt
Born William Jaird Levitt
(1907-02-11)February 11, 1907
Died January 28, 1994(1994-01-28) (aged 86)
Nationality United States
Ethnicity Jewish
Occupation Real estate developer
Known for American suburban development (Levittowns)
Spouse(s) Rhoda Kirshner (divorced)
Alice Kenny (divorced)
Simone Korchin
Children with Kirshner:
--William Levitt, Jr.
Parents Pauline Biederman Levitt
Abraham Levitt

William Jaird Levitt (February 11, 1907 – January 28, 1994) was an American real-estate developer. In his position as president of Levitt & Sons, he is widely credited as the father of modern American suburbia.[1][2][3]

Background[edit]

Levitt was born in 1907 to a Jewish family. His generation was the second since immigrating from Russia and Austria;[4] the grandfather who immigrated to the United States had been a rabbi from eastern Europe.[5] Levitt grew up in Brooklyn, New York.[5] His father was Abraham Levitt, a real estate attorney and part-time investor; his mother was Pauline Biederman. A younger brother, Alfred, was born when William was 5 years old.[5] William received a public school education at Public School 44 and Boys High School.[5] He then attended New York University for three years.[5]

Levitt married Rhoda Kirshner in November 1929.[5] Their son William Junior was born in 1933.[5] The couple divorced in 1959, and Levitt married his secretary and long-time lover, Alice Kenny.[5] Ten years later in 1969, Levitt divorced her and married a French art dealer, Simone Korchin.[5]

Levitt & Sons[edit]

1930s[edit]

In 1929, his father, Abraham Levitt, founded a real-estate development company called Levitt & Sons. Levitt & Sons built mostly upscale housing on and around Long Island, New York in the 1930s. William Levitt served as company president,[5] overseeing all aspects of the company except for the designs of the homes they built, which fell to William's brother Alfred.

Post World War II[edit]

During World War II, Levitt served in the Navy as a lieutenant in the Seabees. After returning from the war, he saw a need for affordable housing for returning veterans. America's post-war prosperity and baby boom had created a crisis of affordable housing.[6]

Levitt & Sons built their first huge housing development near Hempstead, Long Island and named it Levittown. Residents started moving into Levittown, New York in 1947. Levitt's innovation in creating this planned community was to build the houses in the manner of an assembly line,[7] where specialized workers with a specific task moved from house to house as they were constructed en masse.

Levitt was the cover story in TIME Magazine for July 3, 1950, with the tag line "For Sale: a new way of life."[8]

At the helm of Levitt & Sons, Levitt went on to plan and build other communities on the East Coast in the 1950s and 1960s. Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which saw its first residents in 1952, in a community that ultimately numbered more than 17,000 homes. Willingboro, New Jersey, was originally built as a Levittown, and bears several Levittown-specific street names such as Levitt Parkway. During the late 1950s, Levitt and Sons developed the community known as "Belair at Bowie," in Bowie, Maryland. In the early 1960s, the company built a 5,000-house community in north central New Jersey called Strathmore-at-Matawan.

Levitt took control of Levitt & Sons in 1954, after splitting with Alfred.[5] The company went public in 1960.[5]

Under his sole leadership, Levitt & Sons even spread internationally. Levittown, Puerto Rico, built in the 1960s, was one of Levitt's projects. Levitt even built near Paris at Lésigny in Seine-et-Marne, and at Mennecy in Essonne, France.[9]

Levitt was awarded the Frank P. Brown Medal in 1965.

Company sale[edit]

Levitt sold Levitt & Sons to ITT International Telephone and Telegraph in 1968 for a reported $90 million.[5] Much of the sale was in ITT stock, however, whose value was largely lost in subsequent years.

Levitt remained president under ITT until 1972. During that time he built in Palm Coast, Florida, Richmond, Virginia, and Fairfax, Virginia.

Later years and death[edit]

Levitt was barred from home building in the United States by the terms of the ITT sale.[5] Even after that term expired, Levitt was unable to repeat his successes with Levitt & Sons. He established a series of companies and joint ventures through the 1970s and 1980s,[10] but he sank deeper into debt. He was also accused of misappropriation of funds.[5]

Levitt died in Manhasset, New York, on January 28, 1994,[5] at the age of 87.

Legacy[edit]

William Levitt came to symbolize the new suburban growth with his use of mass-production techniques to construct large developments of houses, eponymously named Levittowns, selling for under $10,000. Many other relatively inexpensive suburban developments soon appeared throughout the country. While he did not invent the building of communities of affordable single-family homes within driving distance of major areas of employment, his innovations in providing affordable housing popularized this type of planned community in the years following World War II.[7]

His nicknames included "The King Of Suburbia" [11] and "Inventor of the Suburb." At his height, when he was building one suburban house every 16 minutes,[citation needed] Levitt compared his successes to those of Henry Ford's automobile assembly line.[11] In achieving his housing development success, he also became one of the visible examples of the prevailing business practice of many contemporary real estate developers of the era to cater to the common racism of his intended clientele, developing "white-only" enclaves in the neighborhoods he created.[7][12]

His legacy remains criticized for its long-term effects of replacing farmland with suburban sprawl. Environmentalists[who?] also find issue with the suburban lifestyle he helped to create.

Time Magazine recognized Levitt as one of the "100 of 20th Century" in 1998.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Little boxes.(brief history of William Levitt's Levittowns)". Canada and the World Backgrounder. Retrieved 2010-02-11. 
  2. ^ "Marquis Who's Who - William Levitt". Marquis Who's Who. Retrieved 2010-02-11. [dead link]
  3. ^ "William Levitt". Top Business Entrepreneurs. Retrieved 2010-02-11. 
  4. ^ Ephross, Peter (February 9, 2009). "How Jews both Segregated and Integrated Levittown". Baltimore Jewish Times (New York). Archived from the original on June 8, 2011. Retrieved December 3, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "William Levitt". Answers.com. Retrieved 2013-07-21. 
  6. ^ Blackwell, Jon. "1951: American dream houses, all in a row". The Trentonian. 
  7. ^ a b c d Lacayo, Richard (December 7, 1998). "Suburban Legend WILLIAM LEVITT". TIME. Retrieved October 1, 2010. 
  8. ^ "HOUSE BUILDER LEVITT, For Sale: a new way of life". TIME. July 3, 1950. 
  9. ^ "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). 
  10. ^ "Levitt Communities". LevittownBeyond.com. Retrieved 3 December 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Schneiderman, Matt (April 30, 2008). "William Levitt: The king of suburbia". The Real Deal. 
  12. ^ "William Levitt: The king of suburbia". The Real Deal. Retrieved 2010-10-01.