Levittown, New York
|Levittown, New York|
|Hamlet and census-designated place|
U.S. Census Map
|County||Nassau County, New York|
|• Total||6.9 sq mi (17.8 km2)|
|• Land||6.9 sq mi (17.9 km2)|
|• Water||0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)|
|Elevation||82 ft (25 m)|
|• Density||7,500/sq mi (2,900/km2)|
|Time zone||Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)|
|• Summer (DST)||EDT (UTC-4)|
|GNIS feature ID||0955234|
Levittown is a hamlet and census-designated place (CDP) in the Town of Hempstead located in Nassau County, New York on Long Island. Levittown is midway between the villages of Hempstead and Farmingdale. As of the 2010 census, the CDP had a total population of 51,881.
Levittown gets its name from its builder, the firm of Levitt & Sons, Inc. founded by Abraham Levitt on August 2, 1929, which built the district as a planned community between 1947 and 1951. Sons William and Alfred served as the company's president and chief architect and planner, respectively. Levittown was the first truly mass-produced suburb and is widely regarded as the archetype for postwar suburbs throughout the country. William Levitt, who assumed control of Levitt and Sons in 1954, is considered the father of modern suburbia.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (November 2008)|
The building firm, Levitt and Sons, headed by Abraham Levitt and his two sons, William and Alfred, built four planned communities called "Levittown" (in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico), but Levittown, New York, was the first. Additionally, Levitt and Sons designs feature prominently in the older portion of Buffalo Grove, Illinois; Vernon Hills, Illinois; Willingboro Township, New Jersey; and the Belair section of Bowie, Maryland.
The Levitt firm began before World War II, as a builder of custom homes in upper middle-class communities on Long Island. During the war, however, the homebuilding industry languished under a general embargo on private use of scarce raw materials. William "Bill" Levitt served in the Navy, and developed expertise in mass-production building of military housing using uniform and interchangeable parts. During this same period, he was insistent that a postwar building boom would require similar mass-production housing, and was able to purchase options on large swaths of onion and potato fields in undeveloped sections of Long Island.
Returning to the firm after war's end, Bill Levitt persuaded his father and brother to embrace the utilitarian systems of construction he had learned, and with his architect-brother, Alfred, designed a small house on one floor and an unfinished "expansion attic" that could be rapidly constructed and as rapidly rented out to returning GIs and their young families. 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. They used pre-cut lumber and nails shipped from their own factories in Blue Lake, California, and built on concrete slabs, as they had done in a previous planned community in Norfolk, Virginia. This necessitated negotiating a change in the building code, which prior to the building of this community, did not permit concrete slabs. Given the urgent need for housing in the region, the town agreed. Levitt and Sons also controversially utilized non-union contractors in the project. On the other hand, they paid them very well and offered all kinds of incentives that allowed the workers to earn extra money, making them often earn twice as much a week as elsewhere.
The planned 2,000 home rental community was quickly successful, with the New York Herald Tribune reporting that half of the properties had been rented within two days of the community being announced on May 7, 1947. As demand continued, exceeding availability, the Levitts expanded their project with 4,000 more homes, as well as community services, including schools and postal delivery. With the full implementation of federal government supports for housing, administered under the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Levitt firm switched from rental to sale of their houses, offering ownership on a 30-year mortgage with no down payment and monthly costs the same as rental. The resulting surge in demand pressed the firm to further expand its development, which changed its name from Island Trees to Levittown shortly thereafter.
Levittown was designed to provide a large amount of housing at a time when there was a high demand for affordable family homes. This suburban development would become a symbol of the “American Dream” as it allowed thousands of families to become home owners. But Levittown would also become a symbol of racial segregation. The discriminatory housing standards of Levittown were consistent with government policies of the time. The Federal Housing Association allowed developers to justify segregation within public housing. The FHA only offered mortgages to non-mixed developments which discouraged developers from creating racially integrated housing. In accordance with this policy, the buying agreement signed by all those who purchased homes in Levittown stated that the property could not be used or rented by any individuals other than those of the Caucasian race. Before the sale of Levittown homes began, the sales agents were aware that no applications from black families would be accepted. As a result American veterans who wished to purchase a home in Levittown were unable to do so if they were black.
William Levitt attempted to justify their decision to only sell homes to white families by saying that it was in the best interest for business. He claimed their actions were not discriminatory but intended to maintain the value of their properties. The company explained that it was not possible to reduce racial segregation while they were attempting to reduce the housing shortage. Though the Levitts were Jewish, they did not wish to sell homes to Jewish families: “As a Jew, I have no room in my heart for racial prejudice. But the plain fact is that most whites prefer not to live in mixed communities. This attitude may be wrong morally, and someday it may change. I hope it will.” The Levitts explained that they would open up applications to blacks after they had sold as many homes to white people as possible. They believed that potential white buyers would not want to buy a house in Levittown if they were aware that they would have black neighbors.
In response to the discrimination of Levittown an opposition group was formed named the Committee to End Discrimination in Levittown. This group protested the sale of Levittown homes and pushed for an integrated community. In 1948 a legal proceeding by the United States Supreme Court declared that property deeds stipulating racial segregation were unenforceable by law. The "restrictive covenant" in the original rental agreement, which migrated to the sales agreement, stipulated that houses could not be rented or sold to any but members of the "Caucasian" race. The Levitts did not undertake efforts to counteract the racial homogeneity of the suburb and thus the racial composition of Levittown did not change. By 1960 Levittown was still a completely white suburb. Only well after the 1954 racial integration decisions, including Brown v. Board of Education, was Levittown racially integrated, and even as late as the 1990 census only a tiny fraction of the community was non-white, a stigma that still exists until this day.
While the Levitts are generally credited with designing a postwar "planned community", with common public amenities such as swimming pools and community centers, they were quick to release these high-maintenance, low-profit elements to the surrounding towns; the development sprawled across municipal boundaries, causing legal and administrative difficulties and requiring major initiatives within those existing municipalities to provide for and fund schools, sewage and water systems, and other infrastructure elements.
In 1949, Levitt and Sons changed focus, unveiling a new plan which it termed a "ranch" house. Larger, 32 by 25 feet (9.8 by 7.6 m), and more modern, these homes were only offered for sale, with a planned price of $7,990. The ranch homes were similar to the rental properties in that they were built on concrete slabs, included an expandable attic but no garage, and were heated with hot-water radiant heating pipes. Five models were offered that were substantially identical with differences in details such as exterior color and window placement. Again, demand was high, requiring that the purchasing process be streamlined as the assembly process had been, reaching the point that a buyer could walk through the process of selecting a house through contracting for its purchase in three minutes. This ranch model was altered in 1950 to include a carport and a built-in television. In 1951, a partially finished attic was added to the design.
Levittown proved successful. By 1951, it and surrounding regions included 17,447 homes constructed by Levitt and Sons.
Place in American culture
As the first and one of the largest mass-produced suburbs, Levittown quickly became a symbol of postwar suburbia. Although Levittown provided affordable houses in what many residents felt to be a congenial community, critics decried its homogeneity, blandness, and racial exclusivity (the initial lease prohibited rental to non-whites). Today, "Levittown" is used as a term to describe overly sanitized suburbs consisting largely of identical housing. Similarly, places have earned names like "Levittown-of-X" or "Levittown-on-the-X" as seen in Long Island's Bayville "Levittown on the Sound" and Fire Island's Dunewood "Levittown on the Bay." Oddly enough, although Levittown is remembered largely for its homogeneity, the majority of houses in Levittown have by now been so thoroughly expanded and modified by their owners that their original architectural form can be somewhat difficult to see; however, with diligent observation, several original examples can still be seen today.
Levittown has become so ingrained in American culture that the Smithsonian Institution in Washington would like to put on display an entire Levittown house. Bill Yeingst, a historian with Smithsonian's National Museum of American History Domestic Life Division said "An original ranch model would be ideal. We would like someone to donate their Levittown house, or we would like to find a donor to provide the funds so that we could secure a Levittown house." He noted that "The stories played out in suburban Levittown are the stories of America. They are stories important to everyone." Although "None of this is set in concrete," according to Mr. Yeingst, "the Levittown house would be dismantled at the site, transported to Washington and reconstructed. Then it would be exhibited along with other innovations in American home life."
Levittown is located at 40°43'28" North, 73°30'40" West (40.724468, -73.511191).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the community has a total area of 17.8 km² (6.9 mi²). All of it is land and none of the area is covered with water.
Because of non-conforming postal codes, Levittown has a different border from the "Levittown, NY 11756" postal zone. There are several areas of Levittown that have a "Bethpage, NY 11714", "Seaford, NY 11783", "Wantagh, NY 11793", "Hicksville, NY 11801" or "Westbury, NY 11590" mailing address.
The Levittown residential project subdivisions developed by Levitt and Sons, Inc., are geographically situated in the municipalities of the Towns of Hempstead, Hicksville, Oyster Bay, Seaford, and Wantagh. However, some areas not developed by Levitt and Sons have a Levittown mailing address because of its designation as a postal zone.
As of the U.S. Census Estimate of 2009, there are 53,017 people, 17,207 households, and 14,031 families residing in the community. The population density is 7,717.5 per square mile (2,978.1/km²). There are 17,447 housing units at an average density of 2,531.9/sq mi (977.0/km²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 94.15% White, 2.85% Asian, 0.5% Black, 0.07% Native American, 0.02% Pacific Islander. 5.11% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 
In the community the population is spread out with 25.7% under the age of 18, 7.0% from 18 to 24, 31.4% from 25 to 44, 23.0% from 45 to 64, and 12.9% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 37 years. For every 100 females there are 94.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 91.4 males.
The median income for a household in the community is $150,900, and the median income for a family is $83,851 (these figures had risen from $95,979 and $99,845 respectively as of a 2007 estimate). Males have a median income of $94,803 versus $79,962 for females. The per capita income for the CDP is $45,917. 1.0% of the population and 0.1% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 0.2% of those under the age of 18 and 0.3% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.
Levittown is served primarily by two public school districts, the Island Trees Union Free School District with approximately 2,574 students and the Levittown Union Free School District with approximately 7,380 students. A small portion of the northwest corner of the hamlet is served by the East Meadow Union Free School District. The Island Trees Union Free School District serves northeastern Levittown, and portions of Bethpage, Seaford and Plainedge. The district hosts Island Trees High School, Island Trees Memorial Middle School, Michael F. Stokes Elementary School, and J. Fred Sparke Elementary School.
In 1982, Island Trees gained national attention from the United States Supreme Court case Board of Education v. Pico. The case determined that students' first amendment rights were violated when the school board removed several books it found objectionable from the high school's library.
The Levittown Union Free School District, which also serves North Wantagh and the northern portion of Seaford, has two high schools: Division Avenue and General Douglas MacArthur, two middle schools: Wisdom Lane and Jonas Salk, and six elementary schools: Abbey Lane, East Broadway, Gardiners Avenue, Lee Road, Northside, and Summit Lane. The Levittown School District dates back to the 19th century, originally called the Jerusalem School District of the Town of Hempstead.
Private schools include the Maria Montessori School, The Progressive School of Long Island, Nassau Suffolk Services for Autism, and the South Shore Christian Elementary and Secondary School located in the former Geneva M Gallow Elementary School building. Vocational schools available are the Brittany Beauty School, Hunter Business School, and the New York Chiropractic College.
Although there is no passenger rail service in Levittown proper, the Long Island Rail Road provides service on its Main Line from a station in the neighboring hamlet of Bethpage. The LIRR's Port Jefferson Branch serves Hicksville station to the north, while the Montauk Branch stops at several closely spaced stations to the south. All three lines run from New York City (usually Pennsylvania Station) to points east on Long Island.
Fire: Levittown is protected by three volunteer fire departments, the Levittown Fire Department with 231 members operating out of 3 stations, Station 3 of the East Meadow Fire Department which covers portions of Levittown west of Division Avenue, and Station 2 of the Wantagh Fire Department which serves portions of Levittown South of Abbey Lane School.
Levittown has one main USPS post office, located at 180 Gardiners Ave.
People born in Levittown:
- Brand New band (fl. 2000–) members Jesse Lacey (1978), Vin Accardi, Brian Lane, and Garrett Tierney
- "Irish" Bobby Cassidy (April 19, 1944), professional boxer
- Kevin Covais (May 30, 1989), 5th season American Idol contestant, singer, actor (College)
- High School Football Heroes members David Solomon, George Argyrou, Joe Masterson, Chris Askin, Jason Rutcofsky
- Tom Kapinos (July 12, 1969) Screenwriter (Dawson's Creek), executive producer and creator of Californication
- Brian Kilcommons (1953), famous American dog trainer
- Miss Understood (Alex Heimberg,), drag artist, actor and businessperson.
- Maureen Tucker (August 26, 1944), drummer for The Velvet Underground
- Adam Wurtzel (October 2, 1985), television personality
People at one point living in Levittown:
- John A. Gambling (1930–2004), morning radio host on WOR 710
- Ellie Greenwich (October 23, 1940), Hall of Fame Songwriter, "Brill Building" pop composer
- Bill Griffith (January 20, 1944), cartoonist (Zippy)
- Peter Gruenwald (1912–1979), 1978 Lufthansa heist conspirator
- Brian Kenny (October 18, 1963), sportscaster for the MLB Network; former anchor of SportsCenter, host of Friday Night Fights, own radio show on ESPN Radio (The Brian Kenny Show)
- Donnie Klang (January 23, 1985), hip-hop singer (Take You There)
- Cyril M. Kornbluth (1923–1958), Hugo Award and Prometheus Award winning Science Fiction novelist (The Syndic)
- Damian Maffei (June 27, 1977), actor (Closed for the Season)
- Eddie Money (March 3, 1949), musician (Two Tickets to Paradise) (attended Island Trees High School though he lived in adjacent Plainedge, New York)
- Sterling Morrison (1942–1995), guitarist with The Velvet Underground
- Bill O'Reilly (September 10, 1949), political commentator (raised in a Levitt-built part of the adjacent community of Salisbury [sometimes identified as Westbury])
In the media
- In Mad magazine's parody of Easy Rider, named Sleazy Riders, the main characters think they've found America in a commune. One muses, "Ain't America people livin' together, an' sharin' homes together, an' sharin' kids together, and sharin' backyards and wives together?", to which the other replies, "That ain't America, Man! That's Levittown!"
- PBS series "Race: The Power of an Illusion," 3-part video by California Newsreel, features the towns Levittown and nearby Roosevelt in documenting systemic racism in the development of the suburbs and the impact of seemingly color-blind policy. They show the actual page of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) manual explicitly redlining families of color from being able to buy in Levittown-like suburbs until 1966, as well as other policies having to do with Levittown and similar suburbs. The series is available in libraries.
- A popular song by the Famous Long Island band Patent Pending "The L-Town Shakedown" formally "Levittown is for Lovers" is about this town.
- The 1954 Levittown documentary A City Is Born featured an interview with creator William J. Levitt, aerial views of the development, and a 45-second time-lapse sequence showing one of the houses being constructed.
- In 1962, singing comedian Allan Sherman (famous for his novelty hit of life at summer camp, Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh) poked fun in his album My Son, the Folk Singer with a parody of Harry Belafonte's Jamaica Farewell: "I'm upside down. My head is turning around. Cause I've got to sell the house, in Levittown."
- The Lockhorns of Levittown — later simply The Lockhorns — sprang from the pen of cartoonist Bill Hoest on newspaper funny pages in 1968. A graduate of Cooper Union in Manhattan, Hoest moved to Long Island, where he created the suburban couple Leroy, tippling girl watcher, and Lorretta, wisecracking roast burner. The strip lived on when John Reiner and Hoest's widow, Bunny, took over after Hoest's death in 1988.
- "Former high school teacher Gene Horowitz bodice-ripping 1980 novel, The Ladies of Levittown, featured a titillating account of America's most famous suburb, scandalizing many residents, who recognized their own lives depicted in the pages. The saga — taking place between 1947 and 1978 — pushes back the drapes, offering insight into the passions and disappointments of middle-class women as they struggle to reconcile their relationships with husbands, lovers and children."
- In the 1982 musical, Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey, the slum dwelling heroine, dreams of a home "Somewhere that's Green" but "Not fancy like Levittown. Just a little street in a little suburb...[where] all the houses are so neat and pretty, 'cause they all look just alike."
- 1985 W. D. Wetherell published short story, The Man Who Loved Levittown, in a collection of the same name. The Library Journal reviewed the story (an O'Henry prizewinner) as "a World War II vet buys a house in Levittown where he spends the best years of his life. His wife has died, his grown children have left, and one by one his neighbors are selling out and moving to Florida. Beneath the talky, narrative voice of this story you discover the internal logic of a man pushed beyond reason to a desperate act".
- Billy Joel references Levittown in the song Leningrad off the 1989 album Storm Front in reference to cold war tensions between the United States and the former Soviet Union.
- Stewart Bird's 1994 documentary Building The American Dream: Levittown, NY explores Levitt's vision of rapidly constructing inexpensive tract homes, featuring rare archival footage and photos, an interview with Levitt, and the reminiscences of numerous Levittown residents (including singer Billy Joel).
- October 24, 1997, Wonderland, a satirical documentary film about Levittown (produced and directed by John O'Hagan) premiered at TriBeCa. A New York Times review described it as follows: "The collective picture that emerges suggests a smug city slicker's condescending view of what could be almost any American small town."
- In 2003, Helen Harvey published a remembrance Eating Corn through a Picket Fence of which she writes "My mom and dad were Veterans of WWII. I consider myself a veteran of having lived with them. Levittown was a community of veterans where we all soothed our pains with sex, drugs and rock and roll."
- Anna Shapiro published a 2006 teen oriented book Living on Air. It's described by the publisher as about "Maude Pugh...(who)...was raised in Levittown, Long Island. By the time she attended high school she concluded her parents were colossal failures who hid in a community in which all exterior houses were identical to one another."
- In 2006, Marc Palmieri's play Levittown was performed at the Axis Theater in New York. As reviewed by The Village Voice: "We don't typically quibble with Leo Tolstoy, but are unhappy families really so different? Or are they rather like the endless rows of postwar homes that William Levitt built on Long Island?"
- On April 16, 2007, Levittown man Marc Kantor began riding his bicycle from Levittown, New York to San Diego, California. His mission was to help raise money and awareness for The American Heart Association. A portion of the proceeds were also donated to the Rhiannon Chloe Foundation, a foundation started to help children in need with leukemia. He successfully completed this on June 7, 2007.
- On Friday, November 9, 2007, Levitt and Sons of Fort Lauderdale became the nation's largest builder to file for bankruptcy as the housing market boom of the early 21st century continued to crumble.
- An aerial view of Levittown appears on the inner sleeve of the Billy Joel LP, The Nylon Curtain.
- Levittown was featured on the February 2, 2010, episode entitled "Home Wrecked Home" of Life After People: The Series on the History Channel.
- In July 2009 a to-scale original Levitt house was constructed at the Theatre at Saint Clement's in New York City for a revival of Marc Palmieri's play "Levittown." The set was designed by Michele Spadaro. Steven McElroy of the New York Times wrote a feature article in the Sunday Arts and Leisure section, "That Family Room? It Has a Certain Star Quality" on July 8, 2009.
- Levittown is paralleled by the fictional "Bloomtown," the suburban community featured in author Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
- Levittown is featured in the Planet P Project album "Levittown (Go Out Dancing, Vol. II)", an album based upon life in post-war America and the early space age and atomic age. The title song paints Levittown as an "American Dream" of conformity.
- "Is There Life After Levittown?", comic story about growing up in Levittown by Bill Griffith, "Lemme Outa Here Comics", 1978
- In Ralph Bakshi's controversial movie Coonskin from the 1970s, Levittown is briefly mentioned by the black accomplice of the corrupt cop named "Manigan" while driving down the highway.
- In the movie Born on the Fourth of July (which is partially set in nearby Massapequa) during the recruitment presentation scene Gunnery Sergeant Hayes mentions that he and a fellow marine are from a U.S. Marine recruiting station in Levittown.
- Levittown, Pennsylvania
- Levittown, Puerto Rico
- Willingboro Township, New Jersey - another Levittown which has since reverted to its original name
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- Orzack, Louis H., and Irwin Taylor Sanders (1963). A Social Profile of Levittown, New York. Boston: Research Institute, Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology, Boston University. OCLC 3655814.
- State University of New York (1962). Education in Levittown; reporting a study of the administration, financing and educational program of the school system, 1961-62, to the Board of Education, Union Free School District no. five, Levittown Public Schools, Levittown, New York. Albany. OCLC 10219344.
- Thompson, Gare (2002). A Suburban Community of the 1950s. Washington: National Geographic Society. ISBN 0-7922-8691-X. OCLC 50770960.
- Levittown: Documents of an Ideal American Suburb Peter Bacon Hales, Art History Department, University of Illinois at Chicago
- Levittown Historical Society
- Little Boxes, Little Boxes: The Levittown Story from FreeEnterpriseLand.com
- Joshua Ruff (December 2007). "Levittown: The Archetype for Suburban Development". American History. via HistoryNet from Weider History Group.
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