Week 4

Levittown

I had never heard of Levittown in my life before I heard about it in class, so I decided to research it since so many other people already knew what it was. There are actually three Levittowns, one in Pennsylvania, one in New York, and one in New Jersey (However the one in New Jersey is no longer called Levittown, it is called Willingboro). Levitt and Sons was one of the largest home builders in the United States in the 1950s when people started moving to suburbia in the masses. Between 1950 and 1960, more than 20 million people in the United States moved from the city to housing developments outside the city. The idea of “the suburbs” definitely was not a new one, but this huge surge of people moving out of the city and into the suburbs in the 1950s really shaped the way we think of suburbia now, and the way we associate it with the American dream. Many of these people were veterans coming back from war and their families, who did not have a place to live and needed somewhere affordable. The Levitt and Sons company had the solution to this problem; Levittown.

Levittown, NY in the 1950s

The Levitts decided to build entire communities, instead of just individual homes, and this was a revolutionary idea that changed the American suburbs forever. The first Levittown was built in 1947 in Long Island, on 1200 acres that used to be a potato farm. There were only 2 different models of houses, but this was useful for Levitt and Sons because they built their houses like from a factory. They devised a 27-step process of building a house, and each constriction worker or crew would do one step of each house, and then move on to the next one. The houses were each built 60 feet apart from one another and together, they made Levittown, which was the “picture perfect community” or for some, the American Dream, because it was finally easy, affordable, and common to own your own house and (very small) piece of land. This created a huge suburban area that is what most americans picture now when we think of “the suburbs.” After the first Levittown was built in Long Island, two more were build in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

However, the Levittowns were far from perfect; the residents had to follow a very strict set of rules to make sure that every single house and garden looked the same, and the Levitts wanted the inhabitants to look the same too. One of the rules was that no black people were allowed to live in any of the houses. In 1957, a black couple with two children bought one of the houses from the previous owners, and faced endless harassment, threats, and even acts of violence from the neighbors and other residents of Levittown. They persevered and ended up staying, and eventually Levittown was forced to integrate more, but it is interesting and discomforting to know that in one of the ideals of the American dream, there was still segregation and racism happening.

1950s Levittown

Levittown was the epitome of the 1950s American dream, when everyone could suddenly afford things like their own car and house, and raise a perfect family with a white picket fence. However even the perfect American dream had a dark side, one of segregation and intolerance. Today, Levittown still exists, and many of the homes had been remodeled or expanded, but it still embodies the idea of the American Suburb.

Levittown Today

Sources:

http://ushistoryscene.com/article/levittown/

http://statemuseumpa.org/levittown/one/c.html

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