Friday, 19 March 2010 00:00
When I was 9 or 10 years old, my family moved from Queens to Seaford, which is not far from where they were building Levittown. I used to ride my bike everywhere, including the famous Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, which ran right through Levittown.
The road was straight in some spots, curvy in others, and ran for many miles through many towns. The Vanderbilts and friends used to race on this road and the grand stand is not far from where I live now on Farmedge Road. I have lived here for 48 years and my mother lives in Levittown as well; she is just a mile and a half away from me. She is 94 years young! While bike riding one day when I was young, I stopped to watch the men who were building the Levitt houses. A lot of the guys working were friendly cops and firemen. I’d watch them dig the footings and put plumbing pipes in place for heat and waste lines; they even put a future waste line for the second floor. After all the plumbing was in place, they would pour the concrete foundation, which was polished by a motorized machine with a three-feet round disk that would spin to make it smooth. Before the cement would set, they put bolts in the foundations so the termite-proof double plate could be bolted down to construct the walls. Each stud was pre-cut for speedy construction. Studs were even installed diagonally on two outside walls to withstand hurricanes and tornadoes. It is remarkable how fast and well they were built.
After watching them for some time they asked me if I would like to help. I carried boxes of tile into the house and opened them up; I even set the tile for a short time. I loved doing the work because I was learning so much. Who would have thought I would be living in a Levitt house three years later?
There are two different types of Levitt house; capes and ranches and both came in different styles. The capes, which sold for $6,990, came with a refrigerator, stove and washing machine. They had bookshelves in the living room, and had two bedrooms and a full bathroom. The capes were originally rentals with an option to buy at $60 per month. I was raised in a cape and I can remember the stairs going up had a trap door that you had to push up to open. It had a cable running to a pulley and a cement block that helped make it easier to open. The floors had radiant heat and I used to love to sleep on the floor when we first moved in. The ranch, which is what I live in now, sold for $7,990 and came with a fireplace and television built into the staircase wall surrounded by knotty pine. The ranch also came with a refrigerator, stove, washer, two bedrooms and a full bathroom. The 1949 ranch had a see-through fireplace from kitchen to living room with a cabinet hinged to the brick on casters so it could rotate out of the way if need be. It had shelves and closets on both sides and the living room side had a secretary unit built in. They were great houses for a great price and were made available for veterans to purchase with their GI bill.
Levittown was a great place to raise a family. It was 20 minutes away from great beaches and in the 1950s it was country living. At that time we had it all; great schools, nine swimming pools, 10 wading pools, playgrounds, parks and lakes for fishing, all in walking distance. The land was mostly potato fields and farmhouses that had their own gas pumps right on the property. Some of the farmhouses are still here, which is nice to see and bring back memories. The Levitt houses that were built among these fields, were on plots of land that were 60 feet by 100 feet and some a little larger. The houses were staggered closer or further from the main road for ventilation. In the beginning there were no fences and because of this everyone knew each other, which was great for the children and their parents. Block parties were held in the backyards where you only had to walk from yard to yard. It also came in handy when walking home from school or a buddy’s house and you were late for dinner.
Levittown has so many winding roads that fathers coming home from work would get lost or mistakenly go to the wrong house. That has certainly changed as very few of these houses look alike anymore. I would like to add, before ending this story, that people stuck together if something was wrong, you would know about it soon after and someone would offer a helping hand. Our phone system was a “party line”, which was a lot of fun. Most people don’t know what a party line is but that in itself is another story.
After serving four years active duty in the Navy, I bought a Levitt ranch not far from where I used to go fishing on Wantagh Avenue and very close to where the Vanderbilt Parkway ran through our block. I still live here and I’m very proud to have been a part of Levittown’s history.