Levittown, New York: America’s First Suburb (Part 3 of 3)
William Levitt’s Life After ITT Purchased Levitt & Sons
In 1968, William Levitt (then 60) became incredibly wealthy, receiving $62 million in the form of ITT stock ($703 million in 2017 dollars). In return, Levitt agreed not to build within the United States for 10 years.
William built a 30 room French Provincial mansion on 68 acres in Mill Neck, NY. The mansion is located near the northern shore of Long Island, several miles slightly northwest of Levittown, NY.
The Levitt Mansion, Built In 1964, Was For Sale in 2016 For $5.85 Million Dollars
Additional Purchases Included: a 237 foot yacht, the “La Belle Simone” (named after his 3rd wife); $3 million in jewelry; paintings by Renoir, Monet, Degas and Chagall; and a Rolls-Royce.
William & Simone Levitt in front of their 237 foot yacht “La Belle Simone”
To avoid paying taxes, Levitt did not convert his ITT stock into cash. Instead, he borrowed against the stock to build new home communities in foreign countries. When the foreign projects floundered, he was left with millions of dollars of debt.
Between January 1973 and December 1974, the New York Stock Exchange’s Dow Jones Industrial Average benchmark lost over 45% of its value. William Levitt’s ITT shares lost about 90% of their original value (their value when he received them). Chase Manhattan Bank seized Levitt’s stock as collateral. William ran out of money and was forced to sell his mansion.
William Levitt’s Big Comeback — And Second Fall From Grace
In 1978, William Levitt established Levitt Industries, Inc. (his own company, a new and separate entity from what ITT had purchased from him).
Also in 1978, Levitt announced plans to build the largest housing development in U.S. history in Orlando, Florida. Upon completion, there were to be 26,000 or more homes built upon 7,000 acres of ground. The $2 billion community was to be located south of Orlando, FL — 13 miles from Disney World. Williamsburg was to have 11 floorplans, priced from $39,900 — $59,900 (at the time the U.S. average home price was $100,100).
”This isn’t a pipe dream,” Levitt said during a news conference. ”The work has begun, and we’ll have the first houses ready for occupancy by fall.” News reports about the project, plus advertising by Levitt, generated more than 1,500 deposits of $500 each from prospective home buyers.
William originally billed the community as “Levittown, Florida”. This created legal actions to stop him from using that name. A lawsuit from plaintiffs ITT & Starrett Corp. ensued, as the trade-name Levittown had been sold to ITT (then later to Starrett). As a result of litigation, William Levitt changed the name of the community to Williamsburg prior to its opening. That turned out to be the least of Levitt’s Williamsburg Community’s problems.
The community was a joint-venture between Bill Levitt and Old Court Savings & Loan in Pikesville MD. William Levitt joined Old Court in 1982, and steered the thrift in aggressive new directions, including Williamsburg. 1985, in a court petition to have Old Court placed into conservatorship. Maryland’s Attorney General said that at least 30 accounts (owned by officers & directors) were overdrawn by a total of $5.7 million. The petition did result in Old Court being placed in the hands of a conservator. It was then shut down by Maryland State Authorities. With Old Court’s closing, Levitt encountered cash-flow problems he never recovered from.
The Beginning Of The End For Levitt’s Williamsburg In Orlando, FL
Historically, Levitt’s reputation for standing behind their homes was strong. Over the years, news articles described problems owners had with their new Levitt homes, and how the company made repairs in a timely manner.
In Williamsburg, construction defects were not handled like Levitt Home had in the past. The initial phases of Williamsburg’s homes had adobe-tile roofs, and many leaked. Though sloppy subcontractor work was blamed, the problem cast a shadow on Levitt’s reputation. The problems of leaking roofs, and slow repairs, caught the attention of Orange County, FL Officials, and now Williamsburg was under the scrutiny of County Officials.
In October 1984, Orange County, FL halted work on Williamsburg (and no longer issued new Building Permits). The County’s action was because Levitt’s company had not completed the Central Florida Parkway to U.S. 441 (S. Orange Blossom Trail). Reports stated Levitt had agreed with Orange County to make this extension.
It was also reported that initial County approvals required extension of Central Florida Parkway only if Levitt were to expand development east of Shingle Creek (the creek, not a road). All of Williamsburg was to be located west of Shingle Creek (the waterway, not the street). To see today’s Google Map of this area, click on this link: Williamsburg Community, Orlando FL, showing Shingle Creek Parkway. Click once to reduce the map’s size and you can see Shingle Creek on the right side of the map.
Levitt Was Forced To Exit Williamsburg
Two years later, Michigan investors (under the trade name Unibuit) purchased the community from Levitt. Unibilt bought all the undeveloped land Levitt still controlled, 443 acres. The company built Central Florida Parkway, and agreed to finish 85 houses that under construction when Levitt was shut down. Unibilt also agreed to honor 130 pending contracts with buyers who had made down payments, and left with nothing when Levitt’s building was halted.
In time, the Williamsburg Homeowners Association was later instituted. In the end, seven villages withing Williamsburg were built. They include: more that 3,000 homes, pools, tennis courts and clubhouses
Levitt returned to Long Island. He did not retire, rather planned new & bigger developments — they never happened. Levitt was barred from doing business in New York, due to alleged illegal & unethical business-practices in FL. Regulators said Levitt kept homeowners’ deposits & down payments, plus took money earmarked for future repairs & maintenance in Williamsburg. Investigators also claimed that Levitt took at least $17 million from his family’s charities to cover his own personal expenses.
In January 1994, William Levitt, nearly bankrupt, died of kidney disease. His widow (and 3rd wife) Simone Levitt survived him. He was also survived by: two sons, James Levitt & William J. Levitt, Jr.; and three stepdaughters, Mrs. Bernstein, Denise Chernoff, and Gaby Altman.
Marketing Materials and Brochure for Williamsburg
Though difficult to see, below is a welcome letter sent in direct-mailings to prospective buyers William Levitt’s newly formed company (International Community Corp.) at the Williamsburg Active-Adult Community nearly Orlando FL. Following the welcome letter is the brochure +1 home’s floorplan & exterior front.
Note: See Larger & Clearer Examples Of The Images Below by clicking here: LevittownBeyond.com Williamsburg New Home Community Near Orlando FL
Levittowns & Racism –The Elephant In The Room…
NOTE: The information below comes from well researched facts. It is neither the opinion of the author, nor of Al’s Plumbing, Heating, & A/C. All sources contributing to this section are identified at the bottom of this section. It’s not our intent to justify, nor excuse, the “whites-only” restrictions in the 3 Levittowns. We do want to ensure readers are aware there was more to the story in Levittown, NY. By the time the 3rd Levittown was under construction, this racist policy was indeed an continued effort of William J. Levitt.
It would not be appropriate to have created such a detailed article about Levittown, NY without also addressing “the elephant in the room”. Levittown, NY was a “closed” or “restricted” community — meaning only white veterans were allowed to buy & live there. This restriction continued into Levittown PA & NJ. It was eventually deemed illegal and unenforceable.
Many articles attest to that the Levitt family created this restriction. While true, that is not the whole story in the days of Levittown, NY. Over time, it certainly became obvious that William Levitt chose to continue the restriction. This was further enforced with a 1954 Saturday Evening Post article that quoted William Levitt: “If we sell one house to a Negro family, then 90-95% of our white customers will not buy into the community. That is their attitude, not ours. We did not create it, and we cannot cure it. As a company, our position is simply this: We can solve a housing problem, or we can try to solve a racial problem, but we cannot combine the two.”
In Levittown, NY Racial Restrictions Were A Condition Of The Federal Housing Adminstration
At the time of Levittown, NY, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) — guaranteed the loans Levitt Homes needed to build Levittown, NY. At that time, FHA had these two rules:
1. No new homes may be sold to African American buyers.
2. Each home have a deed-restriction forbidding resale of the home to black buyers.
There is no disagreement that Levittown, NY would not sell to African American Veterans. The reasons behind it, though, often were attributed solely to the Levitt’s. As with any legally-binding agreement: the Levitt’s agreed to, and were obligated to abide by, all terms of the agreement. If any party did not, they would be in breach of the agreement. This was not the case by Levittown, NJ. At that time, the race restriction was indeed solely an act of William Levitt.
Also in the early years, if a black family moved into an all white neighborhood, FHA refused to issue home buyer mortgages (to any buyers) within that neighborhood. (10) In 1959, the United States Commission on Civil Rights concluded that only 2% of all FHA home-buyer mortgages had gone to blacks. “Most of this housing,” concluded the report, “has been in all Negro developments in the South.”
FHA maintained its “suburban whites-only” policy into the early-1960s. FHA removed race references from its manual, but still stated “Neighborhoods constituted of families that are congenial (similar to each other) generally exhibit strong appeal and stability.” FHA continued to finance builders (with FHA’s open policies of racial exclusion) until 1962. (8)
By 1963, FHA had eliminated these restrictions. In that same year, Levitt’s all-white policies led to civil-rights protests. FHA prepared to refuse guaranteeing loans Levitt would need to build Levittown, NJ. Levitt would not back down, and continued planning his 3rd whites-only Levittown. William Levitt fought legal challenges in New Jersey courts until the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case. (11)
In 1968, with the creation of The Federal Fair Housing Act, race-restrictions became illegal.
- Fair Housing Act The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 (+ The Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988) Prohibit Housing Discrimination on the basis of the following criteria: race or color; religion; national origin; familial status; or age (includes families with children under 18 & pregnant women); disability or handicap; and sex.
Also in 1968, The Fair Housing Act prohibited race as a factor in Mortgage Lending.
- Fair Housing Act (Lending portion):
The Fair Housing Act is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The Fair Housing Act also makes it unlawful for any lender to discriminate in housing-related lending activities against any persons because of their: race, color, religion, national origin, handicap, family status, or sex.
Within An Onslaught of Protests, Racial Integration Finally Began In Levittown #2 (PA)
In August of 1957, the national spotlight centered on Levittown, PA as a battleground for suburban-housing integration. An African American couple, Daisy & William Myers, bought & moved into 43 Deepgreen Lane with their 3 young children. William was electrical-engineer and World War II veteran.
A year of racial-harassment against the Myers ensued. Daisy Myers vividly recounted the rocks were through their windows, the taunts and name-calling that greeted her arrival as a member of the first African-American family in Levittown, PA. But many others signed petitions circulated by the “Citizens Committee for Levittown” that deplored violence and appealed for calm.
Daisey also believes her family’s plight spawned a Fair-Housing Law passed by the State Of PA about a year later. “I think of all the beautiful people who came to help us out, and I throw out of my mind all the other stuff.”
Racial Integration Continued In Levittown #3 (NJ)
Levittown, NJ was close to several military bases, drawing interest from military personnel. While building there in 1952-1958, Levitt & Sons was under legal assault for the whites-only restrictions. In 1960, an African American Army officer, Will R. James, won a lawsuit against racial exclusion. By then, racial conflicts were being settled by litigation. This gradually made Levittown, NJ attractive to minority home buyers. By 1964 (17 years after Levittown, NY opened for sales) Levitt was advertising his homes as open to all races.
The GI Bill
In 1944, The G.I. Bill was enacted. It aimed to help American WWII veterans adjust to civilian life by providing them with benefits including: low-cost mortgages, low interest loans, and financial support. African American Veterans returning from the war faced barriers to the benefits of the G.I. Bill. (1)
Veterans Administration (VA) mortgages were available to non whites. But, of the first 67,000 Veterans Administration (VA) mortgages issued, fewer than 100 were taken out by non-whites. This was not related to any restrictions placed by the Veterans Administration.
This was due to banks & mortgage companies refusing to make mortgages available to blacks. A term, redlining, was used to describe the practice of denying services, or selectively raising prices, to residents of certain areas based upon the racial or ethnic composition of those areas.
Federal Racial-Segregation Policies Date Back To The New Deal.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, he acted swiftly to stabilize the economy and provide jobs, in an effort to end the Great Depression. From 1933–1941, the government instituted a series of experimental projects and programs, known collectively as the New Deal. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the United States entered WWII. The war stimulated American industry and effectively ended the Great Depression. (2)
The 10 Acts Of The New Deal (3)
- Federal Housing Administration (FHA)
In 1934, The Federal Housing Agency (FHA) was created to combat the housing crisis of the Great Depression. The FHA was designed to regulate mortgages and housing conditions. In the beginning, FHA would not insure (FHA) mortgages for African-Americans, or for any buyers within an all white neighborhood, if a black family moved in. (4)
After WWII, the most important role of the Federal Housing Administration was to guarantee loans made to mass-production home builders. This included Levittown, NY. FHA did so with a requirements: 1. No new homes be sold to African-Americans and 2. Every home have a deed-restriction that prohibited resale to African-Americans. (4)
- Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC). HOLC was created in 1933 to assist in the refinancing of homes. During 1933–1935, 1 million people received long-term, low-interest loans through this agency. In many cases, these new mortgages saved their homes from foreclosure.
The HOLC implemented a system of rating neighborhoods with letter grades to help systematically discern property values. Primarily white neighborhoods generally received higher grades. The agency deemed neighborhoods with minorities or, “an undesirable element” (the official terminology) with its lowest ratings. (8)
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) also used HOLC standards when issuing mortgages. Using these standards, FHA encouraged segregation. (8)
- Public Works Administration (PWA)
In 1933, The PWA was responsible for building public-housing. From the very beginning, public housing was segregated by race. Harold L. Ickes, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior proposed the “neighborhood-composition rule”. This rule stated “segregated public housing would preserve the segregated character of the neighborhoods it was built within. Note: This was the liberal position. The conservative position preferred no public housing be built for black people. (5)
In 1984, The Dallas Morning News surveyed federally-funded housing projects in 47 metro areas. All of them (and their 10 million residents) were segregated by race. (5)
Other Government Institutions Created By The New Deal:
- Social Security Act (SSA)
- Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)
- Civil Works Administration (CWA)
- Federal Security Agency (FSA)
- National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA)
- Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
Works Progress Administration (WPA)
- (1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_Americans_and_the_G.I._Bill
- (2) http://www.history.com/topics/new-deal
- (3) https://www.thoughtco.com/top-new-deal-programs-104687
- (4) https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=526655831
- (5) https://www.citylab.com/equity/2015/09/how-the-federal-government-built-white-suburbia/403321/
- (6) http://www.nytimes.com/1997/12/28/nyregion/at-50-levittown-contends-with-its-legacy-of-bias.html
- (7) http://www.slate.com/articles/business/metropolis/2017/06/an_interview_with_richard_rothstein_on_the_color_of_law.html
- (8) http://ushistoryscene.com/article/levittown/
- (9) https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/10/the-racist-housing-policies-that-built-ferguson/381595/
- (10) http://prospect.org/article/public-housing-government-sponsored-segregation
- (11) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Levitt
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