Levittown, New York: America’s First Suburb (Part 1 of 2)
On July 1, 1947, Levitt & Sons broke ground on the $50 million, 17,447 homes “Levittown” development — and America’s first suburb was born.
Levittown, NY is located on Long Island, 10 miles east of New York City.
Levittown covers around 7 square miles of land.
17,447 Homes Were Built In Levittown, NY between 1947–1951.
Shown: Color photo shows some of the exterior color choices.
Also Shown: Levitt Homes also “staggered” the homes — so they would not all be the same difference from the street.
Completed Levittown, NY homes in the mid 1950’s
Where & When Suburbia Began
At the end of World War II, there were 16.1 million U.S. men & women demobilized from the military and returned home. ** In desperate need of housing, millions of recent GIs, many already with children, were eager to buy homes. They flocked to Levittown, NY, which broke ground in 1947. When Levitt Homes opened for sales in March 1949, eager buyers lined up to purchase homes. On the first day, Levittown, NY sold 1,400 homes! The first family moved into Levittown in Oct 1947.
William Levitt’s vision was foreseeing the unprecedented demand for middle-class housing following the end of World War II. Levittown, NY was available only to WWII Veterans. By applying assembly-line techniques to house construction, William positioned himself to make the most of the situation. His unique vision of a planned community with well-built, affordable houses — began the suburbanization of America.
Levittown was made possible with massive government assistance. The Federal Housing Administration guaranteed the loans that banks made to builders. Then the Veterans Administration gave buyers low-interest mortgages to purchase those houses.
Prior to 1948,the average down payment on a home purchase was around 65%. In 1948, The Housing Bill liberalized lending, With the passage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, (The GI Bill) + the 1948 Housing Bill, Veterans could buy a home with a Veteran’s Administration (VA) Mortgage with $0 down.
Additionally, others could now buy homes with an FHA Mortgage with 3% percent down. In Levittown, NY, only Veterans could buy, but in the two large Levittowns to follow (in PA & NJ) — non-veterans could buy, taking full advantage of FHA mortgages. Mortgage terms were also extended to 30 years.
Additionally The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) made new home communities like Levittown possible by guaranteeing loans for Home Builders. Levittown, NY was financed with FHA Guaranteed Loans from various lenders.
** Source: http://www.antiquetrader.com/features/levittown_the_birth_of_the_burbs/
Line Of People Waiting To Tour A Levittown Model Home
Levittown homes were were built within an idyllic and carefully controlled community. The houses were simple, unpretentious, and most important, affordable. The community was designed with streets in curvilinear patterns and cul-de-sacs, creating a graceful setting without a city’s grid-like feel. Streets directed cars outside of the community so Levittown would not be disturbed by noisy traffic.
The maintenance of houses and yards was meticulously governed. Owners were not allowed to: change the exterior color, install fences or outdoor clothes-lines, & no laundry hung outside. If you did not maintain your lawn, the Levitt gardeners would be do the work, you would be billed.
- Click here for YouTube Video of a 1950’s news report describing Levittown, NY. Levittown, NY — A 3.5 Minute News Article
- Click here for YouTube Video showing how Levittown, NY looks today:See How Levittown, NY looks like today.
- Click here for YouTube Narrated Video showing Levittown today and talking about it’s origins. Levittown NY, The Origins Of Suburbia
How Levitt Was Able To Sell Houses For Low Prices
Home prices started at $6,990 for the Cape Cod, and $7,990 for the Ranch (with a profit of about $1,000 per house).
The “Cape” (Cape Cod Style) Home — Payments were $52 a month — With a $0 Down Payment VA Mortgage
The “Rancher” (Ranch Style) home — Payments were $65 per month — With a $0 Down Payment VA Mortgage
Levittown, NY Homes Were Designed & Built To Keep Their Price Low
Levitt Home’s designs and building-practices revolutionized the Home-Building Industry. Levittown homes were built with “assembly-line” construction methods, much like cars are made. William Levitt even went so far as to declare his company “the General Motors of the housing industry.” A variety of workers moved from house to house, each performing only 1 of 27 highly specialized tasks, and using standardized materials. Levittown was famous for building (completing construction of) up to 150 houses per week (at construction’s peak).
In order to mass produce the houses, the construction process was broken down into 27 separate operations. Each operation had it’s own team of workers who repeated only their assigned tasks for each home. After land-work was complete, concrete slab foundations were installed. Next, trucks delivered everything required to build 1 home to each homesite. When they were delivered, all materials were standardized and ready to install.
Then: carpenters, roofers, tilers, painters, and other teams arrived in sequence. The steps were so specialized that one painting team used only white paint. Plumbers never had to cut a water pipe, as every pipe was delivered pre-cut. Using these mass-production techniques, the Levitts built up to 150 houses a week when most builders were constructing 4-5 houses a year.
To keep lumber costs down, Levitt & Sons bought their own forests and built a sawmill in Oregon. They purchased appliances direct from the manufacturer, cutting out the middle man. They even made their own nails.
All homes were built on concrete slab foundations, and included in-floor heating inside the slab. Inside floors were covered with Vinyl Asbestos Tile (VAT). The exteriors were covered with a man-made shake made with a mixture of asbestos and cement. When Levittown, NY was built, these exterior tiles were considered an excellent product as they resisted: decay, rot and termites.
William J. Levitt On The Cover Of Time Magazine In July 1950
Levittown, NY During Construction
Slab Foundations ready to be built on. All building-materials & appliances were delivered (on the slab) at one time
Cape Cods homes during “framing” Cape Cods — Facing Street Cape Cods — Facing Rear Lawn
Moving day for several families at once
Completed homes occupied by their first owners.
Rear Lawns view. Originally, fences were not allowed by Levitt Homes
The G.I. Bill — And The Dawn Of Veteran’s Administration (VA) Mortgages
As World War II came to an end, Congress passed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, (The GI Bill). This bill was created to provide financial assistance to Veterans coming home from war. The GI Bill had a greater impact on American society and economics than foreseen by Congress. This Bill would lead to two new aspects of American life; suburban development, and tract-home communities with prices within the reach of most home buyers.
One of the largest benefits of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act was low interest-rate, $0 Down-Payment Veterans Administration (VA) Home Mortgages. With thousands of servicemen looking to purchase homes, new home communities started being built on the edges of cities, creating suburbs.
VA Mortgages Allowed 17,447 Veterans To Realize Their Dream Of Home Ownership In Levittown, NY
Levittown, NY: Cape Cod Ranch
Levittown prices started at $6,990.00 for the Cape Cod & $7,990.00 for the Ranch
Levittown Homes Included:
- 6,000 square foot lot (60′ wide X 100′ deep)
- 750 square feet in the Cape Cod. 800 square feet in the Ranch.
- 4 Rooms, 2 Bedrooms, 1 Bathroom homes.
- Unfinished attics, with stairs to the attic included (they stopped at the ceiling). The buyer could expand the home by finishing the attic after purchase.
- Kitchen included: GE Range & Refrigerator and Bendix (brand) Automatic Washer
- Homes included a built-In TV!
- Vinyl Asbestos Flooring-Tile (VAT) was installed throughout the home.
- Homes had “Hydronic-Radiant” (in floor) Heating. An oil-fired boiler located (under counter) in kitchen, or under the attic stairs.
- Exteriors were clad in Asbestos “Shake” siding.
- 2 Ornamental trees + shrubs were included.
Levittown Included These Amenities:
- 9 community swimming pools.
- 6 ”village greens” that included a few shops, such as grocery and laundromat.
- More than 116 parklike playfields.
- Shopping Centers (along the outside edges of the community). Photos of amenities below.
A Built-In TV Was Included!
Levittown’s First Model—The Cape Cod
Cape Cod front Floorplan Brochure with 3 fronts available Recently renovated Cape Cod
Living Room In Cape Cod Kitchen on display in an unchanged Levittown Home “Museum”. Oil boiler on far right edge of photo.
At first, there was only 1 home. The Cape Cod was priced at $6,990. They were: 750 Square Feet, one-story, four-room, 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom homes built on a concrete slab. While small, the homes very practical and livable. There was an unfinished attic (the stairs going to it were included). The kitchens were equipped with appliances, including an automatic washing machine made by Bendix (no dryer was included). The refrigerator and range were made by General Electric.
The front entrance to the Cape Cod home was directly in front of the stairs (for the future finished attic). The eat-in kitchen was on one side of the entrance, with the living room on the other side. The two bedrooms were at the rear of the home, and the bathroom shared a wall with the kitchen (cost was minimized by keeping all the plumbing in one location).
Cape Cods had 3 exterior fronts to choose from, each with subtle variations to the roofline and windows. Buyers could chose from a limited selection of colors. Beyond the front, the homes were identical. Children growing up in Levitt homes never had to ask where the bathroom was in a their friends’ homes!
The Second Model—The Rancher
In 1949, Levitt began offering a ranch-style home. Priced at $7,990. the “Rancher” was a slightly larger (800 square feet), one-story, four-room, 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom home built on a concrete slab. In 1950, a carport was added.
The ranch home’s floorplan was quite different from the Cape Cod. The living room at the back of the home, and overlooking the back yard through a large “picture window” that was the full width of the room, and had an exit door on one side (the stairs to attic were there too). The front entrance to the home was alongside the eat-in kitchen, then past a double-sided fireplace that separated the living room from the kitchen. The bedrooms were on the side of the home, and the bathroom shared a wall with the kitchen. As with the “Cape” floorplan, the attic was unfinished. In 1951, Levitt began “partially finishing” the attics.
The “Rancher” model included a carport (on the kitchen side). Rancher Floorplan 5 Exterior Fronts were available for the Rancher
Rancher floorplan without carport Original rancher kitchen. Oil boiler between brick fireplace and washer.
“Rancher” Floorplan — Photos From Over The Years
Living room & kitchen dining-area shared a two-sided fireplace. Newly renovated home 2017
Levittown Attics Over The Years
Unfinished, as built Finished in the early years
Finished Attics Over The Years
Levittown, NY Amenities:
- Shopping Centers
Aerial Photo Of One Of Levittown’s Schools & Ball Fields
Levittown MacArther High School
Levittown Public Library
- 9 Community Swimming Pools
- 6 ”Village Greens” that included a few shops, such as groceries and coin laundries
- Around 116 parklike playfields.
- 6 Protestant churches
- 2 Jewish Synagogues (Reformed & Orthodox).
- 2 Roman Catholic churches
Levittown Homes’ Heating System
Since ours is a Plumbing, Heating & A/C website, please indulge us we describe a Levittown Home’s Heating System.
Because Levittown’s homes were built on a slab, a decision was made to have hot-water heating in the floor. It was described as “Hydronic Radiant-Heat”. A York-Shipley brand boiler (called a “low-York”) provided both the heating and circulating of the water inside the slab. Irwin “Jal” Jalonack, made the decision to install oil-fired radiant in-floor heating in Levittown, NY homes. There was an underground oil tank in each front lawn. Jalonack is considered the father of radiant heating in America.
Oil boiler right ^^ to left of washer (ranch) Taller boiler in kitchen (cape cod) ^^ chimney).
The heated water circulated through pipes imbedded inside the slab floor (see diagram with orange below). A photo of an opened slab floor showing water pipes. This Heating System provided warm floors, and did a good job of heating the home.
Hydronic-Heating Diagram Hydronic Radiant-Heat has pipes ^^ (imbedded in the concrete slab).
Because in-floor radiant heating was quite new, it wasn’t without potential problems. The majority of these involved leaks in the pipes within the slab (they carried the hot water). Because no plastic vapor-barrier was installed under the slab, the leaking water went into the ground, and many home owners did not know about the leaks until they were major.
Additionally, copper’s interaction with concrete created corrosion of the pipes over time. In later years, a protective barrier was installed to protect the pipes. Once leaks began, they were expensive and difficult to repair (the pipes were inside the concrete slab). This lead many homeowners to abandon this heating system years later.
When Levittown, NY was built, radiant heat was still in its infancy. Also, workman assembled those houses faster than anyone imagined. The workmanship and materials were crude, yet those systems lasted for decades, with some of them continuing to heat Levittown homes to this day.
There Were 2 Other Large Levittown’s
The 1952 opening of U.S. Steel’s Fairless Works in Fairless Hills, PA drew workers from around the state. In that same year, the Levitt’s began building Levittown, PA, encompassing 5,750 acres (22 square miles) in Bucks County, PA. During 1952–1958, the Levitts built slightly over 17,300 homes, offering 6 different models (only 2 models available in NY). While Levittown, NY was sold to exclusively to Veterans, Levittown, Pa. targeted blue-collar workers. There was no veteran requirement.
In the mid 1950’s, Levitt & Sons bought farmland in Burlington County, NJ. Levittown, NJ was within easy commuting distance to Philadelphia,PA plus both Camden & Trenton, NJ. After Levittown, PA was completed in 1958, the company began building a 12,000-home community in Willingboro, NJ, starting sales in June 1958.
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