|A row of Levittown, NY Cape Cods|
Levittown, NY – America’s First Suburb
I’ve already blogged about the Philadelphia Levittown, but its predecessor is similar in size and scope, though there are some notable differences. The biggest difference is in its beginning—Levittown, NY started as a planned RENTAL community of 2,000 Cape Cod style homes. Half the units were rented within two days of the ANNOUNCEMENT of the community. This was 1947, and the demand for housing was so great that the original concept was almost immediately expanded to 4,000 units. The Levitts switched to sales once the federal government support for housing was fully implemented through the Federal Housing Administration. The original Levittown mortgages were 30-year mortgages, with no down payment, and monthly mortgage payments that were the same as rent. Not surprisingly, Levitt could not keep up with demand.
|Original 1947 Rental Cape Cod|
The First Model—The Cape
The first Cape Cods were offered for $6,990. They were simple, sturdy, one-story, four-room (and a bathroom) homes built on a concrete slab. A full floor plan is included at the bottom of the post. The kitchens were fully “built-in” and equipped with appliances, including a Bendix washing machine (no dryers yet). The rest of the appliances were...say it with me folks…General Electric! The homes were very small, yet very livable, and countless clones of this design dot the American landscape to this very day.
The Second Model—The Ranch
|The 1950 Ranch (Notice the Carport)|
In 1949, Levitt began building a different type of house. Slightly larger and more modern in appearance, this “Ranch” home (which really isn’t a ranch house) went for $7,990. The front entrance to these homes is almost through the kitchen, with the living room being at the back for privacy. A large “picture window” overlooked the backyard, bringing the outside in. A double-sided fireplace separated the living room from the kitchen/eating area. The second floors were unfinished and marketed as “room for expansion” as your family grew. In 1950, a carport was added (Americans love their cars), and included a built-in television set under the stairs. The built-in TVs didn’t last long, as Americans of the 1950s tended to think of TVs as furniture rather than appliances (Think: that big ol’ cabinet TV in the corner of your grandfather’s living room. That’s furniture—the fridge is an appliance). In 1951, Levitt began “partially finishing” the attics. Floor plan below.
|Worker installing a Bendix washer |
in a Cape Cod Kitchen
The Dark Side
The Levitts would not rent or sell to African Americans. They continued this practice in Philadelphia. See the other post for more detail. The do-and-don’t list was long, including the prohibition of fences. Keep in mind, the idea of restrictive residential “covenants” appealed to a large portion of the public who had grown up in the depression and watched the deterioration of the American cities—they were paying for a fresh, new look and they wanted to keep it that way! (Side note: When they were first married in 1950, my own grandparents looked at a house in a Levittown-style development with similar covenants and passed on it, despite its affordability. My grandmother didn’t like the house and my grandfather was NOT going to listen to someone tell him how often he had to mow his lawn! He was a Marine in WWII for Christ’s sake!!!)
|Sparrow Lane in Levittown Today|
Though originally known for it’s uniform appearance, the Levittown of today bears little resemblance to the original Levittown. Everything that could possibly be done to a house has been done to the original Levittown homes—numbering 17,447. An entire study could be made of the Levittown modifications. People still modify their Levittown homes, as the community is still kept up, and is one of the only semi-affordable places to live on Long Island!
|Aerial View of Levittown, NY|
|LIFE Magazine photo of an entire set of materials|
required for a Levittown Cape Cod.
|Floor Plan of a Levittown Cape Cod|
(The Living Room window configuration differed from year to year.)
|Floor Plan of "The Ranch". Notice the unusual entrance through the kitchen.|