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Levittown at 70: A kids’ paradise grows up

All the houses used to look the same, but that’s not so anymore.

A street view of Albatross Road in Levittown,

A street view of Albatross Road in Levittown, Dec. 21, 2017. Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

Back in 1960, Wendy Dunford’s summertime routine in Levittown was kid heaven. Walking with her best friend to the local pool, the two 10-year-olds would swim, read comic books and chatter away until noon. Lunch was kaiser rolls and Cokes at a nearby soda fountain. When the pool closed at 5 p.m., they played stickball or hopscotch until dusk, and then flashlight tag after that.

“We were constantly outside,” says Dunford, a 67-year-old East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, resident who fondly recalls growing up in the working-class Camelot that appeared on Long Island in 1947. “There was always a mother’s network watching over us. If there was any trouble, someone would call and say, ‘Come get your kid.’ ”

Levittown, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, was more than a child’s paradise.

The first mass-produced suburbia, it was a societal model providing homes for the flood of triumphant GIs returning from World War II. Suddenly, the American dream was within reach — ownership of a home in a pristine environment dotted with swimming pools and community centers, all for as little as a $65 monthly mortgage payment.

For people like Joanne Akerstrom, a 67-year-old retired nurse who still lives in the Levittown home where she was raised, her childhood memories are like fun suspended in amber. One of the reasons there was always an army of children around, she points out, was that most of the adults who moved in were the same age. Therefore, all their children were the same age, too.

“Kids back then didn’t play with electronics,” she says. “You played with other kids. You jumped rope and rode bikes and talked to one another. Believe it or not, in the summertime we played school. I don’t think any child these days does that.”

Much has changed in seven decades. The population is more diverse and there are safety concerns, just like in most communities.

TIMES HAVE CHANGED

Peg Di Iorio, 67, a retired accountant who grew up in Levittown and also still lives in her childhood home, acknowledges that the community today is different from back then.

“I won’t sugarcoat it,” she says “We have our problems. But it’s still a great place to raise a family.”

Her father was a carpenter who worked on some of the original Levittown homes and often mentioned how well-made they were, she says. Since they were designed to be expanded, it is nearly impossible to find one that hasn’t been renovated, often beyond recognition.

“The joke used to be that all the houses looked the same, so you didn’t know which door to go into,” says Akerstrom. “That’s not a problem anymore.”

Di Iorio says she has noticed the area’s evolution — how many of the original occupants have aged, died or moved away to be replaced with a new generation of families.

“It’s come full circle,” she says. “It’s the way things should be.”

‘A COMFORTABLE PLACE’

Akerstrom says she likes the change, too. “It’s nice to hear children laughing again,” she says.

Of course, today’s Levittown kids will never see things like the truck carnival ride called “The Whip” that would drive down the street and stop to give paying customers a whirl. Also gone is the bookmobile, a library on wheels that made the rounds so kids could pick out their summer reading.

Levittown homes again are selling fast because of the hot housing market, real estate agents say. But Akerstrom’s best friend remains the same person she met there while growing up. And her neighbors, whom she still addresses as Mr. and Mrs., are the same, too.

“It’s a comfortable place,” she says. “I’m not planning on moving.”Here are five Levittown homes for sale that retain some characteristics of the originals.

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