Throughout the week a few people mentioned that we should speak with Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, who is a lifelong Levittown resident. She met with Community Journalist Erin Geismar at the East Village Green on Wednesday to reminisce about the place she grew up.
Town of Hempstead supervisor
So, I heard you were born and raised in Levittown?
Yes, I was born in '62. I'm one of seven children and I'm number six in line. I had just a phenomenal time growing up here. I would not change my childhood for anything in the world.
When I was a kid, we would get home from school, run into the house to change our clothes, and then we could not get out of the house fast enough because there would be 1,000 kids outside playing. When the streetlight came on, that's when you would come home for dinner. And you had lots of moms. Everyone looked out for each other. And you listened. So if any adult told you to do something, you did it.
What do you think it was that made Levittown such a great environment?
What I think was unique about Levittown was that everyone was in the same position. When my parents moved here, they were newly married and so was everyone else. They all started having kids at the same time so everyone really understood each other. Nobody had money, they were new homeowners, they were doing what they could to get by. It makes for a very communal experience.
My mother tells me these stories. Most of the women were stay-at-home moms. So there was only one paycheck and it would come every other Friday. So my mom and another woman whose family got their paycheck on differing Fridays would help each other out. When my father got paid, my mom would share a pound of butter or something like that. Then the next week she would pay it back when her husband got paid.
What made you stay in Levittown as an adult?
I bought the house right next door to my parents. I knew the original owner and she was getting older and she didn’t want to maintain the house. I heard from her children that she was considering moving in with her son. So one day, it was in October and I was actually campaigning at the time, I saw real estate agents at her house and I went in there and said, ‘Did you decide on moving? I think I’d be interested in buying your home.’ She handed me the keys right there. So I sort of fell into the house right next door to my parents, and I used to think people who lived near their parents were crazy, but I have to say, they are great neighbors.
You have great memories from childhood, but what is it about Levittown that you love now, as an adult?
I’m a single woman and I don’t have children, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the village greens, the playgrounds, youth sports. These are just things that make a community really solid. It’s the support from parents, we have two good school districts and a desire from everyone to keep this community strong. That continues to be exhibited in our community. That’s the heartbeat of the community and it makes a great place to live.
How have you seen Levittown change?
Certainly now we’re seeing a new generation of people. My parents generation are into their 80s, so as new families move into Levittown, they need to develop that Levittown vibe. But I see that happening. I see them getting involved in their kids schools, in the community. They are gaining that Levittown spirit.
Of course, in terms of change there is also the development of the business corridor. On the corner of Hempstead Turnpike and Gardiners Avenue, that used to be a potato farm when my parents moved here. Now it’s a shopping center. So we’ve gone from farmland to a mature community structurally. The business district on Hempstead Turnpike has really grown and matured.
Do people still use the village greens for shopping?
I think so. If you take a look around -- they’re vibrant. Fred’s Deli at my village green has been around for at least 55 years. La Focaccia restaurant, right here in this green, that’s where we hold our Kiwanis meetings every week. Some of the stores have come and gone but there are really nice anchors in each village green. That’s what creates that commercial destination. That’s what keeps the community vibrant.
What challenges does Levittown face?
Not necessarily any that are unique to Levittown. The maturing of an infrastructure. That’s all over the town. It’s about revitalizing downtowns and business districts across Long Island, keeping them vibrant and relevant in an age of big box stores. That’s why we keep up the parks, the playgrounds, whatever we can do to help bring the people to the greens and then they’ll shop here.
Growing up, did you realize how historic Levittown was?
I didn’t. As kids, you just know what you know. As I grew up, I realized. We’re in the Smithsonian, we’re in textbooks. As an adult, my mom went to Columbia University, she was a history major, and right there in her textbook was Levittown. When I look at early pictures, it couldn’t have looked more picturesque. The houses were all cookie-cutter models. They all looked the same. Now, of course, they’ve all changed. What Bill Levitt did was genius. He did something no one else had done and it was for veterans, who really needed and deserved an upper hand. It was a brilliant development idea.
Speaking of the houses, what style house do you have?
I grew up in a Cape Cod and I live in a Cape Cod now. My parents’ is much bigger than mine. They’ve done four extensions over the years as the children kept coming. Mine has one dormer on the back, but you really can’t see it from the front so it still looks very much like an original Levitt Cape Cod home.
How would you define the character of Levittown?
Family oriented. From my perspective, that’s what I want to see in a community. It’s child-oriented, it always has been. There have always been a million kids in Levittown.