Throughout this week's Town Focus series in Levittown, we are profiling people we meet, from community leaders to residents we bump into around town.
Charter member and first president of the Levittown Community Council
Tell me a little about the community council.
It started after the 50th anniversary of Levittown, when the [council's] charter was signed. It was an enormous undertaking. There were more than 40 events held that year, one or two a month and all the organizations got involved. It ended in November of that year. We started the community council to continue that momentum of community support. A number of the events have continued since then, including the Lazy Days of Summer and the Winter Fest. The Levittown Kiwanis also took over the annual 5k run on Father’s Day. Every April we hold an Earth Day cleanup and in May we give awards to junior high students.
When did you first move to Levittown?
In 1951 with my parents. They bought a new ranch house. It was my mom, my dad and my two older sisters. I was 7 years old.
Where did you move from and what was it like for you here?
We moved from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. We lived in a beautiful area, but after World War II when all of the service people were coming home -- our landlord had two sons in the service and she began to put on tremendous pressure to move. She would break windows and pretend that there were burglars. I guess she didn’t know how to get us out and she wanted the apartment for her sons.
I thought it was wonderful moving here. It was a great change for us. It was still the country. We felt free. For me it was great. I had many friends and we had sleepovers in the backyard -- there was no fear of anything. There were no fences so we would just run from one backyard to another. We were always in the street playing.
What made you stay as an adult?
I just loved Levittown. I didn’t really want to leave. When I got engaged, our first intention was to get an apartment somewhere, which meant leaving Levittown because there really were no rentals at that time. One day, my boss called me into his office and told me about cash over mortgage. Basically, that means we could put down the difference between the selling price of a house and the seller’s mortgage.
So we started looking around and looking into that. We found the house that we live in now. We needed $3,000 to buy it and that was a lot of money then. I had saved $2,000, and we borrowed $1,000 from my husband’s aunt. We paid off the loan immediately from our wedding gifts. We sent her a check while we were on our honeymoon. We’ve been here ever since.
Did you raise children here?
Yes, we have two sons. My sons are still very close to friends they made here. It’s an incredibly close friendship they have and even their children have started to become friends. And we’re still friends with their friends’ parents.
How has the community changed?
A lot of physical changes. The buildings, the business environment. When we moved here, we shopped at the village green. Every village green had a drugstore, a sweet shop, and other businesses. That’s how Levittown was made, so everyone had their own village green. The main shopping was on Hempstead Turnpike, but nothing like it is today. It was much more limited. That has changed enormously. Those businesses we had were all mom-and-pop. People came from the city with a certain skill or trade and set up a shop.
Now it’s big boxes in town. A lot of national chains. The environment has remarkably stayed the same. People are still involved in the community, still show an interest in the schools -- although the schools have changed. When I was going to school, there were 25,000 students being educated in Levittown. Now it’s much less. And the schools have changed a lot. They kept building new schools as the population changed.
It seems that the actual houses play a large role in the identity of Levittown.
Yes. I had the privilege of interviewing William Levitt for the 40th anniversary of Levittown. He was a very warm, very nice man. He said that he wanted to build a house that could grow with families. That’s exactly what he accomplished.
When we bought this house it had four rooms. As my children grew up, we extended our house. As my extended family grew, we pushed out the rooms. As of a couple years ago, we were still expanding.
People stayed here because of these houses. The houses are very expandable. They were built basically as boxes so you could expand in any direction. And the houses were very affordable.
What challenges does Levittown face now?
The biggest challenge we are facing now is the business environment. That has become a key point. There are a lot of vacant businesses but the Chamber of Commerce is undertaking a project to figure out why that’s happened and what we can do.
Taxes are also very high. Our school taxes are three times our town taxes. We have a wonderful education system. I got an education here that prepared me for anything. But the money it costs to run the system is an enormous [burden]. One of the reasons that it’s so hard is that there aren’t enough businesses to bear it. It’s the reason families leave, the reason seniors leave. It’s expensive and there is not ample senior housing.
I think that’s something Levittown has to consider -- a more modernistic approach in terms of building development in the community. We need affordable housing for our youth and our seniors.
How would you define the character of Levittown?
I very often say, Levittown is a large community with a small town quality. It’s so large that we don’t know everybody in the community, but there is a sense of awareness in the whole town. It’s warm, congenial, welcoming.