An illustrious tree-lined hamlet in Nassau County, New York, Levittown has a rich history that is worth hearing over and over again. As of 2010, the village had a population of 51, 881, making it one of the most populated areas of Nassau County. Located in the town of Hempstead, this community is halfway between the villages of Farmingdale and Hempstead.
Levittown is one of four planned communities built by the building firm known as Levitt & Sons. This firm, owned and operated by Abraham Levitt and his sons, Alfred and William, built similar communities in Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, New Jersey, and, of course, New York.
The Levittown in New York’s Nassau County is often thought of as the original prototype, as it was the first of these communities. Consisting of over 17,000 detached houses, this project started in 1947 as one of America’s typical post-war planned communities.
This community viewed as a display of dazzling business acumen that was designed to provide every veteran returning from World War II home, incorporated mass production building strategies that are still at play today.
Consisting of seven square miles of former fields used to grow onions and potatoes, these homes were all built between 1947 and 1951. Interestingly, these houses were built at the pace of one every sixteen minutes, using systems that were already in place in the automobile manufacturing industry. Non-union subcontractors and other laborers moved between houses, each conducting one of 26 specialized steps in an assembly-line format.
Room after room, house after house, each building in the original Levittown community followed the same blueprint. Luckily, each had some small variations in window treatments, colors, and roofline.
These houses were sold at an original base price of $7,990 with a five percent down payment – this down payment was wiped for veterans. Each came with built-in television sets and hi-fi, making the neighborhood a hot spot for veterans returning home from the war. The 1948 Housing Bill made it easier for everyday, average Americans to buy homes, giving each and everyone the chance to purchase one of these modern, idyllic homes.
Everyone except for minorities, that is. Due to laws at the time that prevented any minorities from buying into the Levittown community, it remained predominantly white for decades. Included as Clause 25 on the lease agreement signed by the first residents of Levittown, the “restrictive covenant” was printed in capital letters and boldface. It stated that the home could not be used to house any person who was not of the Caucasian race.
This exclusivity also caused local communities to fall into despair. Today, even, the demographics of the Levittown community are largely white – 94 percent of all residents are of Caucasian descent.
Nevertheless, these homes continue to provide housing today to individuals who commute to jobs in Manhattan as well as those who work locally. The community, which provided low-cost, substantial amounts of the housing when there was voracious demand for affordable options, was an early representation of the American dream – but also of the racial segregation that plagued our country for many of the following years.