December 8, 2010

Memories of Levittown being built in assembly-line fashion

Q & A with Tim Lavey, Division Avenue class of 1963

Where did you live in Levittown, when did you move there and where had you lived before:

The Lavey family moved to Levittown in June 1950. Prior to that, we had resided at 225 Parkside Avenue right off Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. My grandfather was the building super and so was able to get us in the building when my dad returned from the service in late 1945. Our house was on Orchid Road about half way between Newbridge and Jerusalem. We were actually right off Skimmer Lane which led up to Pelican Road and Northside School which opened in 1951.

What were some of your earliest memories of Levittown:

My very earliest memory of Levittown was going out to see our house being built. I think only our foundation had been laid, but there were workmen busy hammering on many others up and down the block. It looked like a building assembly line (although I’m sure I didn’t know what that was at the time). What’s truly amazing is the quality of the workmanship these guys displayed as they erected our houses day after day.

Along with everyone else, I remember those totemic elements of our town like the Village Greens, the public pools and the Old Motor Parkway. The OMP ran right behind my house and was a place filled with wonder due to its overgrown vegetation and general wildness. It stood in stark contrast to the quite barren look of the early yards each having just a handful of straggly trees and shrubs.

Another very early memory was the Japanese Beetle infestation. Those jars in the trees filled with insecticide and dead Japanese Beetle bodies were sure spooky. Way later, of course, I can remember the earwigs showing up and even later the gypsy moths.

I’ve retained one very negative early recollection. We had a cat (the first of many) that we had brought to Levittown from Brooklyn. It disappeared, but then my brother Mitch and I saw it further up Orchid Road at the house of the Greenwood sisters (Ann & Ellen I believe). They were older than we were, and they wouldn’t return it. When I complained to my parents, they told me and my brother we were mistaken, but I remained unconvinced. To this day, I can’t think of the Greenwood sisters without attaching the appellation “evil” in front of their name. Hey, it’s not easy to hold a grudge for going on 60 years.

Who were some of your first friends in Levittown:

I think the first Levittown kid I ever met was Bob Berman who lived a bit further up on Orchid Road toward the East Village Green. We weren’t five years old yet, but I started poking fun at him because of his weight. Later we were in the same classes at Northside where everyone hurled insults at him. Our group of tormentors included Charlie Newton (younger brother of Mike '60), Gordon Bradberry, Ricky Coward, Bert Heilmann and Robert Fink (who had an older brother named Stephen who some may remember). I’ll never forget my mom coming out of our house one day to give us all hell for tossing Berman’s hat over the sump fence where he couldn’t retrieve it because of his weight problem. I think that was the first instance of my becoming aware of the cruel nature of children, and I was embarrassed for myself.

In my early days at DAHS, I hung out a bit with Bob Leporati, Brian Williams and Richie Liqouri. However, my main cadre of buddies included Linc Binninger, Bart Thibadeau, Fred Barash, Bob Brooks, Joel Bienstock and Bob Berman.

I was also friendly with a few girls. In grade school, I hung out a little with Elyse Jacobs. In early high school, Pauline Spadafore and I were friendly. In my junior and senior years, Linda Bishop and I were an official couple.

Was attending Division Avenue High School a good experience, any teachers you really enjoyed:

My two best teachers were Mr. Chapman for English (10th grade) and Ms. McGuigan for Latin (8th and 9th grades). I’ll always remember Mr. Chapman telling the class he was leaving DAHS to teach in California as it had the only progressive school system in the country. Other teachers I liked were Mr. Lasker and Mr. Fenter for Cit. Ed., Mr. T.E. Murphy for math and Mr. Peyton for shop.

You and some of the other 1963 grads seem to have a nice bond. The gathering of 1963 classmates at the class of 1960's 50th reunion this summer, to me, was memorable. Anything to comment on here:

I really enjoyed the DAHS reunion. I had connected with several members of the class of ’63 via Facebook so it wasn’t at all difficult to see them again after 47 years compared to what it might have been like going in cold. My wife and I sat with June Johnson, Pete Weiss, Michelle Fromm and Len Sandok.

While none of us had been particularly close back in the day, we all discovered just how much we liked being in one another’s company. At Michelle’s suggestion, we’ve even made a plan to get together next year in Albuquerque where she resides. By the way, June had arranged a brunch for the ’63 group the Sunday following the reunion where we got to see some other classmates who hadn’t attended the reunion (Judy Lewis, Chris Jacobsen and Sue Blank).

When you graduated in June 1963, what was the next step in your life:

I attended Lycoming College in Williamsport, PA following graduation. I learned about Lycoming because they used to play sports against Hofstra. My degree was in History. I then went to graduate school for a year with an assistantship at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb.

Tell us about your career:

In 1968 after tiring of school, I joined the business world. I was hired and worked my entire career for the Guardian Life Insurance Company. I oversaw the contracts and finances of their sales force retiring as a Vice President in 2005. For my first 30+ years, I worked in our building located in Union Square in Manhattan. The company moved downtown in 1999 to Hanover Square (on Water Street just down from Wall Street and the South Street Seaport). I commuted through the World Trade Center every day. Fortunately, I always came in quite early and so missed being there when the planes hit the buildings on 9-11.

Anything else you would like to add:

I had an interesting discussion at the reunion picnic with Pete File from the class of ’60. I was of the mind that our Levittown experiences weren’t really special as compared to those of other suburbanites growing up. However, Pete made the case that what we had was quite special because the ages of the parents and the ages of the children were all so close together. We had a homogeneity lacking in many other suburbs.

I remember hearing some statistics about Levittown back in the 1960s. I heard it said there were 17,000 or so homes and 75,000+ residents half of whom were 17 years of age and under. That made sense to me as there were just so many kids. I also heard it said the town was 50% Catholic, 25% Protestant and 25% Jewish.

It never ceases to amaze me when I look at the early DAHS yearbooks just how many names of underclassmen are familiar to me. It seems that virtually everyone I knew had brothers and sisters following in their footsteps.


Mark said...

Tim, since your class was "only" 5 years before mine I will agree that many of the names were the same, but I'm somewhat amazed that few of those from Franks class had brothers or sisters in my class '68. Many of the parents were WW2 vets and several weren't kids when they went it, so I guess it makes some sense that a ten year span was a bit more than normal. My own father was almost 36 when I was born, which made him in his mid 50's when I graduated. Keep up the great posts.

Anonymous said...

How interesting. Much of what was talked about I remember, Northside School, East Village Green, etc. It was a great place to grow up. I lived in 3 houses in Levittown, the first being on Woodpecker Lane. Thanks for all the great stories. Keep up the good work
Joan Bartels Signorelli 1962