January 9, 2011

Prognosticators got it wrong about Levittown becoming a slum

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By Louise Cassano

How does a kid from Brooklyn deal with the prognostications that the community her parents are overjoyed about buying their first home in is destined to be a slum in 20 years?

Truth be told, it has no bearing on the excitement she feels. After all, she's allowed to wear dungarees (no one had "jeans" in those days), run and play in the street, sleep outdoors with her friends in makeshift tents until the "bogey man" comes and chases them all indoors before the moon has a chance to shine, and walk to the grocery store all by herself. What greater joys could life bring?

How could she know that dungarees would turn into designer jeans costing more than the $100 down payment her parents put on the house, that the "bogey man" was a figment of many children's imaginations cultivated by adults who wanted to keep them under control, or that the trip to the grocery store would become her given chore, racking up six to ten miles a week before diets and physical fitness were a fad?

With the innocence of a 1950's seven year-old, how could she understand the diversity of cultures her new community would bring to her life? Not having understood the significance of a community where everyone's last name ended in a vowel, she couldn't possibly comprehend the infusion of Monaghans, Zimmermans, Abels, Davis', Biedermans, Connahs and Mitchells in the new world into which she was thrust.

Two-story schools with desks without inkwells, without stair wells where dreams of sliding down an unending banister were never fulfilled, where teachers were young and vibrant, where gym, art and music were part of the curriculum, were a new experience.
Taxes, less than the cost of a computer today, provided services for schoolchildren like the first-time administered eye exam that diagnosed nearsightedness that explained the problem that had wrought many punishments for sitting too close to the 13-inch Philco television that soothsayers predicted would ruin our health.

A step backward from our Brooklyn days meant public phone booths on the corners of the block because lines were not yet brought to the individual homes. Later, we eavesdropped on neighbors' phone calls when party lines were installed in our homes.
Television shows, all live performances (Captain Video, Magic Cottage, Howdy Doody, Milton Berle, Suspense Theatre) were broadcast on no more than five stations until 9 p.m. and then dead air was noted by cross-sectioned circle signaling that the station had no other programs to show.

More than 60 years after its establishment in 1947, Levittown is a thriving community having survived its doomsday prognosis. Its business centers -- "the Turnpike" and village greens – still bustle with activity and small business is still the core of its commercial environment. Community and sports organizations abound. Its libraries, Levittown and Island Trees, are Meccas of information, culture and entertainment. Its Historical Society maintains a connection to the past through donations by an aging population and its volunteer service organizations like the ambulance corps and fire departments excel.

What would the prognosticators have to say? "Levittown, you proved us wrong!"
Louise Cassano has been a Levittown resident for 59 years and counting, This article originally appeared in LevittownPatch. Check out its website: http://levittown-ny.patch.com/

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