May 19, 2011

I love the photos of early Levittown houses, before there were so many improvements that you could not recognize what the Levitts built

Shown above are before and after shots of 3 Pinetree Lane, 1956 and recently. This was the home of Beth Cummings' classmate, Louise Nicolosi Hayn.


I love these old photos that appear in the blog. It’s always a special treat to look at photos from the earliest days of Levittown, especially the ones showing the houses sitting on a sea of mud, the teensie-weenie baby trees (and dreaded sticker bushes) and the wooden boards we walked on till they were replaced by sidewalks. I always enjoy the old photos of the houses "before they were pumped up on steroids," to quote Frank Barning. Pumped up was the sad fate of our family’s poor little Levitt house.

Beginning in 1949, our family lived on Sandpiper Lane. (Sandpiper was the short street that ran parallel to Redwing at the opposite end of Redwing Park.) During the time our family owned the house, there was never any money for external improvements like a driveway and carport/garage, or expansion upward or outward. Only absolutely necessary changes, driven by living space needs of our growing family, were made to the inside of the house: the kitchen was "squared off," and the attic was made into two bedrooms and the world’s tiniest powder room.

When my folks finally sold the house and moved to Florida, it looked pretty much the same as it always had. In fact, it had been so little improved over the years that the real estate people were stretched to the very limits of their creative writing skills as they tried desperately to craft a property description that would be attractive enough to pique potential buyers’ interest and yet sufficiently truthful to stop short of actual misrepresentation.

The notice they ended up publishing said – among other amusing things – that our house included "a lovely upstairs wrap-around bedroom" (because the chimney came up through it), and that the living room had "wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling windows offering a panoramic view of a park" (that is, a panoramic view of weeds in Redwing Park). My father was delighted when he read the ad, and he joked, "Wow, this place sounds great – I’d like to live there."

Fast forward to the weekend of the 30th (or was it the 40th?)* Class of 1960 reunion, when my sister and I drove around Levittown to see our street and our old house. By that time, all the houses on our little street had been so "improved" that it was hard to identify them.

Worst of all, ours was completely unrecognizable. We had to check the house number on the curb before we’d believe it – there in front of us was this unbelievably tacky behemoth of a structure squatting all over the lawn we used to play on. The new owners had attached an enormous garage (with driveway to match), and the whole structure had been expanded in every possible direction, with its sides nearly reaching the next-door property lines, and a roof line whose height probably tests the outer limit of legality.

The construction looked really cheap, and we couldn’t believe this eyesore could possibly be in compliance with construction and zoning laws. Betcha Mr. Levitt would turn over in his grave if he could see it now.

Guess it’s true what they say, that you can’t go back. But we can still "visit," courtesy of our old photos, so thanks for keeping them coming.

* You know you’re getting old when you can’t tell decades apart. LOL.


Wendy Max Dunford '68 said...

My parents bought our Cape Cod in 1954. The only addition they made was a small bump-out in the kitchen to accommodate a larger refrigerator. They sold the house in 1975, when we moved to New Mexico. I went back to Levittown about 3 or 4 years ago, and amazingly the house is virtually unchanged, except that the trees are all grown now. Among a sea of unrecognizable houses, it brought me a warm comfort to see mine just as I'd remembered and loved it.

Kathy said...

When bought in'52 (we were the 2nd owners), our cape cod had a partially finished upstairs. My Dad added a dormer to the large room, finished the smaller room, put in first, a patio, which later became a dining room, a driveway and garage, and a fence, to accommodate a family of 7 kids. I shared the large upstairs room with two sisters. Baby #8 led to our move to Plainedge. Kathy Stahlman Zinn, '63