August 22, 2011

Memories of the exciting opening of Division Avenue High School in 1956 and some early Levittown history

Photo of the school from the 1960 yearbook. The 1956 addition to the building is on the left-hand side (behind the flag pole), connected to the original structure.


It's amazing how an ancient photograph can result in a rush of memories, stuff you haven't thought about in decades.

My 1960 classmate Barbara Wittenberg Taylor recently sent me a package with a treasure chest of old pictures, some Division Avenue publications from our senior year, plus her GO card which was displayed here a couple days ago.

My favorite photo, and a wonderful stimulator of memories, is a shot of Division's first basketball team. That was the 1956-57 season, when the class of 1960 was in its freshman year. We were young, mostly naive kids, but we were pioneers who were creating so many things that would stand the test of time for our school. Some didn't work so well, but we had a healthy percentage of success.

That got me to thinking about what it was like to attend a brand new school, and the anticipation we had as the building was under construction while we were right next door in eighth grade. Sure, it was dusty and noisy, but exciting at the same time. It was a rare experience watching your future high school grow before your eyes, bursting skyward from a crabgrass covered expanse of land. The buildings were attached by common walls.

Before Division became a high school in the fall of 1956, it was a junior high to which many of us in the class of 1960 went.

Here is some history . . .

The first residents of Levitt & Sons' Cape Cod houses moved in on October 1, 1947. Approximately 300 families were that first wave. According to historian Lynne Matarrese, "Lawns weren't yet seeded and there was mud everywhere. Street lights, telephones, schools, mail delivery and bus service were months away, some services a year or more in the future for these first residents."

DAHS was Levittown's second high school. The brand new building was an addition to what had been a junior high for a few years. At times, elementary school classes were held at what had been known as Division Avenue School.

The town's initial high school, Levittown Memorial, was opened in 1953 with construction being completed the following year. For about a half dozen years in our town's early history, high school students attended Hicksville High. After Memorial opened, students from north Levittown were transported there, usually by bus, until Division started receiving high school students. I could be wrong, but I think that Hempstead Turnpike was the dividing line.

However, no one graduated from Division before 1960. If, for example, you were in the class of 1959, even if you lived across the street from the new high school, you had to attend Memorial or a private school.

In addition to the inconvenience of being bused to Memorial, some of the north Levittown kids never felt they were part of that school. It had a different culture, as difficult as that may seem. Memorial had a fair sprinkling of kids from non-Levittown homes so there was a lack of the homogeneity that characterized Division. A few students had Wantagh addresses.

Except for a handful of students at DAHS, we all lived in Levitt Cape Cods or ranches, and most were still the original basic houses with a few having finished attics to provide bedrooms for large families. There was absolutely no class system in our culture (maybe except for the academic elite), which years later we fondly embrace as a reason that our Division Avenue experience was special.

Those of us who were enrolled when Division Avenue High opened in September 1956 and remained for four school years, would proudly become members of Division's first graduating class. The building was a sparkling upgrade for those of us who had attended Division Avenue School, a building that opened in 1949 and was completed April 1950.

Sadly, some of the friends we made freshman year, transferred to Levittown Memorial for their sophomore year. Most of them lived much closer to Memorial than Division and, in many cases, we never saw them again. We were still too young to drive and I suppose, out of sight out of mind. The few connections were at open-house parties and through sports.

This story will be continued in our next blog post along with a photo of Division Avenue High's first basketball team.

Information about the opening of schools comes from "The History of Levittown, New York" by Lynne Mataresse.


By Vivian Barning, Babylon High class of 1963. Babylon was in an old building:

New . . .
Text books
Library books
Science lab equipment
PE equipment and locker rooms (no bad smells)
Lockers and locks
Desks, chairs and other furniture
Equipment in Home Economic, typing, auto shop
Musical instruments
Up-to-date maps and globes
Nothing needs to be painted

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