April 19, 2012

Memories of early Levittown and a home on Sandpiper Lane

Beth Cummings at age five in 1948, before her family moved to Levittown.

A recent photo of the house 34 Sandpiper Lane "on steroids". An older photo is not available.

Looking down Sandpiper Lane this month.

Click on pix to enlarge

Color photos by Marilyn Monsrud Frese

The blog series of stories with photos of early Levittown houses, shown with a recent shots of the same houses, has been well received. If only more people had old pictures of the homes they grew up in, the series could continue for months.

Old Levittowners enjoy the photos of the early houses, before there were so many improvements that you could not recognize what Levitt and Sons had built more than 60 years ago. However, I would have appreciated living in a house with more than one bathroom.


Class of 1960

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 at 34 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.

I suppose it’s true what they say, that you can’t go back. But we can still "visit," courtesy of our old photos.


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


Howard Whidden said...

It's amazing how many of the trees we knew as saplines have outlived their lives! Some towns have shade tree commissions to replace them...wish Levittown did! BTW, it's been a long time since I saw one of the old fashioned TV antennas like the one on the chimney! At one time every house sported at least one.

Anonymous said...

From Steven Tray: Hi, Frank and Beth. Beth, My family lived around the corner from your family on Chickadee La. I was in class with your sister at Northside. Thanks for sending the property description. I played foot ball with 50 other local boys on Redwing ...field. Except for a small sandy kids' play area and a handball wall with basket ball net attached it was one large rectangle of weeds. But man did we have good times playing on those weeds. (The baseball field was added in the 50s, I think.)

Jane Krabbeler said...

I moved to 19 Sandpiper in 1973. I recently bought my childhood home and am living there again. My car is in the photo you posted. :) I don't remember 34 Sandpiper looking any other way than it looks in the photo you posted. I wish I could travel back in time and see what all the houses looked like back when they were first built.

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