May 20, 2012

How Bernard Tray bought his Levittown house in 1949 thanks to the GI Bill

The house on Chickadee Lane, May 2012.

The Tray residence, 12 Chickadee Lane in Levittown, in 1950.


Class of 1965

The article that follows was a story my father wrote and sent to Newsday on the 50th anniversary of Levittown in 1997. Our house was 12 Chickadee Lane. My mother still lives in that house today, 62 years later. My Dad was a decorated WWII veteran and was able to use the GI Bill to afford the house. Both my Mom and Dad grew up in Brooklyn, and moved to Levittown against the wishes of both their families. The families thought 1) Why do you want to live in potato farm country? 2) It’s too far away. 3) It will be isolated and turn into a slum.

My parents were pioneers in the true American spirit, moved to the suburban frontier, and built a great life for themselves and their three children. All three of their sons are glad they did.

My brother Ken graduated in 1967 from Division Avenue High School. He was the first student to be disciplined for having long hair. Vice principal Aiello suspended him but my father managed to talk him out of the suspension.

My brother Elias graduated in from DAHS in 1977 after appearing in a wonderful series of musicals directed by Mr. Ehrbacher, a wonderful man and teacher. Elias was inspired by him to follow his passion and after a series of parts off-Broadway, Elias eventually became an Emmy-winning associate casting director with “All My Children”. He still works behind the scenes in many productions as a musical director and sometimes on stage.


Bernard Tray, 76, and his wife, Marsha, 73, raised their three sons in the Levitt home they've lived in for nearly half a century. Their sons now live in Connecticut and California. Their only granddaughter lives in Brooklyn. Here, Bernard remembers the fateful phone call that led him to Levittown.

It was a hot August day in 1949 at about 4:30 Friday afternoon. The telephone rang as I sat in my quiet Garment District showroom waiting for quitting time. I was expecting either an order of women's dresses or a customer complaint, but it was instead my old friend Irving Minkin. "Have you seen the news?" he shouted. "A house to live in for $7,900! I'll pick you up tomorrow morning at 10. Bring $100 just in case the houses are real!" My answer to Irving was, "I'll bring $200 in case you're short."

Saturday morning we started on the long journey to Long Island. We arrived in what was to become Levittown at around 1 p.m. First, we were shown a group of one-family homes that were for rent at $60 a month, including all utilities. We proceeded to the sales office, where an agent explained that the new ranch houses were indeed being built for $7,900: four rooms, an attic, one bathroom, on a 60-by-100-foot lot. Now that was what I wanted for my family.

My wife and I returned a few weeks later to pick the street where we wanted our house built. Bill Levitt listened to my wife's requirements. She wanted a small street near the schools. He personally helped us pick out our "perfect lot." We put down our $100 deposit and Uncle Sam arranged the rest, as I was an ex-serviceman covered by the new GI Bill. Six weeks later, we met with a government representative who had the mortgage for us to sign.

In October, we moved into our new home. We were young and optimistic about the future in this new land called Levittown. Forty-eight years later, with three grown children, a grandchild, two renovations and the many events encountered down the road of life, we still live in the house that Bill sold us. My wife and I both agree about this -- it was the best decision we ever made.

1 comment:

Steve Tray DAHS 1965 said...

I lived in CT for 12 years. I now live in Glen Head on LI. My brother Ken (DAHS 1967) lives in San Franscisco. My brother Elias (DAHS 1977) lives in Westport, CT. As the story says, my Mom stills lives in that house in Levittown for 62 years now. I see her 1 or 2 times a week. Every time I'm in the neighborhood a bunch of good childhood memories rush back into my head.