Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Suburbia is born

I decided to repost this.

Why? Because it brings back memories. And that's what this blog is all about. Plus, the economy is currently sucking and this was such a better time with less stress and more money.

Well, maybe not, but in any case, it was a different time than we are experiencing now. World War II had ended, and the servicemen had come home from Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and the African desert. Shortly after that event, a mass exodus began.

The economy was about to explode with success, and families were moving from the city to a new area known as Suburbia. There were two primary reasons for this. First, the GI Bill of rights offered servicemen low interest rates and a low down payment on a new home. Another major catalyst for this move was the insight of a building firm in New York known as Levitt & Sons. Between 1947 and 1951, this company built one of the first planned communities outside of the city. It was the first truly mass-produced suburb and is widely regarded as the archetype for postwar suburbs throughout the country. Unlike today, the housing market was about to explode.

All the homes were rented almost immediately, and hundreds of veterans were still applying. Although originally planned as a 2,000-home development, because of the demand the Levitts decided to build an additional 4,000 houses. The new community soon had its own schools, postal delivery, phone service and streetlights.

Levitt and Sons discontinued building rental houses in 1949 and concentrated on building a larger and more modern house. They dubbed it a “Ranch”. It would sell for $7,990. All a prospective buyer needed was a $90 deposit and the ability to make payments of $58 per month. The new Levitt ranch measured 32 feet by 25 feet. It was available in five different models, differing only by exterior color, roof line, and the placement of windows.

The kitchen was outfitted with a General Electric stove and refrigerator, stainless steel sink and cabinets, and the latest Bendix washer. The kitchen was located at the rear of the home so Mother could look out the window (typically above the sink) and keep a watchful eye on the children playing in the back yard. Immediately, the demand for the new Levitt ranches was overwhelming. So much so that even the procedure for purchasing them was modified to incorporate an assembly line method. A buyer could choose a house and sign a contract for it within three minutes.

By 1951, the Levitts had constructed 17,447 homes in Levittown and the immediate surrounding areas. As the GI homeowners settled into well-paying jobs and began their families, the Levitt models and the surrounding community were modified to suit the needs of growing families. 1950 ranches came with a carport and a 12-1/2 inch Admiral TV set built into the living room staircase. The 1951 model included a partially finished attic. Shopping centers, playgrounds, and a $250,000 (in 1951 dollars) community center sprang up to accommodate Levittown's active residents.

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