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Letter: Past, Present And Future Of Housing In Levittown

Levittown’s history can be periodized into five approximate eras; a Jerusalem Period (1664-1837) in which Quaker and Puritan settlers and their descendants established an agricultural community south of Hempstead Turnpike and thence into present-day Wantagh; an Island Trees Period (1837-1900) in which the arrival of the LIRR on the Hempstead Plains facilitated the establishment of farmsteads from Hicksville southwards to the Turnpike; a Period of Modernization (1900-1936) whereupon automotive technology and aviation and electricity made their appearance; and a Suburban Period (1936-1980) in which explosive population growth, commercial expansion, and residential development remade the face of the land. 

 

Since 1980, we have been in an Ex-Urban Period which might well be nicknamed the “age of agonizing reappraisal”. The fact is, solutions to late 1940’s problems will not help us in 2014. We can either accept that  the one-family suburban home is no longer an economically viable model for our residential needs, and well become less so as we approach the Levittown Centennial in 2047, or we can sustain obsolete zoning codes like the LPRD (at least in its current configuration) and see more boarded-up homes followed up by more boarded-up homes until Levittown looks like the slum its naysayers in the 1950’s predicted it’d become. To wit: the tommyrot and ballyhoo anent low-income rental housing and the accompanying historical amnesia. 

 

Many have forgotten that Levittown in 1947 was low-income rental housing for homecoming GI’s who were just starting out in the job market, had no college degree (oftentimes not even a high school diploma), had no money, and had nowhere to go and nothing they could afford. Some, quite frankly, eighteen years after the stock market crash of 1929 were flat broke. And what’s more, being a Levittown resident in the 1950’s arrived with a social stigma from the residents of more affluent and/or established surrounding communities; people vocal in their opposition to William Levitt and his low-income rental housing. Many have forgotten that the unique LPRD, the brainchild of Mr. Levitt, was also the creation of a visionary who, on May 7, 1947, led a “March on Hempstead” demanding Section 809 Article 8 of the Town Building Code be abolished and replaced with Article XV known as the LPRD because he saw it as an obsolete impediment to future community growth. And many people, especially Baby Boomers and Generation X-er’s who grew up in the 1950-1980 era when suburbia and middle class prosperity was “a given”, have forgotten how Levittown’s “pioneers” in the 1950’s were the same families that, two decades earlier, stood in soup kitchens and on bread lines during the Great Depression. Today’s low-income person—“the forgotten man of 2014”—is not a lazy, shiftless freeloader or a bum. He’s somebody with a college education whose career has been outsourced overseas, downsized, or given to cheap foreign labor; the person who can’t even land a job at a local supermarket because he’s deemed “overqualified” for its welfare wages. He’s somebody toiling in a department store for minimum wage selling items made by twelve year-old girls and boys in Third World sweatshops rather than working class American adults who, back in the 1950’s, could have received an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. 

 

The people in need of low-income rental housing in 2014 are our friends, neighbors, and family and those who sneer at them and sneer at the whole idea of low-income rental housing ultimately are sneering at Mr. Levitt and his vision of a better life for the working family. 

 

Paul Manton 


News

U.S. Air Force Veteran Mario Dell’aera, 80, of Levittown said he first volunteered for service in 1952, during the Korean War.

 

“They called volunteers ‘regulars,’” he said, reflecting back to when he first enlisted.

 

From 1952-1956, Dell’era called the Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nev. home. The base, he said, operated 24 hours, 7 days a week, training pilots to fly overseas into Korea.

A clown named Renaldo performed magic tricks for an enthusiastic audience as part of the National Circus Project, which visited Levittown Public Library on Wednesday, July 16.

 

All 150 tickets available for the performance were sold out in this interactive magic show for children. Throughout the entire circus act, children laughed and raised their hands as high as they could to be chosen as one of Renaldo’s helpers.

 

Raising her hand to participate was three-year-old Kirsten Cantwell from Seaford. “She was upset that she didn’t get picked,” said her mother Melissa Cantwell.

 

Kirsten Cantwell goes to any activity offered at the library, and is starting to enjoy watching magic shows. According to her mother, she really enjoyed the performance.

 

In the circus show, National Circus Project performer, Al Calienes, acted as Renaldo the clown.

 

“The show has different components of acts in the circus,” explained Calienes. “We teach children circus moves.”

 

With the National Circus Project, children get to see magic tricks performed live. “We infuse enthusiasm by showing them, and they in turn will be able to repeat the process,” said Calienes.

Renaldo performed plate spinning, where he spun a plate on a stick and passed it along to the stick of one of his helpers from the audience, who then passed the plate down a line of three more helpers. This interactive way of teaching the children magic tricks really allows them to absorb what they are learning.

 

The National Circus Project travels and performs for elementary schools, as well as middle and high schools. When the National Circus Project is not going to schools, they perform at library shows, summer camps, and other types of events.

 

The performance entertains the adults as well as the children. “We involve everybody,” said Calienes. “Everybody’s engaged on some level or another. “

 

At every library performance, Calienes donates the children’s book he wrote and illustrated Renaldo Joins the Circus to the library. He feels that he owes a lot to the library system. “Anything that ever meant anything to me I learned in the library,” said Calienes.

 

Calienes learned how to draw from the library, which is how he became a commercial artist. One of the main characters he would always draw would be Renaldo the clown. “I wanted to make him real so I joined the circus,” he said.

 

Calienes has been performing with the National Circus Project for seven years and has been in the circus business going on 26 years.

 

The National Circus Project brings magic to children at any school, camp or library all over Long Island as well as across the country.


Sports

Levittown’s Division Avenue High School varsity baseball team, under the direction of coach Tom Tuttle, won the Class A County Championship, garnering a third-place ranking in New York State. This is the team’s 13th county championship win and the second county championship for the school in the past four years.

 

In addition, senior Chris Reilly was named Championship MVP for throwing a complete game shutout in game two and going three for four with two RBIs. 

Taylor Traenkle, a junior at Division Avenue High School recently received the MVP award for the Nassau County Varsity Hockey League Association.

 

Traenkle, who plays no. 9 for the Levittown Ice Falcons, led the way averaging 2.8 points a game with a total of 25 goals and 23 assists in just 17 games. 


Calendar

Lazy Days Of Summer - July 26

Flea Market - July 27

Darlene Prince and the Bragg Hollow Band - July 28


Columns

1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com

The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’
Written by Mike Barry, MFBarry@optonline.net

Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com