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Letter: Remembering William Levitt

Someone once said that America is an epic so sweeping that virtually anything said or written about it is apt to be equally true and equally false. This is frequently the case of great men and women too and, indeed, of William Levitt. 

 

On Jan. 28, 2014, Levittown observed the twentieth anniversary of the death of William J. Levitt, the man I deem one of the great geniuses of the modern era. He certainly came with so many of the traits of minds who fashion new paradigms, original constructs, and novel genre; exhibiting powerful assertiveness before the challenges posed reconciling seemingly contradictory trains of thought and erecting entirely new syncretic formulations from polar opposites. He was, incontestably, a man of extraordinary paradox. 

 

Levitt lived the high life of fast and easy money, cars, boats, big houses, expensive clothes, socialite friends with ties to industry, politics, and Hollywood. It was immodest and it illustrated the man as a curious chimera of flamboyance and brass-tacks, hard-nosed entrepreneurialism married to Tinseltown glitz. This over-the-top style earned him many colorful descriptions and monikers, both admiring and derisive, and a few of the proverbial “left-handed compliments” which, when taken on the main, made him difficult to define. Yet his elistist demeanor was tempered with an extraordinary populist aspect and hue for he emerged, in the 1950’s, a champion of the Common Man; the working class family in search of a better life in a good community. And his fondness for luxury was moderated by a prudence and efficiency that resembled, not a little, the Puritan ethic. Had not, after all, like-kind geniuses in American history—Benjamin Franklin, Henry Ford, and James Cash Penney—shown that there is no intrinsic philosophical contradiction between the acquisition of great wealth and service to the public as the highest consideration? 

 

He was a thoroughgoing secular man but, perhaps owing to his rabbi grandfather, respected faith and tradition, donating millions of dollars to Jewish charities and taking the need for houses-of-worship into his community plans. He detested racial and religious discrimination and the injustice and irrationality that not infrequently accompanies it, but resigned himself to the realities of American life and attitudes in the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s; sensing that any challenge he might launch against the status quo like the FHA policies compelling homebuilders to add racially-discriminatory clauses would have put him in the fray well over his head. He did tolerate policies that excluded African-Americans from working class developments and fellow Jews from more upscale projects; appreciating them as necessary evils for doing business. He possessed the brilliant prognostication to address the residential needs of the post-War years but failed to see that, because of him and others like him, an entirely new mindset had been created that rendered the very formulae he devised obsolete. Thus his attempts to create “Levittowns” in South America and Africa became the proverbial good money thrown after bad. It was an investment loss that soon snowballed and, fueled by idiosyncratic accounting practices of dubious legality, he could never find his way back to the glory days when he was dubbed “Everyone’s Best Friend”. Like Jay Gatsby, he hadn’t appreciated that “the dream had already passed him by”. 

 

In the 1970’s and 80’s, Levitt faded into utter obscurity; resting upon tarnished laurels until 1987 when, in an amazing burst of self-awareness all-too-quickly taken for granted, the citizens of Levittown rediscovered not only what a truly great man he was, but how unprecedented and unequaled his achievements had been. The triumphant gala that occasioned Levittown’s 40th anniversary with William Levitt as the Grand Marshal, and his wife Simone at his side, was both an acknowledgment of his indisputable and matchless brilliance and a redemption of all that would later cast his reputation in the shade. Few communities have had such an extraordinary founder and few men have ever founded something so extraordinary. 

 

Paul Manton


News

These days Long Island residents are trying to save a buck whenever and wherever they can, especially when it comes to property taxes. To try and lend a helping hand Republican Sen. Kemp Hannon and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano recently teamed up for a property tax exemption workshop at the Levittown Public Library.

 

Communications Director Randolph Yunker with the Nassau County Department of Assessment explained that the workshop was a collaborative effort to bring the Assessments office operations from Mineola to different communities in the county. 

As the high school seniors depart on their own adventures, so too, do students finishing fifth and eighth grades, look to the road ahead. 

 

Last June, students in the Levittown Public School District’s six elementary and two middle schools celebrated a new chapter in their academic careers with a host of celebratory speeches and awards from exemplary students in the district. In celebration of Moving Up Day, the Levittown Tribune takes a look at some of the academic accomplishments from students “moving up” out of elementary and middle school. 

 

For more on Levittown’s Moving Up Day ceremonies, see page 28A.


Sports

Runners and walkers from Levittown and all over Long Island and beyond are invited to join in the fun on one of the most unusual 5 Kilometer courses on Long Island at the Saturday, August 9th Lynn, Gartner, Dunne & Covello Sands Point Sprint.

 

The Run presents the Long Island running community with an opportunity to traverse a unique combination of paved paths and runner-friendly woodland trails at the Sands Point Preserve. 

 

The leading Nassau County law firm of Lynn, Gartner, Dunne & Covello has signed on to be the new lead sponsor of the event, with partner John Dunne and his wife planning on running the 5K distance. The Lynbrook Runner’s Stop will be back as the presenting sponsor. 

Four MacArthur High School senior varsity lacrosse players have recently signed National Letters of Intent to continue playing their sport on the collegiate level. Parents and faculty accompanied Mary Kate Butler, Alex Goodelman, Kelly McQuail and Samantha Santeramo as they signed an agreement to play lacrosse at Farmingdale State College, Hartwick College, Dowling College and Bryant University, respectively.

 

— Submitted by the Levittown Public School District


Calendar

Fire and Ice - July 18

Child Car Seat Safety Program - July 19

Face Painting Jam - July 22


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