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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

In response to the county’s fly-by-night decision to remove 176 old oak trees along Seaman’s Neck Road, earlier this month, New York State Sen. Kemp Hannon has issued a letter to Nassau County Department of Public Works Commissioner Shila Shah-Gavnoudias regarding constituents’ concerns with the appearance of the roadway.

In his letter, Hannon asks Commissioner Shah-Gavnoudias if the removal of the trees were under the jurisdiction of LIPA or PSEG.

“If not, I would like to know who made the decision to remove these trees and why,” Hannon states. “I request you review this case and take whatever course of action necessary.”

U.S. Navy Veteran Richard Meyerowitz of Levittown joined the military in 1962, enlisting straight out of high school. While he would never see combat, Meyerowitz served as a boilerman aboard the U.S.S. Dewey amid the United States’ blockade of Cuba.

“They gave us our orders,” Meyerowitz said, “turn any vessels away. If not, blow ‘em out of the water.”

During the blockade, Meyerowitz said he only encountered one ship, which they warned to turn back. Just a kid at the time, Meyerowitz said it didn’t occur to him at the time, how the country could have been on the verge of nuclear war.


Sports

Christopher Joseph of Levittown was recently selected to play on the United States world university hockey team in Italy this year. A 2009 MacArthur High School graduate, Joseph was captain of his high school team for two seasons, leading them to two championships. Joseph would later go on to play junior hockey for New York Apple Core and the New Jersey Rockets junior ‘A’ team.

Joseph’s parents, Hal and Theresa, along with his brother Robert and sister Kristin said they are very proud of Christopher’s accomplishments and are cheering him on as he heads off to Italy.

Farmingdale State College had four players named to the 2014 D3baseball.com All-New York Team. Senior outfielder Edward Bergmann of East Meadow, earned First Team honors, while junior shortstop Anthony Alvino of Lindenhurst was named to the Second Team. Junior outfielder Michael Marino of Franklin Square and sophomore pitcher Alex Weingarten of East Rockaway also earned Third Team honors this year.

Bergmann batted a team-leading .421 this season and also led the Rams in hits (53), runs scored (42), doubles (8), on-base percentage (.503), stolen bases (30) and held a perfect fielding percentage. Nationally, Bergmann ranks 4th for stolen bases per game (0.88), 10th in stolen bases, 23rd in both on-base percentage and batting average and 29th in runs scored per game (1.21).


Calendar

BOE Planning Session

Wednesday, Aug. 27

Bad Seed Auditions

Thursday, Aug. 28

Close Encounters with Benevolent ETs

Friday, Aug. 29



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