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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

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.

 

Last June, Nassau County passed legislation that allows for the deployment of a speed enforcement camera system in school zones for each of the 56 public school districts in the county. 

 

The new systems will be implemented throughout the county on July 25, and will be operational on scheduled school days throughout the year. 


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