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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

Firehouse Subs announces the grand opening of its first Long Island location in Levittown on Oct. 17. The award-winning fast casual restaurant chain is famous for serving premium meats and cheeses steamed piping hot and piled high on a toasted sub roll, which is served “Fully Involved” with fresh produce and condiments. Founded by former firefighting brothers, the restaurant’s firehouse décor is based on the founding family’s decades of fire and police service, and the new location is decorated with firefighter memorabilia from the Levittown Fire Department.

Despite the national media attention about Ebola in recent weeks, there is one virus that is actually affecting Long Islanders, Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), with one of the first cases identified in North Hempstead on Sept. 18 and a recent case on Oct. 15 in Suffolk County, which school officials called for the closing of school, as a health precaution. 

 

The Levittown School District has been vigilant with the increase of cases in general. “We are continuing to implement the precautions provided by the health department and the CDC,” said Levittown School District Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Personnel Darlene Rhatigan. “We are also reminding students and staff to be mindful of the importance of proper hygiene including frequent hand washing.”


Sports

 

Four Division Avenue High School seniors have signed national letters of intent to play baseball at local universities next fall. All four players were instrumental in winning the 2014 Nassau County Championship. 

The Island Trees Squirts Rockets U-6 team met with town officials, Supervisor Kate Murray and Councilman Gary Hudes at the 2014 Island Trees Soccer Club Opening Day Parade and Ceremony held at Stokes Elementary School. Pictured also with the Rockets U-6 team is President Joe Badolato, Event Coordinator Keri Cinelli, Equipment Commissioner Chris Blum, Travel Commissioner Mike Rich, Vice-President Brian Fielding and Rockets U-6 Coach Gina Weyland.



Calendar

Board of Ed Meeting - October 22

League Of Women Voters Talk - October 23

Lecture - October 24


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