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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 group of Levittown parents are voicing their concerns with letting their children walk to school, since it would mean they would continue to cross Hempstead Turnpike.

 

“My kid has to cross [Hempstead Tpke.] daily without a crossing guard,” said Division Avenue parent Wendy Lantigua. 

 

For Lantigua and others, the dangers of Hempstead Turnpike became all to real after 13-year-old Brianna Soplin was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver, last June. Not to mention the fact that another 14-year-old Levittown student suffered multiple injuries after being struck in hit-and-run, last February. 

On Sept. 14, Hempstead town officials joined family and friends of fallen New York City paramedic Rudy Havelka, to unveil the re-dedication of Birch Lane in Levittown. 

While surviving the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Havelka wou ld later die of an illness related to his service at Ground Zero.


Sports

The annual One Love Long Island (OLLI) Yoga Festival takes place at the Sands Point Preserve on Sunday, Sept. 21 from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. All profits will be donated to organizations that support survivors of human trafficking, locally and globally. 

 

The festival will unite 16 Long Island yoga studio communities in a round robin of the traditional yogic practice of 108 Sun Salutations from 9:30 a.m. to noon, whose offerings will look to create long-term and sustainable solutions to eradicate the human trafficking epidemic by raising funds and awareness for the cause.  

As a fitness coach and a mother, Melissa Monteforte of Locust Valley knows how important it is to stay healthy, and how difficult it can be for women to make themselves, and their health, a priority. Wanting to help women take charge and feel more in control, she organized the Fit & Healthy Mamas Annual 5K run, now in its third year, which took place on Saturday, Sept. 13 at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow.

 

“I felt like running was the best outlet when I became a mother; it’s such a great way to get fit and feel healthy and I wanted to share that with other moms,” says Monteforte, 31. “I wanted women to feel celebrated, no matter their fitness level, and to put their health first.”


Calendar

IT Board of Ed - September 17

All Star Comedy - September 18

Irreversible Paul Lynde - September 19


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