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Levittown is a census-designated place (CDP) and suburban community in Bucks Countymarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, within the Philadelphiamarker metropolitan area. The population was 53,966 at the 2000 census. It is 40 feet (12 m) above sea level. Though not a municipality, it is commonly recognized as the largest suburb of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania except for Upper Darby Townshipmarker, (which is the largest suburban township in the three surrounding Pennsylvania counties). Other suburban townships in New Jersey boast larger populations, but these municipalities consist of more than one locality (both Camdenmarker and Cherry Hillmarker are urban and suburban communities, respectively, just outside of Philadelphia that have more residents).

History

Levittown is a suburban community planned and built by Levitt & Sons. The majority of the land on which it is built was purchased in 1951. Houses built in Levittown consisted of just six models, including the Levittowner, the Rancher, the Jubilee, the Pennsylvanian, the Colonial and the Country Clubber. Levitt & Sons constructed only single-family dwellings in the community, each surrounded by a lawn, with only modest exterior variations, modern in style, with built-in appliances and landscaping. The homes were moderately priced and required only a low down payment. Construction of Levittown began in February 1952, soon after completion of Levittown, New Yorkmarker, located on Long Islandmarker. Levittown, Pennsylvania was the second "Levittown" built by William J. Levitt, who is often credited as the creator of the modern American suburb.

What set Levittown apart from other developments at the time was that it was built as a complete community. Levitt & Sons designed neighborhoods with traffic-calming curvilinear roads, in which there were no four-way intersections. Each neighborhood had within its boundaries a site donated by Levitt & Sons for a public elementary school. Locations for churches and other public facilities were set aside on main thoroughfares such as the Levittown Parkway, likewise donated by the builder to religious groups and other organizations. Other amenities included Olympic-sized public pools, parks, "greenbelts," baseball fields and playgrounds, and a shopping center located in Tullytown Borough that was considered large and modern at the time of its construction (and in fact was the largest east of the Mississippi). The first set of 4 sample homes were put on display in a swatch of land near the future Levittown Shop-a-Rama and an estimated 30,000 people viewed them in that first weekend.

Residents (who are sometimes called Levittowners) were first expected to comply with a lengthy list of rules and regulations regarding the upkeep of their homes and use of their property. Two of these "rules" included a prohibition on hanging laundry out to dry on Sunday and not allowing homeowners to fence off their yards. These proved unenforceable over time, particularly when backyard pools became financially accessible to the working class and privacy concerns drove many to fence off their yards. In the years since Levitt & Sons ended construction, three- and four-story "garden apartments" and a number of non-Levitt owner-occupied houses have been built in Levittown.

Levitt & Sons would not sell homes to African Americans. Levitt himself did not consider himself to be a racist, rather he was bowing to the prevailing attitudes of many whites during the 1950s. However, this did not prevent a white family from reselling a home to an African American family, and Levittown's first black couple, William and Daisy Myers, bought a home in the Dogwood Hollow section in 1957. Their move to Levittown was marked with violence, and required intervention by state authorities. This created national news and eventually the couple moved out of the community. The community's otherwise placid exterior was again disturbed during the so-called suburban gas riots of June 1979 in the wake of the Camp David Peace Accords, which resulted in a second embargo by Arab oil-producing nations. The unrest occurred June 24-25, 1979 as lines swelled and tempers flared in the heart of Levittown at an intersection known as Five Points, a location surrounded by six service stations, two of which were severely damaged by vandalism in the riots. The two days of riots made national headlines and were mentioned (although not directly by name) in the draft of an address to the nation that was to have been delivered by President Jimmy Carter on July 5, 1979.

A baseball team from Levittown won the Little League World Series in 1960. Levittown American beat an opponent from Fort Worth, Texas to win the honor.

The Levittown Shopping Center (known officially as but rarely called the "Levittown Shop-a-Rama"), located in Tullytown Borough, was unusually designed. Two parallel strips of stores faced the parking lot with a courtyard that had green spaces, benches, and entrances to the stores. The center had one large anchor department store (Pomeroys, which was acquired by Bon-Ton) as well as staple stores of a growing suburban demand (JC Penney, Woolworth's, Sears-just hardware). The shopping center began a slow decline in the mid-1970s from which it never recovered with the building of the Oxford Valley Mallmarker. The mall, located just north of Levittown, in Langhornemarker in Middletown Township, drew shoppers away from the older Levittown facility, given Oxford Valley's much larger size, and enclosed shopping environment. In 2002, the redeveloped site of the Shop-a-rama was reopened as the Levittown Town Center. The completed facility will contain 468,675 square feet (43,541 square meters) of retail space.

Of the five public pools, built by Levitt & Sons and operated by the Levittown Public Recreation Association (LPRA), four were closed in 2002 with the exception of one located in the Pinewood section. LPRA Headquarters (and other landmarks) of this prototypical post-war suburb of sometimes mythic importance have been the focus of historic preservation efforts. Since 2002, studies have been underway to establish the Levittown Historic District.

Municipalities and sections

Levittown is not an incorporated place, though efforts in the early 1950s were made to incorporate. Some Levittown residents feared that incorporation would lead to higher taxes, by robbing the prospective municipality of a commercial tax base.



Levittown's 41 neighborhoods (locally called "sections") are found in parts of four separate municipalities: Bristol Townshipmarker (including the sections of Plumbridge, Mill Creek, Indian Creek, Goldenridge, Blue Ridge, Whitewood, Orangewood, Yellowood, Violetwood, Red Cedar Hill, Apple Tree Hollow, Holly Hill, Crabtree Hollow, Oaktree Hollow, Greenbrook, Farmbrook, Dogwood Hollow, Junewood, Magnolia Hill, Green Lynn and most of Kenwood and Stonybrook, and a small part of Birch Valley), Falls Townshipmarker (including the sections of Vermilion Hills, Thornridge, Elderberry Pond, North Park, Willow Wood, and portions of Pinewood, Lakeside and most of Birch Valley), Middletown Townshipmarker (including the sections of Deep Dale East, Deep Dale West, Highland Park, Twin Oaks, Forsythia Gate, Snowball Gate, Red Rose Gate, Upper Orchard, Lower Orchard, Juniper Hill, Cobalt Ridge and Quincy Hollow), and the borough of Tullytownmarker (including portions of Stonybrook, Kenwood, Pinewood and Lakeside).

The names of the streets within each section uniformly begin with the same letter that begins the name of the section in question except for the section of Green Lynn, a plan that offers a good clue as to where any particular street might be located. "X" and "Z" are not used for section or street names. As there are more than 24 section names, "road" is used for street names in sections to the west of Edgely Road, "lanes" are found in those section to the east. Red Rose Gate, Forsythia Gate, and Snowball Gate are collectively known as "The Gates." (These were the only sections without sidewalks so as to lend a more "executive" appearance to the neighborhoods.) Lakeside sits next to Lake Levittown. Magnolia Hill is on a prominent hill. Mill Creek is found next to a creek by the same name.

Middletown residents are served by public schools run by the Neshaminy School District. Bristol Township public schools are managed by the Bristol Township School District, while residents of Falls Township and Tullytown Borough are served by the Pennsbury School District. Some students attend schools run by Roman Catholic, Lutheran, evangelical Protestant and Quaker organizations, in and around Levittown.

Geography

Levittown is located at (40.154109, -74.849756). Levittown lies in the southern end of Bucks County ("Lower Bucks"), between Philadelphiamarker and Trenton, New Jerseymarker; Downtown Philadelphia ("Center City") is approximately 22 miles (35 kilometers) away. It is part of the Philadelphia metropolitan area (an area also known generally as the Delaware Valley). It is adjacent to and nearly surrounds Fairless Hillsmarker, a suburban community more modest in scale, but that shares many of Levittown's characteristics.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) regional rail serves Levittown to the south at its Levittown-Tullytown station, and to the north at its Langhorne and Woodbourne stations. Interstate 95 runs to the north and west of Levittown (connecting it with Philadelphia and the suburbs north of Trenton); The Pennsylvania Turnpike runs southwest of Levittown (connecting it with the western suburbs and the New Jersey Turnpike), and U.S. 1 runs to the north, carrying traffic directly into downtown Trenton. The nearest international airport is Philadelphia International Airportmarker (Airport Code PHL), approximately 34 miles (55 kilometers) southwest of Levittown; The nearest Amtrak station is just across the Delaware River in Trenton, just over nine miles (14 kilometers) to the east.

Though a steel mill once operated by United States Steel Corporation provided employment in nearby Fairless Hills, many Levittowners have historically commuted by automobile or train to Philadelphiamarker, some to Trenton, still others to more distant locales in as many as four states. Just over ten percent of employed Levittowners both live and work in the community.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 10.2 square miles (26.5 km²), of which 0.5 km² (0.59%) is water.

Demographics

As of the census of 2000, there were 53,966 people, 18,603 households, and 14,510 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 5,309.5 people per square mile (2,050.8/km²). There were 19,044 housing units at an average density of 1,873.7/mi² (723.7/km²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 94.36% White, 2.45% African American, 0.16% Native American, 0.96% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.86% from other races, and 1.17% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.22% of the population.

There were 18,603 households out of which 35.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 60.7% were married couples living together, 12.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 22.0% were non-families. 17.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.89 and the average family size was 3.28.

Interior view of a home in Levittown from the 1950s, courtesy of the Levittown Regional Library collection


In the CDP the population was spread out with 26.4% under the age of 18, 7.8% from 18 to 24, 30.4% from 25 to 44, 20.9% from 45 to 64, and 14.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 96.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.6 males.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $52,514, and the median income for a family was $57,220. Males had a median income of $40,411 versus $29,685 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $20,047. About 3.1% of families and 4.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 5.6% of those under the age of 18 and 3.5% of those 65 and older.

85.4% of Levittown residents ages 25 or older had at least a high school diploma, while 13.4% had at least a bachelor's degree.

Notable natives and residents



References

Further reading

  • Anderson, David, Levittown is Burning: Gas Line Riot and the Decline of the Blue-Collar American Dream," Labor: Studies in Working-Class History in the Americas (Duke University Press: Fall 2005)
  • Caldwell, Christopher, "Levittown to Littleton: Seclusion of Affluent Suburbs Prevents Normal Socialization For Children," National Review, (May 31, 1999) (arguing that the multi-acre lots of the western suburbs such as those who attend Columbine High Schoolmarker in Colorado, largely unknown in the east, isolate affluent suburban children in "McMansions," and present a problem no child in Levittown ever faced)
  • Duncan, Susan Kirsch, Levittown: The Way We Were, Maple Hill Press (1999), ISBN 0-930545-18-4
  • Dubya, Jay, Black Leather and Blue Denim: A '50s Novel, CyberRead Publishing (2001), ISBN 1-931921-76-8 (an fictionalized account of "greasers" in Levittown's Dogwood Hollow and Kenwood sections during the 1950s)
  • Gans, Herbert J., The Levittowners: Ways of Life and Politics in a New Suburban Community, Columbia University Press (1967, reprinted 1982), ISBN 0-231-05571-4 (though written about Levittown, New Jersey, which had since reverted to its original name, Willingboro, New Jerseymarker, the book includes information relevant to Levitt & Sons development in general)
  • Goetz, Sam, Bruno, 16 mm black and white film (2006) (Sam Goetz grew up in Lower Orchard section of Levittown; the production was filmed at locations in the "urban wasteland" of Trenton, New Jersey, and at locations in and around Levittown, including Core Creek Park, the former Best Department Store, Neshaminy High School and a Jubilee-style Levittown home)
  • Hurst, Richard, " My Bat," Christopher Street (New York: February 1994, issue 210), ISSN 0146-7921 (written by a former Levittowner about Little League baseball, "the only tradition in our otherwise ahistoric lives of glass-ceiling experimental schools and clean theme-park summers," recounting summers marching as the season began from Carl Sandburg Middle School to the ball fields south of Twin Oaks)
  • Kimmel, Chad, Levittown, Pennsylvania: A Sociological History, University of Western Michigan Dissertation (2004) (examines the arrival of Levittown's first African-American family, the 1979 gas riots and the decline of the steel industry on local residents)
  • Krass, Alfred C., " Growing Together in Spirituality: Pastor and Parish Have a Check-Up," Christian Century, (April 1987) (Krass was pastor of the United Christian Church in Levittown, and still a resident of the community; he asks how mainstream Protestants might move beyond the "autonomy of the individual member" that is so often part and parcel of a liberal world view)
  • Levittown: Voices of the Millennium (video), Harcourt School Publishers (no date)
  • Popenoe, David, The Suburban Environment: Sweden and the United States, University of Chicago Press, (1977), ISBN 0-226-67542-4 (a comparison of Levittown and Vällingby, Swedenmarker, a Stockholmmarker suburb of similar size, construction date and demographics; see also Hässelby-Vällingby Boroughmarker, Vällingbymarker)
  • Wechshler, Lewis, The First Stone: A Memoir of the Racial Integration of Levittown, Pennsylvania, Grounds for Growth Press (2004), ISBN 0-615-12565-4
  • Wetherell, W.D., The Man Who Loved Levittown, University of Pittsburgh Press (1985), ISBN 0-8229-3520-1 (fiction, winner of the 1985 Drue Heinz Literature Prize)
  • Wiessner, John, pen name Jay Dubya, author of 31 books. Lived in Dogwood Hollow from 1954-'59. His action/adventure work Black Leather and Blue Denim, A '50s Novel is set in Levittown, Pa.


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