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Discussion in 'Your Vintage Home' started by 3fingers, Feb 22, 2018.
Wouldn't have been for me, but I'm sure 65 semolians a month for a new house was attractive.
Levitt knew his market extremely well: a generation that had gotten used to standardization and regimentation during the war would fit right into a community where everything was pretty much identical, and residents were required to maintain their quarters and conduct their affairs according to specified standards. Levittown had a lot of rules designed to enforce uniformity, and these were all spelled out in the contract. Permanent outdoor clotheslines were prohibited -- portable outdoor dryers were allowed but must be removed when not in use, and may not be used on any Sunday or legal holidays, you could not repaint your house any color other than the one originally used, you had to keep your grass cut to specifications and it must be mowed weekly between April 15th and November 15th, no business of any kind could be conducted from your house -- even "home offices" were prohibited, no animals other than no more than two dogs or cats may be kept on the premises, no shrub may at any time of the year exceed the height of three feet, and so on. And, of course, you had to be of the Caucasian race. All of this was written into the deed, and strictly enforced by agents of the Levitt company, who had the power to fine you for violations.
Even with all this, your "ownership" of the property was conditional. The original Levitt contracts only ran for twenty years -- and were subject to renewal at ten-year increments thereafter. Although this system was eventually abandoned, the original idea was to encourage "homeowners" to move on rather than to put down long-term roots. Levitt believed a steady "churn" was good for business.
⇧ Away from the, thankfully, now illegal and, even more thankfully, unacceptable to most (sadly, not all) racism, the rest of those rules are what they are - meaning, as long as they were clearly revealed and explained well before you purchased, then you are free to choose to buy or not.
But that leads to the next question - were you really buying? If you didn't want to or couldn't renew at the end of twenty years, how was the equity portion of your house - your "ownership -" handled?
It certainly sounds more like a long-term lease than an actual purchase, sort of like leasing a car instead of buying. The system seems to have changed well before the expiration of the first twenty year agreements, so it's likely no one ever had to address that -- Levitt, certainly, seems to have been very much an "it's dough, let's go" type of guy.
In addition to the caveat on "Caucasians only," Levitt had originally wanted to keep "Hebrews" out as well -- even though he was Jewish himself -- but he realized that he'd be shutting out a large percentage of his potential market, which for the first Levittown was drawn largely from Brooklyn and Queens.
I feel bad for the guy who fought his way across Europe dreaming of a better future and came home to take a job walking thru Levittown measuring the height of shrubs.
"The System seems to have changed -" my guess, however that was "settled" leaned (heavily) in favorite of Levitt not the homeowner. We know how that tends to work.
Agree re the guy who had to measure the hedges - but that's the crazy thing, how mundane so many WWII vets' post-military lives were. From fighter pilot to plumber or insurance salesman, etc. - seems odd, but what's the alternative, they fought for life to return to "normal."
My WWI vet grandfather was a manager in a small diner ('till the depression ended that job) and my WWII vet uncle was a true traveling salesman - (growing up, I thought his sample case was physically attached to him).
Quentin Aanenson was a perfect example.
Fighter ace to insurance salesman.
I used to know a guy (since deceased) who told me once that even before the war, his goal in life had been to be a janitor, so he could polish floors and watch the light play across them. The man was an absolute master at polishing any hard-surface floor. He was quite proud that he earned a CIB; at his funeral I learned he had been awarded 3 silver stars, as well as miscellaneous other citations.
It always seemed to me that a lot of the WWII veterans were like that. The war was over, they wanted to make up for lost time, they wanted to get on with their lives.
I often think about my grandfather who was in the army (a doughboy) and spent his service in a trench in France and, then, after being gassed, recovering in an army hospital. My mom said he told her ( I was told not to ask him about his experience) that he saw such horrible things that he couldn't talk about them. He was a very quiet, gentle man - I've often wondered if he was that way as a result of his experiences, but I have no one to ask.
As noted, after the war, he was a manager of a small diner (and later another small lunch restaurant) - must have seemed either like heaven (no incoming shells) or pointless ("my coffee is cold!" probably seemed a trivial complaint) to a man who had experienced what he did.