Whether it’s McMansions or manufactured homes, chances are you’ve dealt with at least one property that was influenced in some way by William Levitt. What’s that? You’ve never heard of William Levitt? Well, that’s not too surprising. Even though he was the closest thing the housing industry had to Henry Ford, the vast majority of Americans probably have no idea who he is.
But most of them are almost certainly familiar with his handiwork. That’s because he was responsible for turning a potato field in western Long Island into Levittown, N.Y., the first post-World War II suburb, and a town widely considered to be the progenitor of “Suburbia” as an American cultural institution.
Real estate writer Steve Bergsman explores Levitt’s legacy in his new book, Growing Up Levittown: In a Time of Conformity, Controversy and Cultural Crisis (Dancing Traveller Media, 2011). Bergsman is more intimately familiar with that legacy than most: His family moved to Levittown in 1954.
Despite that familiarity — or perhaps because of it — there were some surprises for Bergsman as he was doing research for the book.