Levittown, Pa.
Building the Suburban Dream
 

Explore the exhibit menu:
Planning, Building and Selling Levittown

Crabgrass Frontiers

The Most Perfectly Planned Community

The Most House for the Most Money

Assembly Line Housing

Advertising the American Dream


The Suburban Dream
Levittown Kitchen


Exhibit acknowledgements

 

The Most House for the Money
DESIGNING LEVITTOWN FROM THE INSIDE


woman decorating cartoon

Levittowner model #1 Courtesy of the Levittown Regional Library.

Levittowner Model #1.

Sales flyer for the Levittowner. On loan from the Levittown Regional Library.
Sales flyer for the Levittowner. [Levittown Regional Library]

The heart of Levittown was the mass-produced, single-family house. Levitt sacrificed individuality and custom design for low-cost efficiency. Still, his Pennsylvania development featured six house models, each in several different styles and model years. Levitt boasted that he had created "the least monotonous mass housing group in the country."

"With its clean lines, the Levittowner is custom designed for modern living."

illustration of house interior Town and Village, August 14, 1952.

Illustration of Levittown house interior from Town and Village, August 14, 1952.

Introduced in 1952, the sleek, ranch-style Levittowner was the best selling model during Levittown's first few years. Its contemporary, California-inspired design appealed to young professionals and complemented their taste in mid-century modern furniture. Its initial price tag—a modest $9990—appealed to just about everyone.


House Styles

THE COUNTRY CLUBBER

Sales flyer for the Country Clubber. Courtesy of the Levittown Regional Library.

Sales flyer for the Country Clubber. [Levittown Regional Library]

 

Disputes with local township officials forced Levitt to halt his initial run of 500 Country Clubbers. In 1954, he resumed production with a new and improved model offering nearly twice as much room as the Levittowner—albeit at nearly twice the price. All of Levittown's Country Clubbers were located in Middletown Township.
THE RANCHER

Sales flyer for the Rancher. [Levittown Regional Library]

Introduced in 1953, the Rancher sold for $1,000 less than the Levittowner and included a second floor that could be finished into an extra bedroom. It proved especially popular with couples planning large families.
THE JUBILEE

Sales flyer for the Jubilee. Courtesy of the Levittown Regional Library.

Sales flyer for the Jubilee. [Levittown Regional Library]

The Jubilee debuted in 1954 to mark Levitt and Sons 25th anniversary and proved an instant hit with consumers. The anniversary model included an enclosed garage and an expandable second floor. A later version, the Jubilee Jr., was identical to its predecessor except for the unfinished second floor.
THE PENNSYLVANIAN & THE COLONIAL

Front of Flyer for

Flyer for "Levittown in 1957". [Collections of the State Museum]

Back of Flyer for

Introduced during the last few years of construction, the Pennsylvanian and the Colonial were built in much smaller numbers and in only a few sections. Both styles reappeared in his third development in Willingboro, New Jersey.

Contemporary Design

"Regardless of the Levittown house which you choose, you will be acquiring the latest in modern design with the most up to date appliances and features."
Levitt and Sons sales brochure

All Levittown models featured name-brand materials, built-in features, and a modern, efficient design intended to appeal to young consumers. Levitt's designs were widely copied by other builders—a testament to the development's widespread impact on the American housing industry.

Open plan

Levitt was among the first large-scale builders to embrace the "open plan," a design marked by a minimum of interior walls. By eliminating traditional, box-like room partitions, the open plan made the most of limited space. In early models, a fireplace served as the focal point—an idea borrowed from Frank Lloyd Wright.

Interior of the Country Clubber model. Courtesy of the Levittown Regional Library.

Interior of the Country Clubber model. [Levittown Regional Library]

Family near window; courtesy of Rita Calzarette.

Family gathered near a picture window, standard in most Levittown house models. [Rita Calzarette]

Picture Windows

Consistent with mid-century architectural design, Levitt incorporated windows and natural light wherever possible. The Levittowner featured full-length or floor-to-ceiling picture windows, in front and back, segmented into standard multiples.

Expandable Attic

Carports and, in most later models, expandable attics, were promoted as ideal "rumpus rooms" for children that could be finished at the leisure—and expense—of individual homeowners.

Expandable attic; Courtesy of Urban Archives, Temple University, Philadelphia.

Expandable attic, likely from a Rancher model. [Urban Archives, Temple University, Philadelphia]

Woman in kitchen; Courtesy of Rita Calzarette.

Woman standing in Levittowner model kitchen. [Rita Calzarette]

Built-In

All Levitt houses featured modern kitchens complete with electric range, refrigerator and other built-in accessories designed to take the labor out of housekeeping.

Indoor/Outdoor Living

Most models featured large, sliding glass doors that opened on to an outdoor terrace which could be finished into a livable patio space.

Model patio; Courtesy of the Levittown Regional Library.

A model patio adjoining a Levittowner house. [Levittown Regional Library]


Cost-Conscious Architecture

Detailed section for the Levittowner, from a 1953 architectural drawing. [Courtesy of Sam Hellings.]What Levitt houses lacked in originality they made up for in cost-saving design. Although controversial by the standards of the day, many of Levitt's building practices were adopted by other home builders.

 

Detailed section for the Levittowner, from a 1953 architectural drawing. [Sam Hellings]

Slab construction; Courtesy of Jack Rosen.

 

 

Aerial view showing slab construction. [Jack Rosen]

Levitt was the first large-scale builder to construct houses on radiantly heated cement slabs. By foregoing a dug-out basement, Levitt estimated he saved consumers $1,000 per dwelling. The practice caught on. By 1952, 25% of all new houses were constructed on slab.

midget boiler; From Fortune Magazine, October 1952

Levitt's midget boiler, as profiled in Fortune Magazine, October 1952.

York-Shipley custom designed these "midget" boilers to fit snugly under kitchen counters or closets in Levitt's basement-less houses. Plumbing trees were also truncated to save money. This required that kitchens and bathrooms be located in close proximity.

Mother and daughter in front of closet; Courtesy of Look Magazine, Library of Congress.To cut costs and add flexibility, Levitt replaced conventional, solid-wood closet doors with Japanese manufactured bamboo screens. Like all of his materials, Levitt ordered the bamboo screens in bulk—1,750,000 square feet of it in his initial order. "The Japanese will learn what it means to be touched by Levitt," Fortune Magazine quipped.

Mother and daughter in front of closet. [Look Magazine, Library of Congress]

While most of Levitt's cost cutting measures held up, some did not. His tarpaper composition sewer pipe saved money in the short run but proved unstable. Homeowners often were forced to pay thousands of dollars to install new, copper lines—generally after Levitt's five-year warranty had expired.


Landscaping the Levittown House

Detail from Levittowner construction drawing showing landscape plan. Courtesy of Phil Smythe.

Construction drawing detail showing landscape plan for a Levittowner house. [Phil Smythe]

"Landscaping cannot be compared with the building of a concrete wall."
Levitt and Sons Homeowners Guide,
1953

Page from the home owners manual distributed by Levitt and Sons, outlining the As with everything else, landscaping was standardized so that each lot received the same allotment of shade trees, fruit trees, evergreens and perennials and flowering shrubs. The final plan called for more than 400,000 plantings at a cost of $8,000,000.

Page from the home owners manual distributed by Levitt and Sons, outlining the "how-tos" of lawn care. [Collections of the State Museum]

Levitt supplied homeowners with detailed instructions on the care of lawn, plants and shrubbery. The assumption was that most new homeowners—as lifelong city dwellers—would have been unfamiliar with even the most basic aspects of horticulture.

Cartoon of homeowner and lawncare From the Levittown Outlook, 1959.While small by rural standards, Levittown's 7000 square foot lots seemed spacious to city dwellers. Levitt believed that most homeowners would be unwilling to maintain lots any larger than that.

George Ryan cartoon published in the Levittown Outlook, spoofing Levittowners' approach to lawncare. [Jerry Jonas]

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State Museum of Pennsylvania Copyright © 2003 The State Museum of Pennsylvania