Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Birth of the Burbs

The early suburbs in America were largely built for the returning GI’s of the Second World War, and during their time were wonders of efficient construction, luxurious living, and affordability, and even today one can be amazed at their technology, much of it borrowed from Frank Lloyd Wright.

An excerpt from the article about it.

“The term “affordable housing” has come to be associated with social programs and government subsidies, but it once meant commercially built houses that ordinary working people could afford. A pioneer of affordability was the builder Levitt and Sons, whose famous “Levittowns” were the first postwar examples of large, master-¬planned communities. The story is well ¬known. After World War II, as GIs came home and the peacetime economy gathered steam, the demand for housing grew dramatically. Levitt, an established Long Island builder, set its sights on this new market. William Levitt, the eldest son, applied his wartime experience building barracks with the Navy Seabees to traditional wood-frame construction. He organized the building site like an assembly line. Teams of workers performed repetitive tasks, one team laying floor slabs, another erecting framing, another applying siding, and so on. No one had ever built housing that way before.

“The first Levittown was on Long Island, the second in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and the third in New Jersey. The Long Island project, because it was the first and the closest to New York City is the best known, but the Bucks County development, which began in 1951, was larger and more comprehensively planned and designed. At that site, the more than 17,000 homes on nearly 6,000 acres were intended chiefly for workers employed at a nearby steel plant. The largest and most expensive of the six model homes, the Country Clubber, was for supervisors and executives, but the three-bedroom Levittowner was the workhorse of the development. It sold for $9,900, which would equal $82,000 today.

“The design of the Levittowner, like the planning of the community, was the responsibility of William’s younger brother, Alfred. Though William Levitt went on to have a long and well-publicized career as a developer and builder, Alfred, who died in 1966 (at only 54), is less remembered. He was a self-taught architect who had spent an entire summer observing the construction of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s so-called Usonian houses, in Great Neck Estates, Long Island. Many of the Levittowner’s cost-saving features were influenced by this experience: the efficient one-story plan that combined an eat-in kitchen with the living room; the concrete floor slab without a basement; the under-floor heating; the low, spreading roof with no attic; and the carport instead of a garage. (The Usonians, Wright’s answer to affordability, were beautiful, but since they were built one at a time, they were expensive, the Rebhuhn Residence, the one Alfred studied, cost a whopping $35,000 to build in 1937, the equivalent of more than half a million dollars today.)”