Want the ‘Levittown’ story? Ask Dave Marable! Part 1

by Stewart Gross

My two hours at 283 Snowball Drive were a time warp to the 1950’s and the invention of America’s suburbs.

Dave Marable lost his son Jason Andrew in 2015, and held on to the property that they co-owned in the Snowball Gate section of Levittown in Middletown Township.

It currently serves as a “museum” to America’s Second Suburb.  Interestingly, the Levitt family considered the three Gates, Snowball, Forsythia and Red Rose, to be “the exit” from Levittown,” according to Dave. 

The “entryway” was Wildwood Gate, which is stationed on the Levittown Parkway.

Dave, who is an ex-Pennsbury School District art teacher, maintains a website on its history and has written a book on the history of Levittown titled, “Levittown Pennsylvania 1952-2002: A Garden Community.”

Abraham Levitt of Long Island, New York first conceived of Levittown in 1929.

In this period before World War II, most of America’s population lived in cities.

In the aftermath of the war, Americans began moving to the suburbs for the first time.

The U.S. had a boom economy, a baby boom to go with it, a new highway system, and inexpensive Federal Housing Authority loans for war veterans, which enabled new families to move out of crowded cities and enjoy the open spaces of suburban America.

Levitt and his two sons, William and Alfred, jumped on this prime opportunity and created America’s first planned developments in the suburbs.

In fact, Abraham Levitt is considered by many to be the creator of the modern American suburb.

William learned the mass construction techniques used in building Levittown while serving in the Navy Seabees in WWII, and Alfred was an architect.

Their father attended NYU Law School and was a real estate attorney. Levittown, PA was planned down to the last shrub, as houses came landscaped with Redwood trees and complete with a refrigerator, washing machine, and dining room table.

Land was donated for public schools, churches, shopping centers, community centers, and recreation facilities.

Marable emphasizes that the Levitt’s viewed these as “homes” for families and communities, not simply “houses.”

Levittown, PA was built on Quaker farmland that grew carrots and broccoli. It was able to bloom into existence because the new PA Turnpike had just opened, and Route 1 and Route 13 already existed as two major north-south corridors.

The old Pennsylvania Railroad also ran through the Levittown. The economic boom in the area was provided by U.S. Steel and its Fairless Works plant, where many of Levittown’s residents found work.

Work on this second Levittown began in February of 1952, after Levitt and Sons had completed the first in their native Long Island, New York, between 1947 and 1951.

As an artist and historian, Dave Marable considers the Pennsylvania, Levittown to be the “Mona Lisa” of Levittown’s.

He has personally visited ones in Long Island, Norfolk, VA, and Willingboro, NJ.

There were nine Levittown’s built in the U.S., including in Puerto Rico, and one in France.

The PA Levittown was the first connected together into one entire town. They never actually incorporated it into its own municipality.

It remained split across Middletown, Bristol, Tullytown, and Falls townships.

Otherwise, it is one town, which an aerial view reveals to be shaped like an American bald eagle.

Also, a series of streets in the middle section form the word LEVITT, and can be seen upon aerial view.

Dave explained that the Levitt’s easily got an aerial view, since they employed their own private pilot, Raymond Fletcher Profit, who flew them to the nine Levittown’s being built as well as to their lumber mill in Blue Lake, California, where they cut the lumber for their homes from Sequoia trees.

The senior Levitt had a mansion on County Line Road in Huntingdon Valley.

Alfred Stuart Levitt designed the six models in the development, which include: the Levittowner, the Rancher, the Jubilee, the Pennsylvanian, the Colonial and the Country Clubber.

All of them were built on concrete slabs with oil heated copper pipes carrying hot water embedded in them, to heat the homes.

Levitt and Sons utilized an assembly-line building method to construct the over 17,000 homes they eventually built by 1958. 

[Tune in next month for part two of Dave Marable’s Levittown story]

PHOTO CAPS: 1. Dave Marable with an original Levittown refrigerator.

2. William Levitt