Chapter 7-nar

Chapter 7

Residential Development 1930's-1960's

Houses built in the 30's were largely built by hand, woven together from plaster, lath, brick and other materials. All the new materials and methods of prefabrication introduced in the same decade finally were largely used to make cheaper and more automatic the traditional methods of building . Houses in these subdivisions were very ordinary with regard to space making techniques. They were largely subdivisions of a box with none or few of the planning innovations advocated by 20th-century modernism. Occasionally a modern flourish appeared as decorative treatment, but these and other finish materials were the chief differences from plan to plan. Plans, typically around 800 square feet were almost like individual apartments evenly spread through the landscape.

Houses became the assembly-line product of the financial industry as well as the home-building industry. Now there was no longer the inconvenience of individual owners and mortgages. Rather, a lending institution could use the merchant builder as a conduit. A subdivision of many individual projects as one large project with several house models meant steady business to the financier. Consistent with this practice, the FHA encouraged "pre-improved" subdivisions where builders bought large tracts of land and built all the homes before the owners arrived. The entire process could then be streamlined even further since not only the house but the entire site could be an assembly line, with multiple slabs being poured at once and framing/finishing crews completing as many as forty houses a day. Finally it was not the quality of the houses but the volume of houses which was being engineered. The potential for further "streamlining" was not lost on the merchant builders of these large tracts. Cutting corners or scrimping on materials did not pay off in the development of small numbers of homes, but a similar alteration multiplied by 17,000 homes, the number in Levittown, New York, could mean real profits for the developer.

John Keat's "Crack in the Picture Window" condensed all the potential horrors of this landscape into one nightmare novel which, though it was a pot-boiler, referred to real complaints and social trends which surfacing during the post-war years. Among those problems were unpaved roads, grass growing through the slab, diapers hung in the living room and even wife-swapping. By the 50's, couples were encouraged to "move up" from their Cape Cods to a split level and by the late 50's, when the saturated market would not sustain the same kind of home-building growth, developers began to experiment more aggressively with marketing as a way of identifying specialized groups of customers.

Recent years in the subdivision business have seen a distinct transition from mere lot selling to the merchandising of complete tracts, fully improved with new dwellings. Many of these dwellings are even equipped with the latest designs in stoves, washers, refrigerators, radios, television sets and air conditioning units, all sold as part of a completed package and so included in the almost inevitable mortgages....Subdividing is still being promoted by Realtors but most of them are doubling as professional house builders as well. Construction problems and their attendant headaches have been added to the subdivision business.[[1]

[From an advertisement.]

The 1950 House of Levittown is priced at $7990 on an inside plot and $8500 on a corner. The minimum inside plot is 60 by 100; the minimum corner, 80 by 100. Each house has an entrance foyer 4 by 8, a living room 12 by 19, a bedroom 12 by 12, another bedroom 8 by 12, a kitchen 9-1/2 by 10-1/2, a bathroom 5 by 8, and a porch, or carport, 12 by 20. There is a stairway to a large open attic which can be finished into two more bedrooms and another bath.

	The following is included in every house:
	* Bendix Deluxe Automatic Laundry
	* General Electric Refrigerator
	* General Electric Range
	* Acme Aluminum Venetian Blinds
	* Tracy All-Steel Cabinets
	* Fasco Electric Ventilating Fan
	* General Bronze Sliding Aluminum Windows
	* Thermopane Insulated Glass
	* Briggs Colored Bath Fixtures
	* Armstrong Porcelain-on-Steel Wall Tile
	* Copper Radiant Heating
	* York-Shipley Automatic Oil Burner
	* Cellulite Complete Insulation
	* Matic Tile Floors
	* Two-Way Log Burning Fire Place
	* Complete Landscaping
	* Outside Garden Storage Chest
	* All Legal Fees and Recording Charges
	* All Closing Costs
	* Free Use of Levittown Swimming Pools
	* Admiral 1950 Built-in Television with 12-1/2" Screen

[1]Stanley L. McMichael, Real Estate Subdivisions (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1949), 3.