Peter Bacon Hales

​Chapter Four-- Looking at Levittown​:  Color images and added illustrations

4.8 Life, January 14, 1952. copyright The Picture Collection, Inc. Photograph copyright The Estate of Leslie Gill, courtesy of the Robert Mann Gallery

4.13 A Town Takes Its Own PictureColliers, September 22, 1951

Charles Tekula, Sr., on the back patio of a Levittown ranch.

A number of interesting details are at work here. Notice, as Charles, Jr. pointed out to me, the way his father compressed the size of the picture window by taking out fully half of the glass on either side. Though inside decor may have been a factor, I'm convinced it was the terrific heat-loss through those windows that motivated Charles, Sr.

  But note other telling signs that this was a different world:  Mr. Tekula is svelte and muscular, and he is young, though not so young he doesn't need reading glasses.  Note the can of beer-- hipsters today will recognize it as Carling Black Label;  oldsters will remember the advertising slogan:  Mabel!  Black Label! Carling Black Label Beer. It is early afternoon, probably a summer Sunday, judging by the heft of the paper on the chair beside him, the verdancy of the foliage, and the angle of the sun.

Here is the full-on picture window on Sandy Adams's house

Outside the Gates of Eden:  The Dream of America from Hiroshima to Now

Introducing the Levittown Ranch:  Life​ does a feature

When the Levitts switched from Cape Cod to Ranch in 1949, they only half-completed the transition, both in order to keep the price increases low year-to-year, and to generate new-year-model interest, if not literal trade-ins.

But Life got wind of the novelties featured in the second, 1950 model, ranch, and -- probably with the publicity-savvy Bill Levitt helping out-- found a family that had, indeed, traded in their old house for a new one, not once but twice. 

That became the hook for Life's piece, but the May 22, 1950 feature was much more extensive. Life focused on the transformations of the landscape, the sales techniques, and the phenomenal growth of the community.

What's also remarkable, to 21st century eyes, is the array of ads within which the article, and the pictures, found themselves. 

Decorating the Levittown House:  Life's feature.

The Levittown home-decorating contest of 1952 showed the full gamut of possibilities, from colonial-revival to mid-century modernist. The first runner-up, only granted a small black-and-white crowded among the ads for musical self-improvement courses and shaving cream, involved something close to apostasy:  subdividing the space to separate into discreet elements the living and dining spaces.