Levittown, N.Y.: The Original Starter Community

Eight years ago, Jean Holland moved with her family from West Hempstead, N.Y., to Levittown, about seven miles east on the Hempstead Turnpike. Drawn to the legendary Long Island hamlet by its reputation for safe streets and good schools (her son, Brandon, was a teenager at the time), she settled in a 3,000-square-foot house. It was a far cry from the modest two-bedroom boxes that the developers, Levitt & Sons, had built from 1947 to 1951 for returning World War II servicemen. But it was typical of what Levittown has become in the decades since: a collection of more than 17,000 snowflakes customized with dormers, bay windows, porticos, shingles and garages.

Ms. Holland, a paralegal, found the house had more space than she needed, and the $3,200 monthly mortgage was a strain. So she and her family moved again. And again and again and again. As life threw them curves, or they simply got itchy, they changed addresses, but always within the community. Now Ms. Holland, 67, is on her fifth Levitt house, a circa-1950 extended ranch on Blacksmith Road with five bedrooms and an in-ground swimming pool. She and her husband, John, 63, a waiter, paid $432,000 for the property in 2016. Brandon has the second floor to himself.

“Even if I won the lottery, I wouldn’t leave here,” she said. “I may build my dream house, but I wouldn’t leave Levittown.”

Levittown has been lauded for offering the American dream of homeownership, and derided as a model of suburban monotony and intolerance. But a key trait of the 71-year-old development in Nassau County is its stickiness.

Many children of the original homeowners have grown up and grown old in these seven square miles. The needs of older residents have become so pronounced that one of the suburb’s two bowling alleys is being replaced by an assisted-living community. At the same time, a new generation is turning up in search of an affordable place to start families.

“If you’re a young couple getting married, and you want to live in a good community and can only spend around $400,000, Levittown is the only place to go,” said Nancy Kalberer, an agent with Century 21, who has been selling real estate in the area for 28 years. “You sacrifice your basement, but so what?”

Yes, Levittown has no basements. The mass-construction methods that yielded more than 30 houses a day at the peak of development left no time to dig foundations. The houses were built on radiant-heated slabs.Buried oil tanks are another quirk, Ms. Kalberer said. And she often broods over the poor planning that, as she sees it, left no reasonable place for a washing machine.

But Levittown still has its original nine community swimming pools with playing fields and playgrounds, as well as remnants of the seven intimate shopping strips known as village greens. It also still has active VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and American Legion posts. And volunteerism is strong in traditional service clubs like the Kiwanis and Lions.