African-American Achievements

August 18, 2012 · Posted in Black History, Firsts in History · Comments Off on African-American Achievements 

Fact #1
Soccer phenom Freddy Adu was the youngest athlete to play in a professional American sports league.

Fact #2
The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon honored Ira Aldridge with a bronze plaque. He is the only African-American actor to receive this tribute.

Fact #3
BET was the first African-American controlled company to sell shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

Fact #4
Macon Bolling Allen was the first African-American to pass the bar and practice law in the United States in 1845.

Fact #5
Lawyer Macon Bolling Allen was the first black American Justice of the Peace and the first African-American licensed to practice law in the U.S.

Fact #6
The African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded by Richard Allen became the first national black church in the United States in 1816.

Fact #7
Marian Anderson, a gifted contralto singer, was the first African-American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1955.

Fact #8
In 1993, Maya Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. She was the first poet to do an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost spoke for President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Fact #9
Writer and performer Maya Angelou worked as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco, California, before graduating from high school.

Fact #10
Maya Angelou’s autobiographical book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is the first non-fiction work by an African-American woman to make the best-seller list.

Fact #11
In 1988, while at Temple University, scholar Molefi Asante founded the first Ph.D. program in African-American studies.

Fact #12
Arthur Ashe was the first African-American to win the U.S. Open (1968); to come in first in the Wimbeldon men’s singles (1975); and be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (1985).

Fact #13
In 1963, tennis champion Arthur Ashe was the first African-American to be named to the U.S. Davis Cup team.

Fact #14
Jamaican-born chess player Maurice Ashley became the first Black Grandmaster in 1999. That same year, he opened the Harlem Chess Center, where he began coaching young chess players.

Fact #15
Deford Bailey was a wizard at playing the harmonica, and was most notable for mimicking the sound of locomotives. He was the first African-American to perform at the Grand Ole Opry and one of the first African-American stars of country music.

Fact #16
Lawyer Constance Baker Motley was the first African-American woman ever to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Fact #17
Model Tyra Banks was the first African-American woman on the covers of GQ magazine and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Fact #18
In 1997, model Tyra Banks became the first-ever African-American on the cover of the Victoria’s Secret lingerie catalog.

Fact #19
Benjamin Banneker was considered the first African-American scientist.

Fact #20
Before she was tapped to become Surgeon General of the United States in 2009, physician Regina Benjamin was the first African-American female, and the youngest person, to be elected to the American Medical Association’s board of trustees.

Fact #21
Halle Berry became the first African-American Miss World entrant in 1986.

Fact #22
In 2001, model and actress Halle Berry became the first African-American woman to win the Best Actress Oscar for her role in Monster’s Ball.

Fact #23
In 1983, Guion Bluford became the first black astronaut to travel in space.

Fact #24
In 1932, Jane Bolin became the first black woman to become a judge in the United States. She was also the first black woman to receive a law degree from Yale.

Fact #25
In 1876, physics student Edward Alexander Bouchet became the first African-American to earn a doctorate degree.

Fact #26
Barbara Brandon was the country’s only black female cartoonist to be nationally syndicated. Her strip was named “Where I’m Coming From.”

Fact #27
Jane Brolin was the first African-American to graduate from Yale University’s Law School.

Fact #28
In 1950, writer Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for her collection, Annie Allen.

Fact #29
Ronald Brown was the United States Secretary of Commerce, serving during the first term of President Bill Clinton. He was the first African-American to hold this position.

Fact #30
Political scientist and diplomat, Dr. Ralph Johnson Bunche, received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation efforts in Palestine during the 1940s. He was the first African-American to receive the honor.

Fact #31
In 1995, African-American writer Octavia Butler became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant.

Fact #32
Alexa Canady became the first female African-American neurosurgeon in the United States. She graduated from medical school in 1975.

Fact #33
Actress Diahann Carroll won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress In A Television Series in 1968 for her role on the sitcom Julia. Carroll was the first African-American actress to star in her own television series where she did not play a domestic worker.

Fact #34
In 1987 Ben Carson, a skilled neurosurgeon, led the first successful operation to separate a pair of Siamese twin infants who were joined at the back of the head.

Fact #35
George Washington Carver who made agricultural advancements and inventions pertaining to the use of peanuts, and Percy Julian, who helped create drugs to combat glaucoma, were the first African-Americans admitted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990.

Fact #36
Politician and educator Shirley Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to Congress.

Fact #37
Politician Shirley Chisholm was the first major-party African-American candidate for President of the United States.

Fact #38
Track-and-field star Alice Coachman made history when she became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal—and the only American woman to win a medal—at the 1948 Olympic Games.

Fact #39
Singer and pianist, Nat ‘King’ Cole was the first black American to host a television variety show.

Fact #40
Nat ‘King’ Cole, a singer, song writer and pianist, was the first African-American to host a national television program, The Nat King Cole Show, in 1956.

Fact #41
Bessie Coleman was the first licensed African-American pilot in the world. She received aviation instruction in France.

Fact #42
In 1965, comedian Bill Cosby became the first African-American to star in a network television show when he co-starred with Robert Culp in the action-adventure show, I Spy.

Fact #43
Rebecca Lee Crumpler graduated from the New England Female Medical College in 1864, becoming the first black woman to receive an M.D.

Fact #44
Two years after she played the role of Dorothy Dandridge, the first African-American woman to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, perfomer Halle Berry actually became the first African-American woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress.

Fact #45
Football star Ernie Davis was the No.1 pick in the 1962 NFL draft, becoming the first African-American football player to be chosen first.

Fact #46
Ernie Davis, the football running back, was the first African-American athlete to win the Heisman trophy.

Fact #47
In 2006, speed skater Shani Davis became the first black athlete at the Winter Olympics to win a gold medal in an individual sport.

Fact #48
Dominique Dawes was the first African-American to win an individual event medal in gymnastics.

Fact #49
Entrepreneur Suzanne de Passe is the first and only African-American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for screen writing.

Fact #50
Ruby Dee was the first black woman to appear in major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival.

Fact #51
In 1989, African-American David Dinkins, became the first non-white Mayor of New York City.

Fact #52
Larry Doby made history in 1947, when he became the first African-American to break the color barrier in the American League—less than three months after Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball.

Fact #53
Poet Rita Dove was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1993 not only as the youngest person, but also as the first African-American.

Fact #54
In 1943, physician Charles R. Drew became the first black surgeon to serve as an examiner on the American Board of Surgery.

Fact #55
Civil Rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D from Harvard University.

Fact #56
Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar founded the first African-American newsletter in Dayton, Ohio.

Fact #57
Baritone opera singer Todd Duncan became the first African-American to sing in a major opera company when he became a member of the New York City Opera in 1945.

Fact #58
Tony Dungy became the first African-American head coach to win the Super Bowl when the Colts defeated the Chicago Bears on February 4th, 2007.

Fact #59
Lee Elder was the first African-American golfer to play in the Masters Tournament in 1975. He has won 4 PGA tournaments and 8 Senior PGA tournaments in his career.

Fact #60
M. Jocelyn Elders was the first African-American, and the second woman, to serve as the United States Surgeon General. Her term lasted for 15 months.

Fact #61
Jocelyn Elders was the first African-American to serve as Surgeon General of the United States.

Fact #62
In 1959, Ella Fitzgerald became the first African-American woman to earn a Grammy Award. She won five awards that year, including an award for best jazz soloist and one for best female pop vocalist.

Fact #63
Henry Ossian Flipper was the first African-American to graduate from West Point academy in 1877. He became the first black commander when he was assigned to the 10th Cavalry, a Buffalo Soldier regiment.

Fact #64
Soul singer Aretha Franklin became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Fact #65
In 1939, African-American George Gibbs became the first black man to explore the South Pole.

Fact #66
Althea Gibson was the first African-American tennis player to compete in the U.S. Championships in 1950 and at Wimbledon in 1951. In 1957 she won the women’s singles and doubles at Wimbledon in 1957, which was celebrated by a ticker tape parade when she returned home to New York City.

Fact #67
The first African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor was Louis Gossett, Jr. for his role in the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman.

Fact #68
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five became the first rap group to earn induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Fact #69
Richard Theodore Greener, was the first African-American graduate from Harvard in 1870. He started out at Oberlin college, the first American college to admit African-Americans and went on to become a lawyer.

Fact #70
Human rights activist Clara “Mother” Hale founded the first and, at the time, the only black social services agency in America in 1975. Over the course of her life, Mother Hale received more than 370 awards for her work in the fight against AIDS and inner city drug use.

Fact #71
Lorraine Hansberry authored A Raisin in the Sun. It was the first Broadway play written by an African-American woman.

Fact #72
The first African-American woman to make it into the U.S. Cabinet was Patricia Roberts Harris, the 1977 Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Fact #73
In 1963, U.S. Naval scientist Walter Harris became the first African-American chess master.

Fact #74
In 1954, African-American civil rights leader Anna Hedgeman became the first African-American woman to hold a mayoral cabinet position in the history of New York.

Fact #75
In 1904, African-American gym teacher Edwin Henderson learned the game of basketball while at a summer conference at Harvard University. Henderson introduced the game to the students at the segregated public schools of Washington, D.C., where it gained widespread popularity. For this, Henderson earned the title of “Father of Black Basketball.”

Fact #76
Leon Higginbotham, Jr. was a U.S. civil rights advocate and judge, as well as the first African-American on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Fact #77
In 2007, Barbara Hillary became the first recorded African-American woman to reach the North Pole. She was 75 years old.

Fact #78
African-American Allen Iverson, was the first 76er to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year title.

Fact #79
African-American disc jockey Hal Jackson became the first radio personality to broadcast three daily shows on three different New York stations. He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.

Fact #80
Model Jennifer Jackson was the first African-American model chosen as Playboy magazine’s Playmate of the Month. She was featured in the March 1965 issue.

Check out more achievements in Black History

Tallest Buildings in the World

August 17, 2012 · Posted in Architecture · Comments Off on Tallest Buildings in the World 


The race is always on. Within the span of just two years, the world’s tallest building was built three times in New York City – the 282.5-meter Bank of Manhattan in 1930, the 319-meter Chrysler Building in a few months after, and then 11 months later the 381-meter Empire State Building in 1931. The era of architectural horse-racing and ego-boosting has only intensified in the decades since. In 2003, the 509-meter Taipei 101 unseated the 452-meter Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur after a seven-year reign as the world’s tallest. In 2010, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai far surpassed Taipei 101, climbing up to 828 meters. Bold builders in China want to go 10 meters higher later this year with a 220-story pre-fab towerthat can be constructed in a baffling 90 days. And then, in 2018, the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (below, right) will go significantly farther, with a proposed height of at least 1,000 meters.*

Will this race ever stop? Not in the foreseeable future, at least. But there has to be some sort of end point, some highest possible height that a building can reach. There will eventually be a world’s tallest building that is unbeatably the tallest, because there has to be an upper limit. Right?

Ask a building professional or skyscraper expert and they’ll tell you there are many limitations that stop towers from rising ever-higher. Materials, physical human comfort, elevator technology and, most importantly, money all play a role in determining how tall a building can or can’t go.

But surely there must be some physical limitations that would prevent a building from going up too high. We couldn’t, for example, build a building that reached the moon because, in scientific terms, moon hit building and building go boom. But could there be a building with a penthouse in space, beyond earth’s atmosphere? Or a 100-mile tall building? Or even a 1-mile building?

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, a group interested in and focused on the phenomenon of skyscrapers, recently asked a group of leading skyscraper architects and designers about some of the limitations of tall buildings. They wondered, “What do you think is the single biggest limiting factor that would prevent humanity creating a mile-high tower or higher?” The responses are compiled in this video, and tend to focus on the pragmatic technicalities of dealing with funding and the real estate market or the lack of natural light in wide-based buildings.

“The predominant problem is in the elevator and transportation system,” says Adrian Smith, the architect behind the current tallest building in the world and the one that will soon outrank it, the kilometer-tall Kingdom Tower in Jeddah.

But in terms of structural limitations, the ultimate expert is likely William Baker. He’s the top structural engineer at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and he worked with Smith on the Burj Khalifa, designing the system that allowed it to rise so high. That system, known as the buttressed core, is a kind of three-winged spear that allows stability, viably usable space (as in not buried deeply and darkly inside a massively wide building) and limited loss of space for structural elements.

This illustration from SOM shows how the buttressed core of the Burj Khalifa compares to the traditional structure of the Willis Tower. (This image is an adaptation of a graphic that originally appeared in this article on Baker and the buttressed core from the December 2007 issue of Wired.)

Baker says the buttressed core design could be used to build structures even taller than the Burj Khalifa. “We could go twice that or more,” he says.

And though he calls skyscraper design “a fairly serious undertaking,” he also thinks that it’s totally feasible to build much taller than even the Kingdom Tower.

“We could easily do a kilometer. We could easily do a mile,” he says. “We could do at least a mile and probably quite a bit more.”

The buttressed core would probably have to be modified to go much higher than a mile. But Baker says that other systems could be designed. In fact, he’s working on some of them now.

One idea for a new system would be buildings with hollowed bases. Think of the Eiffel Tower, says Tim Johnson. He’s chairman at the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat and a partner at the architecture firm NBBJ, and he says any really, really tall building would have to be like a supersized version of the Parisian icon, otherwise the lower floors required to support the gradually narrowing structure would be way too big to even fill up.

For a Middle East-based client he’s not allowed to identify, Johnson worked on a project back in the late 2000s designing a building that would have been a mile-and-a-half tall, with 500 stories. Somewhat of a theoretical practice, the design team identified between 8 and 10 inventions that would have had to take place to build a building that tall. Not innovations, Johnson says, but inventions, as in completely new technologies and materials. “One of the client’s requirements was to push human ingenuity,” he says. Consider them pushed.

With those inventions and the hollow, Eiffel Tower-like base, Johnson says the design could have worked. The project was canned as a result of the crash of the real estate market in the late 2000s (and probably at least a little good old-fashioned pragmatism). But if things were to change, that building could be built, he says.

“We proved that it is physically and even programmatically possible to build a building a mile-and-a-half tall. If somebody would have said ‘Do it two miles,’ we probably could have done that, too,” Johnson says. “A lot of it comes down to money. Who’s going to have that kind of capital?”

As far as the structure is concerned, others think it’s possible, too. My colleague John Metcalfe recently pointed out a 1990s-era concept for a two-and-a-half-mile volcano-looking supertower in Tokyo called the X-Seed 4000 that has a similar Eiffel Towerishness to it.

As Metcalfe notes, this 4,000-meter “skypenetrator” was never built for a variety of reasons, but the most obvious is that “[r]eal estate in Tokyo isn’t exactly cheap. The base of this abnormally swole tower would eat up blocks and blocks if it was to be stable.” In fact the base of this structure, according to conceptual drawings, would have spread for miles and miles, almost like the base of Mount Fuji, itself about 225 meters smaller than the X-Seed 4000.

A building taller than a mountain seems preposterous. But according to Baker, it’s entirely possible.

“You could conceivably go higher than the highest mountain, as long as you kept spreading a wider and wider base,” Baker says.

Theoretically, then, a building could be built at least as tall as 8,849 meters, one meter taller than Mount Everest. The base of that mountain, according to these theoretical calculations, is about 4,100 square kilometers – a huge footprint for a building, even one with a hollow core. But given structural systems like the buttressed core, the base probably wouldn’t need to be nearly as large as that of a mountain.

And this theoretical tallest building could probably go even taller than 8,849 meters, Baker says, because buildings are far lighter than solid mountains. The Burj Khalifa, he estimates, is about 15 percent structure and 85 percent air. Based on some quick math, if a building is only 15 percent as heavy as a solid object, it could be 6.6667 times taller and weigh the same as that solid object. A building could, hypothetically, climb to nearly 59,000 meters without outweighing Mount Everest or crushing the very earth below. Right?

“I’d have to come up with a considered opinion on that,” says Baker.

How about an unconsidered opinion?

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to chicken out on you and not give you a number,” Baker laughs. “This is the kind of thing I’d want to do with a student.”

“If you get some funding for a grad student for a semester, I’ll give you a number,” Baker says.

So we still don’t really know what the tallest building ever would be. In the meantime, Everest-plus-one is essentially the highest. But like the ever-moving crown for the tallest building in the world, even this estimate could rise with a little investigation. Any grad students out there got a semester to spare?

* Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the proposed height of Kingdom Tower.

Note: As a number of readers have pointed out, this article neglects to mention the concept of the space elevator –a 100,000-kilometer shaft anchored on the earth that rises out beyond our atmosphere where a counterweight would hold it in place, enabling earth-based vehicles to relatively efficiently climb up into space. Admittedly, that would be a tall structure, probably the tallest. But for the purposes of this article, I chose to focus on buildings in the common perception of the word. My sincere apologies to any space elevator enthusiasts out there who feel left out. Excelsior! -N.B.

Top image: The Burj Khalifa stands tall in Dubai’s skyline – Reuters. Rendering of Freedom Tower courtesy Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture.


                Keywords: Tall Buildings, Buttressed Core, Kingdom Tower, Burj Khalifa, Architecture, skyscrapers
Nate Berg is staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles.

American Flag’s History & Proper Display

August 12, 2012 · Posted in America, American Flag · Comments Off on American Flag’s History & Proper Display 


Congress first approved the flag on June 14, 1777.

Link to PDF

This date is now observed as Flag Day throughout America. It was first stated that there be a star and stripe for each state, making thirteen of both. Over the years, the number of stars has been changed to include one star for each of the 50 states, while the stripes remained the same to represent the 13 original colonies.


Later, the colors of the flag were given special meaning. The red is for valor and zeal – white is for hope, purity, and cleanliness of life – and blue, the color of heaven, loyalty, sincerity, justice, and truth.

The name “OLD GLORY” was given to our National Flag on August 10, 1831. The flag means the spirit of liberty and human freedom.

Proper Display of Flag * Display of the American flag is usually from sunrise to sunset.

* The flag should be displayed daily on or near the main building of every public place and during school days in or near every schoolhouse.

* Flags are flown at half-staff to show grief for lives lost. When the flag is flown at half-staff, it should be pulled to the top for a moment, and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should then be raised to the top before it is lowered for the day.

* When two or more flags are flown from the same pole, the American flag must be on top.

* When displayed with another flag against a wall, the U.S. flag should be on its own right (left to a person facing the wall).

Levitt Houses

August 4, 2012 · Posted in America, Housing · Comments Off on Levitt Houses 


A Brief History of Levittown, New York

Few communities in America are as easily recognizable by name as Levittown, New York. In addition to its distinction as the childhood home of world famous singer/songwriter, Billy Joel, (who was actually raised in a Levitt home in nearby Hicksville) Levittown is the model on which scores of post World War II suburban communities were based – a place that started out as an experiment in low-cost, mass-produced housing and became, perhaps, the most famous suburban development in the world.

Many volumes have been written which provide comprehensive histories of Levittown, including its “pre-history” as a center of early Long Island aviation and its prominence as the host of the 1908 through 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Races. Some of these are available at our Museum Shop or at various Long Island libraries. For those of you who are interested in a basic outline, the following “mini-history” is extracted from the Levittown Historical Society’s History Of Levittown, New York, by Lynne Matarrese.

In The Beginning: Island Trees

The story of Levittown begins with the story of the Hempstead Plains, sixty thousand acres of flat, treeless grasslands that was once considered the largest prairie in the eastern United States. It was here, in 1644, that a group of English colonists established Hempstead, the first permanent settlement in what later became Nassau County. Subsequently, through various grants and land deals, Hempstead was divided into territories, one of which became known as Island Trees, likely because it contained a tall group of pine trees that, from a distance, resembled an island unto itself.

The few early residents of Island Trees were mainly farmers of English descent. When the Long Island Rail Road extended its tracks from Jamaica to Hicksville in 1836, the Island Trees farmers found themselves with a new, more convenient means of transporting their goods to market – and for receiving shipments of feed and fertilizer. This made the area surrounding Hicksville highly attractive to German land developers, who soon purchased large parcels of land in the railroad’s vicinity, which included Island Trees.

Over the next several decades, small villages of immigrants, most from Germany, sprouted up around the area. Island Trees’ main cash crops in the late 1800s were cabbage and cucumbers, until a severe blight hit the area in 1912 and farmers shifted their attention to potato farming. Island Trees soon became the center of potato farming in Nassau County. But then, in the mid 1930s, farmers in the area suddenly began to experience serious potato crop damage brought on by a dreaded critter called the Golden Nematode. It was at the onset of this crisis that Abraham Levitt and his sons, Alfred and William, purchased an abandoned potato field in Island Trees at a “greatly reduced price.”

Levitt & Sons

Abraham Levitt was a real estate lawyer by trade, but also dabbled in real estate investment, purchasing land and selling it off to developers in the late 1920s. When the onset of the 1930’s Great Depression caused the developer of a Rockville Centre property to default on his payments, the senior Levitt was forced to complete the development himself to protect his investment. Having no previous experience with construction, he called on his two sons, in college at the time, for help. Together, Levitt & Sons labored to learn everything there was to know about construction techniques, and together, they completed the project.

Strathmore, as the upscale Rockville Centre development was named, was such a success that Levitt and Sons continued to purchase land and build new homes throughout the Depression. With each new development, their construction methods became more and more efficient.

When the U.S. entered WWII in 1941, Levitt and Sons won a Navy contract to build homes for shipyard workers in Norfolk, Virginia. Here, they developed and perfected the mass production techniques they later used in the construction of Levittown, New York. It may have also been this experience that inspired William, the older of the Levitt sons, to enlist in the Navy in 1943.

Meanwhile, back home in Island Trees, the golden nematode had gained a strong foothold and was wiping out a large part of the area’s potato crop, on which many local farmers depended for survival. By 1945 and the end of World War II, Island Trees farmers began looking to sell off affected land as quickly as they could.

At the same time, 16 million GI’s were returning from either Europe, the Pacific, or from military bases in the United States. Many planned to marry and raise families. But these former soldiers were running into trouble in their search to find suitable shelter for their new families. The war had created a shortage of construction materials and the housing industry had fallen off rapidly. At the end of 1945, the US was in dire need of about five million houses, as ex-GIs and their families were living with their parents or in rented attics, basements, or unheated summer bungalows. Some even lived in barns, trolley cars, and tool sheds.

During his service in Hawaii, Lieutenant William Levitt realized that the urgent need for post-war housing and the availability of cheap farmland provided a golden opportunity for his family to capitalize on their Island Trees property. He proposed to his father and brother that Levitt & Sons divide the former potato field into small lots and build simple, inexpensive mass-produced homes for veterans and their families. These returning servicemen were entitled to low-interest, insured “GI Loans,” which would make the new Levitt homes easily affordable and, therefore, highly attractive.

The Birth Of Levittown

On May 7, 1947, Levitt and Sons publicly announced their plan to build 2,000 mass-produced rental homes for veterans on their Island Trees land. Two days later, the New York Herald Tribune reported that 1,000 of the 2,000 proposed homes had already been rented. Levittown, as the new development would eventually be named, was off to a booming start!

In order to build their homes cheaper and faster, Levitt and Sons decided to eliminate basements and build their new homes on concrete slabs, as they had in Norfolk, Virginia. This practice was prohibited in the Town Of Hempstead, but, because the need for housing was so urgent, the Town modified the Building Code to allow the Levitts to proceed with their plan.

Levitt and Sons used many of the building methods they had used over the years in previous developments, but reorganized these methods for even better efficiency and cost savings. All of the lumber was precut and shipped from a lumber yard they owned in Blue Lake, California, where they erected a nail factory as well. An abandoned rail line was re-opened to bring construction materials to Island Trees. To keep costs down, non-union contractors were used, a move met with heavy opposition. The production line technique used to build this new development was so successful that, by July of 1948, the Levitts were turning out thirty houses a day.

Even at this pace, the Levitts could not keep up with the demand. Although all 2,000 homes had been rented almost immediately, hundreds of veterans were still applying, so the Levitts decided to build an additional 4,000 houses. The community soon had its own schools, its own postal delivery; even phone service and streetlights!

Then, in 1949, Levitt and Sons discontinued building rental houses and turned their attention to building larger, more modern houses, which they called “ranches” and which they would offer for sale at $7,990. All a prospective buyer needed was a $90 deposit and payments of $58 per month. The Levitt ranch measured 32′ by 25′ and came in five different models, differing only by exterior color, roof line, and the placement of windows. Like previous Levitt homes, the ranch was built on a concrete slab with radiant heating coils. It had no garage, and came with an expandable attic. The kitchen was outfitted with a General Electric stove and refrigerator, stainless steel sink and cabinets, the latest Bendix washer, and a York oil burner. Immediately, the demand for the new Levitt ranches was so overwhelming that even the procedure for purchasing them had to be modified to incorporate “assembly line” methods. Once these techniques were put into action, a buyer could choose a house and sign a contract for it within three minutes.

So great and so far-reaching was the success of the Levittown community that on July 3, 1950, William Levitt was featured on the front cover of Time Magazine. This success continued throughout 1950 and 1951, by which time the Levitts had constructed 17,447 homes in Levittown and the immediate surrounding areas.

As the GI homeowners settled into well-paying jobs and began to spawn families, the Levitt models and the surrounding community were modified to suit the needs of growing families. 1950 ranches came with a carport and a 12 1/2 inch Admiral TV set built into the living room staircase. The 1951 model included a partially finished attic. Thousand Lanes, a magazine devoted to the decorating, expanding, and remodeling of Levitt homes became a must-have for Levittown residents. Shopping centers, playgrounds, and a $250,000 community center sprang up to accommodate Levittown’s active residents. The July, 1951 issue of the Nassau Daily Review Star reported that “Levittown’s fame has spread so widely, both in America and abroad that it now ranks near the Statue of Liberty among the seven wonders which New York City visitors want to see!”

By the time the last Levitt and Sons house was purchased in 1951, Abraham, Alfred, and William had earned the distinction of having completed the largest housing development ever constructed by a single builder. Although many residents of surrounding towns had initially been apprehensive about the building of so many mass-produced, low-cost rental houses, their fears that the houses might eventually deteriorate into slums never came to pass. Today, nearly all of the 17,447 Levitt houses have been either expanded, remodeled, or dormered to reflect the changing profile of Levittown’s residents. Today’s generation of Levittown homeowners, as well as the few original residents who remain, are to be commended for the manner in which they transformed a monotonous collection of identical houses into the unique, attractive, and contemporary community that is today’s Levittown.

For the complete Levittown story, please visit the Museum Shop and purchase your copy of The Levittown Historical Society’s History Of Levittown by Lynne Matarrese.

Paris’s Catacombs

August 2, 2012 · Posted in Paris · Comment 

The remains of more than six million people are buried in a vast network of tunnels below Paris, France. People who call themselves ‘cataphiles’ visit the catacombs illegally and occasionally hold underground parties.

Paris, France (CNN) — Beneath the streets of the City of Light lies a world draped in darkness and shrouded in silence. The tunnels are narrow, the ceilings are low and death is on display.

The skulls and bones lining the walls, arranged in a macabre fashion, make up what is known as the Empire of the Dead — the Catacombs of Paris.

The catacombs snake below the city, a 321-kilometer (200-mile) network of old quarries, caves and tunnels.

Some Parisians are drawn to this largely uncharted territory — a hidden network of adventure, discovery and even relaxation. They are known as ‘cataphiles’ and the catacombs are their playground.

It is a top-secret group. Catacomb entrances are known only to those daring enough to roam the networks on their own — and break the law.

Entering unauthorized sections of the catacombs is illegal and a police force is tasked with patrolling the tunnels, and caught cataphiles risk fines of up to 60 euros ($73).

But for explorers like Loic Antoine-Gambeaud and his friends, it is a risk they are willing to take.

“I think it’s in the collective imagination. Everybody knows that there is something below Paris; that something goes on that’s mysterious. But I don’t think many people have even an idea of what the underground is like,” Antoine-Gambeaud said.

For those who want to find out, but are not willing to take the risk of going in unsupervised, there is a legal, tourist-friendly public entrance to the catacombs off Place Denfert-Rochereau. Visitors from around the world will queue up to see death on display.

“I think people are fascinated with death,” one visitor said. “They don’t know what it’s about and you see all these bones stacked up, and the people that have come before us, and it’s fascinating. We’re trying to find our past and it’s crazy and gruesome and fun all at the same time.”

But experiencing the history of Paris in an orderly fashion is not the cataphiles’ style.

Underground, there are plaques echoing the street names above etched into the walls, helping the cataphiles navigate.

Often equipped only with head lamps and homemade maps, they explore the tunnels and ancient rooms, sometimes staying underground for days at a time.

They throw parties, drink wine, or just relax in a silence they say can’t be experienced anywhere else.

The catacombs are a by-product of Paris’ early development. Builders dug deep underground to extract limestone to build Paris above ground.

But the subterranean quarries that were formed proved to be a shaky foundation for the city, causing a number of streets to collapse and be swallowed up by the ground.

Eventually, repairs and reinforcements were made, and to this day, the tunnels and quarries are still monitored for safety.

The quarries went through several transformations throughout history. Over time, they have served as everything from hiding places for revolutionaries to mushroom farms.

In the 18th century the Catacombs became known as the Empire of the Dead.

Paris’ dead had been buried in cemeteries and beneath churches in the city center, but the number of bodies began to overwhelm the land, breaking through the walls of people’s cellars and causing major health concerns.

So, beginning in the 1780s, the bodies were transferred in carriages at night to a new, final resting place in the old quarries.

In those tunnels there are now the remains of more than six million people. And for the cataphiles, the life among the dead opens up new dreams and possibilities.

“It’s like an alternate reality,” Antoine-Gambeaud said. “You don’t have the same sort of social interaction with people as you do above. You are free to invent yourself again, to be somebody else.”

Source: Underground Paris’s secret life

United States Women’s Gymnastics Team Wins Gold

July 31, 2012 · Posted in Olympics · Comment 
olympic gymanstics

Doug Mills/The New York Times

“For Jordyn Wieber, the team victory was sweet redemption after she failed to qualify for the all-around final.”

For the first time since the Magnificent Seven won in 1996,  the U.S. gymnastics team for women, has won a gold medal in the team event. According to the New York Times article for  July 31, 2012, they “did it in dominating fashion.” Their performances were solid and led from start to finish with a wide gap between them and the Russian team who won the silver medal. There was an even larger gap between the Romanian team who won the bronze.

They stood restrained, not showing a celebratory spirit, until the official score displayed the United States at the top of the leader board. At which time they broke out in an enthusiastic show of hugs, chants and roars. The victory helped assuage the pain of loss that Jordyn Wieber experienced when failing to qualify in the all-around final.


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