Home is Where the Heart Is
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the small community of Levittown published a quarterly magazine called Thousand Lanes. The magazine acts as a memento of home long ago. With the turning of each thick page lies a thick chunk of history. The off-white tint boldly displays each Levitt home with pride. The magazine contains an assortment of advertisements, advice, additions, and accolades all in the binding between the crudely colored covers. The advertisements pushed local businesses that could aid in improving the household. The magazine offers tips on good housekeeping and showcases exceptional houses in the neighborhood with an array of pictures and illustrations. This was home life embodied in that time embodied in one small magazine.
Thousand Lanes evoked me due to its very home-like feel but its contrast to what i consider home today, but that will come later. The magazine was the Home and Gardening channel before there was HGTV. Home for the people of Levittown was in this magazine, and the standard for their house’s appearance was set every season. Consistent renovation and decorating was expected of the homemakers, which i would imagine would be very costly. This magazine makes me really think about what home means and if it is a social construct instead of a given feeling and that home in this time was the antithesis of my idea of home. If the idea of home was manufactured in this magazine then is home just a facade put on for our friends, family, or neighbors?
The Good ‘Ol Days
After World War II, William Levitt saw a business opportunity in building houses. He created a model for a home that could be mass-produced, and hence were cheap to make and fast to build. Thus, in 1947 the community of Levittown was born as houses sold like hot cakes, but only to white people. Levitt targeted military families especially. Some even credit Levitt with the creation of modern suburbia. The boon of having a Levitt home was they were highly customizable and able to be expanded. As a result, not many original Levitt homes exist today. The community was thriving so some enterprising folks decided to run a local magazine.
The first Thousand Lanes was ran in November of 1951. The magazine took off very quickly, but originated as a serious magazine, airing issues facing the Levittowners alongside home improvement aspects. But in keeping with that era, the serious topics were swiftly dropped like a sack of potatoes in favor of more home themed topics. The people of the community didn’t like to face their realities, such as the discrimination of black people and Jewish people attempting to buy property there. The magazine was run until 1963 when demand dropped sharply as the sixties began to roar.
The Nuclear Home
The Thousand Lanes is a small magazine, with very shallow content that ranges from “your home” to “what to put in your home.” The magazine isn’t very thick and can be carried around in a purse or bag. Just like many publications at the time, mobility was an important selling point. Also, you can roll up the magazine and swat away all the blacks and the Jews in the neighborhood, just like William Levitt always wanted. The magazine was fairly popular throughout the community so it probably wasn’t uncommon to see it sitting on a coffee table or at a salon. But the content is what really defined the community and for many, home.
Home in the 1950’s was wonderful, but only skin deep. The wife was at home taking care of the children and cleaning. The man was out at work winning bread (or something). Thousand Lanes pandered to the housewife. The magazine really pushed the idea of home being a showcase for “individual creation.” The articles gave the reader the tools to decorate or expand with helpful tips, advertisements for businesses and examples around the community. The pictures breathed inspiration into the reader, showing him/her exactly what his/her house should look like. The words dance around the page in mocking fashion, to tell the reader their home wasn’t perfect, yet. Home in this time was a mask put on by the family in order to give off the fantastic nuclear family vibe. Each home had to in keeping with the others (as seen in Thousand Lanes) so that the community could be nuclear as well. Maintaining the home was a great deal of work and money.
Thousand Lanes vs the World
The Thousand Lanes was very much like more popular magazines of its time. The magazines all feature a great deal of advertisements, especially in localized publications. Magazines of that time did push the idea of the nuclear home and a picturesque American dream. This was just post-war/ Cold War patriotism, as to be expected of its time. Magazines like Time did focus on serious news topics but a magazine like that was very rare. Instead many did as Thousand Lanes and pandered to an audience that would much rather read and see pleasantries, such as the home. Thousand Lanes was set apart by the fact that it was very community oriented and showcased the Levitt homes and the possibilities and potential of the houses. It was also unique in its extensive guides on decorating that was very specific to compliment the Levitt home.
Levitt Homes to Loving Homes
Life back in the 1950’s isn’t that different from life now. The 1950’s was rampant with consumerism and blind patriotism. Racism is still alive and well and so is sexism. But home, then and now are very different. Obviously home had all the amenities back then: a bed, bathroom, kitchen, etc. The idea of home has also shifted radically. Home in the 50’s was a spotless display. Homes had guests very frequently and were a more prevalent reflection on the family. If guests saw magazines fanned out on the coffee table, they would assume those were the interests of the family. Nowadays, if magazines are fanned out on a coffee table, I feel like I’m in a doctor’s office because magazines are so rare. Today, homes are sanctuaries to escape life; plop on the couch; and shame eat a whole carton of ice cream. People host the occasional guest but not nearly as often. This is due to the fact that some concepts of home still ring home today. One of those concepts, one that my mother was very adamant about, is that when having a guest over, the house must show no sign of living. Seriously, your house better look like no one has ever sat foot in it before tonight or the guest will be bombarded with a thousand apologies about the “mess.”
Why Homes Sucked Back Then
If I were to make any hypothesis as to how home then and now was related, i could best sum it up as: home then was the anti-home of today. I believe home was a prison-a cage- for many in the 1950’s. And in this prison, the housewife had to continually decorate and cook and clean and please the husband and smile while doing it because god forbid a woman show any emotion. Thousand Lanes was a construct to keep the neighborhood in line. The magazine told the reader what the home had to look like in order to fit in around Levittown. The house had to be continually renovated and kept spotless. And I am sure children were just as messy back then as they are now. And I am pretty my hypothesis is supported by the fact that in the late 60’s and 70’s women mobilized and demanded freedom and wanted to get jobs. This is because they were trapped in their Barbie Dream House of a home. Home is now a real expression of one’s self and there isn’t constant scrutiny to stay in line with those in the community. Home isn’t to be held under a magnifying glass but rather a sanctuary from the world. Home has become a home for a lot more people.
I would like to do some more research about how the people of Levittown lived during the 1950’s. I would like to know how religiously the people of Levittown followed the Thousand Lanes magazine. I want to see an original Levitt house and compare it to one that has been renovated and added to. I would find someone who lived in Levittown around its inception and find out the real influence around the town. I would like to know how they felt under the pressure of having their house constantly under scrutiny. It would also be beneficial to understand how they felt about the exclusion of non-Catholics or minorities. Basically, I would like to research life in the very first modern suburbia, and how it felt to be a part of it.
Levittown and its Thousand Lanes magazine helped usher in an era of a suburban American Dream. The magazine set a real standard for what the home should be in that time and community. It gave tips and tricks to revolutionize and “personalize” the Levitt home, which were mass produced. Thousand Lanes didn’t stack up to more popular national magazines but were a staple in the community for over ten years. It did carry a great deal of weight in the town, however. So much weight that it caused a lot of pressure on the homemaker (i.e. the wife), as did most aspects of life then. The Thousand Lanes magazine was an important part of history and window into life in the 1950’s but let’s keep the past in the past. Enjoy home, don’t let it trap you.
Ferrer, Margaret Lundrigan, and Tova Navarra. Levittown: Volume II. Charleston, SC, Arcadia Pub., 1999.
“Levittown, New York.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Mar. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levittown,_New_York. Accessed 5 Mar. 2017.
Solomon, Geri. “Special Collections Interview.” 17 Feb. 2017.