Tract House examples for upcoming Design Around

palimpsestJanuary 8, 2012

All houses from Levittowns, mostly Willingboro, NJ or Bowie, MD. I did not include any early Levitt houses because they are very small, about 750-800 square feet. These houses are from about 1959-1969.

I know someone who lived in this house (1959) the kitchen workspace was about 8x10

A slightly different house from Bowie

Two versions of ranch exterior:

Kitchen at front near garage.

The Framingham has an 8'6'' x 15 kitchen

The garrison colonial is one of the later houses, and I feel this was the period that they were starting (in general) to make houses look larger or more imposing than they were, instead of settling them into the landscape. This house is still not very large (being relatively shallow front to back).

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I have always thought Garrison colonials were a bit odd. Is the overhang someone's idea of function or aesthetics?

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 5:00PM
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I don't know what a tract house is, so I'm guessing here based on a check of wikipedia. It seems to be any kind of mass produced housing in the suburbs?? Are we interested in a particular era of tract houses (i.e. 1959 to 1969)? Or a particular style, like the ones Pal has shown? Sorry, I'll need a little guidance here.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 5:18PM
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Great, that's what we have here. A lot of the "split level" styles especially.
Very helpful.

Time to start looking at stuff.


    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 6:03PM
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Yes, mass produced houses in the developing suburbs, where the interior was starting to develop the modern "open-plan" -- usually kitchen open to a larger eating area or family room.
At some point we decided to start with 1960s. Much of the immediate post-war housing was small with tiny kitchens.

This was also the era where they developed plans that could be ordered with distinctly different exteriors. The first house also came with a "modern" exterior, and I posted the two versions of the ranch: MCM and vaguely french country or colonial revival. During this time the more traditional exteriors seemed to be more popular, even though the plan was the same, and contemporary.

With regard to the garrison colonial, this is a Very old house style, originating/popular the Medieval and Tudor periods. You are right, the purpose was to give more living space on the upper story of town or village houses that may have only been 12-14 feet wide. The jetty as it is called also protected the lower story and entry from the weather. In London the jetties often projected on each story and on very narrow streets the front eaves on houses facing each other would almost touch. This made the streets darker, more dangerous, and probably contributed to the spread of the Great Fire of London (1666).

The first settlers here built what they were familiar with.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 7:57PM
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Thanks, I never realized how old Garrison style was. I don't think I've ever seen these old examples... to me, Garrison was very must tract style. I like it a little more now ....

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 8:07PM
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Interesting how we may not like something until we understand "why"--happens to me all the time :)

Here are some earlier examples of Levittown houses from one of the earliest Levittowns, on Long Island.

These are on a slab with early radiant heating. After some decades--50 years or so in a lot of cases, it seems, the staples used to secure the copper piping cause enough of a galvanic reaction to create multiple pinholes in the system causing catastrophic failure. The style pictured had a double fireplace between the kitchen and LR.

Charles Tekula Collection, the Levittown "Cape Cod"

The picture window is actually the rear facade and is stick built with a couple of awning units. This type of modernism does not seem to have been popular for long and it was supplanted by more "traditional" looking exteriors. The small size of the house was compensated for by the large amount of green space at the backs of these houses, which was intended to be used as a "commons". For city-dwellers who were used to conversing out windows, and sitting on stoops, the sidewalk or fire escapes, this communal space seemed natural, but as time went by there was more personalization and segmentation of the yards. It is a rarity to see a Levitt house that still looks like these. Most of them have been substantially altered.

Although I don't find the facade with the father standing in front of it particularly attractive (the first, turned-gable version is a bit better imo)--these houses have a particular integrity that is missing from most new housing, and of course this type of living environment seems to be long gone from our culture in most regions.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 9:23PM
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Perfect examples. You're showing a good spectrum of the most popular types of houses. Are you going to post the official DAT thread?

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 9:36PM
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I was thinking of holding off while the Pink Thread was still active, continuing in Pt II. If threads can be compared to fables, the pink thread seems to be the tortoise from "The Tortoise and the Hare"--it will also give people some time to think of how they want to approach their projects.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 9:43PM
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Here is a more recent picture of Levittown, LI. This is a version of the Tekula house:

And this is the kitchen that would have been in a version of this house:

Note the stick-built picture window with ventilating units and the double fireplace.

Here is a GE integrated kitchen that appeared in other Levitt houses:

By the late 50s the kitchens started to get a little bigger, Notice the window, with curtains, over the range.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 10:02PM
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This house from my first post:

Looked like this as built:

And here is a grandmother-in-law in her kitchen in the very early 1960s. The kitchen occupied one diamond paned window in the front facade, the bath, the other. One large window near the garage was the dining area, the other larger window was a den or 4th bedroom.

Three generations lived in this house. A mother-in-law, the parents and a daughter.This was larger than the house they left in the city. Many of the neighbors had the same situation but with multiple children--one of the neighbors had 5 children. Our demands for space have certainly increased.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 10:23PM
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Thanks, Palimpsest. When we hadn't heard from you, I started doing research. But while I found lots of information on 1960s kitchens, I couldn't find stuff specifically on tract homes. So I would have been swimming on this one if I had to construct the post.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 10:36PM
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I was away with no internet access from Friday until this afternoon.

The larger houses in the first post are probably what we should be considering, and these would have been smallish kitchen + dining area adjacent, and contemporary inside with some kind of "traditional" or colonial revival exterior.

I got a little side tracked with the smaller Long Island houses which would have had the tiny BW kitchen or the GE integrated style kitchen I posted. (And these include laundry).

I think we could decide which type of house(s) above would be best for the thread and I May be able to post the floorplan just to give one an idea of what it started out as. Not that I expect floorplans but just so we know what we are working with.

In the mean time we can see what happens with the pink II thread and then move on with the 1960s tract house thread.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 10:55PM
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My sister lived in a Bowie, MD Levitt-built house from 1984 to about 1992. We grew up in the Bowie area while these houses were being built. There was a real stampede into the development which was about 10 miles futher away from DC than we lived. Many of my friends moved there so I was very familiar with many of the floor plans/kitchens. Sister's house was built early 1960s and still had the original metal kitchen cabinets when she moved in. The kitchen was a very small U shape with the DR behind the range wall and the equally small FR open beyond the peninsula-with-cabinets-over on the other side. The bottom of the U had the sink overlooking the back yard. The "open" end of the U housed the fridge and some cabinets. As small as it was, the kitchen was very easy to work in and when she remodeled she did not extend the kitchen into the FR even though she added a much larger FR along the back of the house. She replaced all cabinets, counters and appliances but kept the same arrangement, with the exception of the cabs over the peninsula. Removing them opened the space into the adjacent FR and improved cabinets added storage lost from those penisula top cabinets. Just saying - those Bowie tract houses were work horses!

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 8:32AM
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There are many of the same designs in my area and I live (not in a Levitt) but a late 50's ranch. Houses are all custom built from many eras and of a wide range of sizes...1000 to way over 5000 sq ft. The old homes are bought up for property next to each other to build the huge mansions cropping up.

Of interest to me is the front doors shown which are not facing the front. Why did they do this? Is it more common in the cold areas of the country? Keeping the elements from dominating an entry? Plus they only have a "stoop". My house has this oddity and has been a pain to come up with welcoming walkway. Took me 3 years to be creative enough in figuring one out.

Love seeing these. Thanks for posting. I would love to see the original layouts too. May go searching.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 9:28AM
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Regarding the entries. There was a period of time when the emphasis on the automobile and it's integration to the house was relatively new, and there was an orientation of the entry toward the garage or driveway. You can see as time went by and the houses took on a more "traditional" facade that the entry was returned to its dominant location, creating the more formal sense of entry. However the idea Stuck and most people if there is a secondary entrance to the house will use that rather than the formal front door.

Early on some of these houses had attached garages but you still had to go outside and then into the house. When house shopping I looked at two houses built in the mid-seventies where the garage was completely within the footprint of the house but there was Still no internal connecting door.

Pink Levittown kitchen on eBay via RetroRenovation

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 10:51AM
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At the time it was offered this was the largest Levitt offering and the first to feature a family room (Children's LR) open to the kitchen rather than a small eating area. This may be a good house to work on because it's variant, in slowly increasing size, was a popular style from the late 50s to about 1980.

The Garrison version added 70 square feet to a smaller version of this house, allowing an additional bedroom on the second floor. Today that would not be quite enough for an additional bath in many plans.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 2:29PM
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I wouldn't restrict the DAT project house too much--we haven't done that with the Tudor or Queen Anne styles, and had good results there. Not everybody has a Levittown, but much of the country has '60s tract homes, particularly the ranch examples above with the first garage snouts.

To me, that last house looks too traditional and colonial. You might even mistake it for a '20s house if you looked quickly, and you might miss the minimalism of ornament that marked this era.

I like your interior GIL shot. It shows how these houses were modest but comfortable, had fairly low ceilings compared to some earlier eras, but also maintained a bit of traditionalism and "pretty" about them. Everyone thinks the '60s was the era of MCM, but of course that term didn't even exist then, and most houses had modern elements but were very far from modern.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 2:52PM
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Oh, I agree about the exterior Marcolo. I mean keeping a Floor Plan like that in mind when thinking about the project, but I wasn't very clear.

Remember that Levitt was one of the originators of the varied exterior. The floorplan would be nearly identical while the exterior was offered in multiple styles, and the house merely turned or even just "wrapped" with the exterior details.

The interiors would have looked like the ones I pictured.

The full pig snout where the garage sits in front of the house and is almost always a 2-car garage, and the front door is more than halfway back the lot and distinctly to the side is more of a post 1980s style. This is when they first returned to a very elaborate entry with separate roofline, large window, perhaps double height, because the entry was so secondary to the large garage that it had to be clearly identified.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 4:48PM
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When are we starting the new DAT thread? People can still post on the pink thread (along with the other old ones) right? Or is the 'recycled kitchen' thread what we're doing this week?

Sorry, if I seem impatient (LOL) but I'm hoping to get to French kitchens, before the end of the month! :)

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 6:47PM
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When I think of 1960s tract homes, I think "ranch." Of course, I'm in California, and there's a reason the ranch home is called a "California Ranch" elsewhere in the country. Mayby someone else in CA can comment, but I haven't see much at all of the more colonial style. I've seen more mediterranean style in more recent housing developments (1990s onward); not sure if those came into play in the the 1960s.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 7:01PM
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Here is a one story or "ranch" from the Levittown line-up.
However, one of their "ranch" houses, was a Cape Cod that was detailed differently on the outside.

I do want to Emphasize Again: the Floor Plans of these development houses were Identical for as many as Five Exterior Appearances. So, in the Northeast the typical Exterior may be more likely to be "Cape Cod" or "Colonial Revival", it's likely the same house as your midwestern/western "Ranch" or "Spanish Revival".

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 7:38PM
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We are not really developing floor plans for the Design Arounds, we are going to be designing kitchens essentially for a "contemporary, minimal detail" interior--with an exterior that may vary from "Colonial Revival", "French", "Mock Tudor", "Modern", "Spanish Revival" or "Ranch". In the East ranch and modern are fairly synonymous, although the ranch is a softer modern than modern/MCM, MCM being a post 2000 designation.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 7:54PM
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Levitt Names:

Levittown Country Clubbers

Levittown Pennsylvanian

Levittown Jubilee


Levittown Rancher

    Bookmark   January 10, 2012 at 12:45AM
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Here's a kitchen from another kind of ranch house--an Alcoa Aluminum house. The cabs are restored but original.

Been dying to post it, but didn't want to taint the DAT thread itself.

Which, I agree, we should kind of get started on.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2012 at 1:09AM
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Thanks for sharing the info on "hidden side door". Very interesting and a difficult location to change.
At least I have a garage that sits back and an outside entry..even if it can't be seen.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2012 at 9:50AM
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I am really enjoying this late mother (who had a great sense of humor) used to refer to the Levittown Country Clubbers as a "Splanch" (Split Ranch)...still makes me laugh!

    Bookmark   January 14, 2012 at 10:46PM
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In California in the 1960s, some tracts were similar to those already posted on this thread, but there were also tracts of very MCM modern houses - Eichler in the San Francisco Bay area and other parts of California and very similar Streng house is Sacramento. On objective of the developers was to produce larger houses for the money by saving costs in areas that they felt were less important. Therefore, many of these are on slab foundations with low slope or flat roofs - the ceiling is the underside of the roof. No attic or crawl space which makes remodeling more challenging.

In their original state, they brought the outside in with large windows facing back and sometimes side yards. Some also had atrium spaces. For privacy, they had no windows or only high windows for ventilation on the front.

They often have pretty nice sized kitchens. They often used brick, stone and wood for an organic modern rather than a shiny lacquered or metal version of modern.

Here is a link that might be useful: Examples of some Eichler houses.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2012 at 4:15PM
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These are great. I look at the various Eichler websites periodically.

We stayed away from the MCM Modern house with the strong identities, such as the Eichlers, because they are rare in many areas:

Almost all the pure modernist houses in my area are custom built or at at least built for a particular client.

They also provide a clear direction for any new work to go, while a tract house may have the open plan of an Eichler et al, tricked out in traditional detailing.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2012 at 5:25PM
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