Plan To Honor Levitt Opposed

Posted: April 22, 1992

Forty years ago, William J. Levitt built 17,310 homes in Lower Bucks County and put his name on the town he created.

In the process, he changed much of the county from rural to urban and put Bucks County's name on the map of America.

But it may be far more difficult to put his name on the library in Levittown.

Today, two original Levittowners and longtime civic activists, Hal Lefcourt and John J. Watson, will ask the county commissioners to rename the library, known formally as the Lower County Branch Library, for Levitt.

But naming libraries after people, even famous people, has been as controversial as book-burning in Bucks County for years. A similar effort in 1988 to name the new library in Doylestown after author and humanitarian Pearl S. Buck, originally favored by the commissioners, was scrapped after a storm of protests in the town.

Commissioners Chairman Andrew Warren says the county's unwritten policy prohibits naming facilities and buildings after people.

"I have a great deal of respect for what Bill Levitt did as far as housing is concerned and what he's done for putting Bucks County's name on the map," Warren said.

"But we have essentially a policy that libraries are not named after people."

To Lefcourt and Watson, that policy doesn't make sense.

They note that of the seven branches of the Bucks County Free Library System, two are named after living people: the Samuel Pierce Library in Perkasie and the James A. Michener Library in Quakertown.

Edward Whittaker, assistant executive director of the county library system, said that Pierce funded the Perkasie library for years and that it had already been named after him when it was taken over by the county.

He said the Michener Library was named by the county when it was built in 1973. "I can't tell you why it was named after him. It was a very controversial thing, even though he was a hometown boy and won fame as an author," Whittaker said.

Lefcourt and Watson said neither Michener nor Pierce did as much for Bucks County as Levitt.

"Bill Levitt built the American dream here. We wouldn't know Bucks County as it exists today if not for Levitt. It was his genius that made it possible for people, many of them World War II veterans, to own homes with almost no money," said Lefcourt, 69, a publicist and chairman of Levittown's 40-member 40th Anniversary Celebration Committee.

The committee plans a June 28 rededication of the library if it can persuade the commissioners to change the name, and it has invited Levitt, now 85, to attend the ceremony.

"I have talked to Mr. Levitt about it. He liked the idea and said he would be proud" to have his name on the library, Lefcourt said.

Watson, 77, is chairman of a library renaming subcommittee of the Celebration Committee.

Naming the library after Levitt "would be our return gift to him for what he did in providing housing for returning veterans," Watson said.

Lefcourt and Watson, knowing that they are dealing with politicians and that the issue is controversial, said they might be willing to compromise and settle for getting the original name of the library back: the Levittown Library, which it was called since its inception until it became a part of the county system in 1966.

The library was initially located in a Levittown home and then in the basement of a pharmacy on New Falls Road.

Lefcourt was president of the Levittown Library board in 1958 when money was raised to build the library at Mill Creek Road and the Levittown Parkway in Falls Township.

"I think Bucks County has a number of great Americans and people who have contributed greatly to this county, and I don't see a problem with naming some facilities for them, but one has to wonder if it's worth it," Warren said.

"When the Michener Library was created, there was all kinds of havoc over naming it after him. It was craziness. People objected because he didn't live here," Warren said.

"And with Pearl Buck, initially we favored it, and we thought it made sense. But we got a lot of people upset about it. They said she was a scallywag and didn't live here (in Doylestown)," Warren said. Buck's home was in Hilltown Township.

Warren conceded that he and Commissioner Mark Schweiker had agreed during their re-election campaign last fall to rename the facility the Levittown Library.

Williard Histand, president of the Bucks County Free Library Board, said the board and commissioners thought libraries should be named after the areas they serve rather than individuals.

Though the library in Levittown is formally known as the Lower County Branch, the only signs around it identify it simply as "the Bucks County Free Library."

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