Levittown, a suburb of New York City on Long Island, was the first modern suburb.
Built between 1947 and 1953, Levittown got its name from its builder, Levitt & Sons, founded by William Levitt. Considered the archetype for postwar suburbs across the country, Levittown influenced many homebuilders, including the late Ervin Peterson, founder of Peterson Construction Co. in Lincoln. His company built approximately 2,500 homes in Lincoln, a great many of them mid-century ranches, said Peterson's son, Bob Peterson, who also was part of the company.
The elder Peterson built custom homes before World War II.
During the war, building supplies were controlled by the federal government and he built tract homes in Bellevue, Wahoo and Hastings. After the war, many lots left over from the Great Depression were available in Lincoln, and Peterson started building small ranch houses, mostly on slabs.
Peterson also built small homes near 56th and Holdrege streets under an FHA program that enabled homebuyers to get into a home that cost less than $10,000 if they paid $25 down and agreed to do some of the finish work such as laying floor tile and painting.
When the Homebuilders Association of Lincoln began in the early 1950s, the Petersons and other builders built an early model ranch, called a "trade secrets" home, in conjunction with the National Association of Homebuilders. That home was a predecessor of the Parade of Homes.
The Petersons bought some building plans from Better Homes and Gardens, including a slab model that they built in Manor Gardens.
In about 1953, the supply of existing lots began to run low so the Peterson company built its first subdivision, Park Manor, bounded by A to South streets and 56th to 62nd streets. Over time, demand for larger homes and homes with basements and garages increased, and the Petersons began building homes that met that demand in subdivisions such as Park Manor, Wedgewood, Southwood and Thunderbird Estates. The Petersons also sold lots to other builders.
The Petersons' "arch rival" in home building was the Strauss Brothers construction company, founded in 1949. Originally dairymen, the Strauss brothers, John and Jim, and Ivan Ingwerson began homebuilding in Lincoln in a unique way, Peterson said. They bought small frame grain storage bins with gabled roofs that were built in the 1930s as part of a federal program. When that program ended and farmers no longer wanted the bins, the Strausses moved them to Lincoln and converted them into houses, putting them together in threes in an "H," Peterson recalled.
Both Peterson and Strauss cut costs through innovative construction concepts. The Petersons, for example, used two sides of drywall with spacers for the electrical to divide bedrooms. They bought materials in mass and knew exactly how many 2-by-4s, pieces of drywall or even nails they would need to build a particular home.
When the Strausses began building more conventional homes, they built roof overhangs on the homes but left them off the garages to cut costs.
The Petersons also built some homes with a "caruckus" room, which meant the garage was finished with a tiled floor and drywall so it could serve as a rec room as well as a garage, Peterson said.
The Strausses got into a dispute with the city of Lincoln over a shopping center they wanted to build and moved their business to Denver. The Peterson company went out of business in 1986, a victim of the 1980s recession.
Peterson said he still wonders, at times, what the company could have done differently to survive the recession.
But, he said, "I'm proud of what we built that has lasted and still fills a need."