Cover image for Picture windows : how the suburbs happened
Picture windows : how the suburbs happened
Baxandall, Rosalyn, 1939-2015.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Basic Books, [2000]

Physical Description:
xxii, 298 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1280 Lexile.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HT351 .B37 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In Picture Windows, Baxandall and Ewen shatter naïve stereotypes of suburban life, replacing them with a clear and compelling historical analysis that situates the development of the suburbs in relation to the pivotal issues of postwar American life. They examine the years from World War II to the present, chronicling the transformation of rural lands into tidy, uniform subdevelopments that promised all of the comforts of postwar technology.The building of the suburbs, the authors argue, was conducted in the context of heated debates over the American standard of living, visionary planners and architects' attempts to solve the "housing crisis," women's liberation, and racial segregation. Baxandall and Ewen use interviews with hundreds of residents of three Long Island suburbs to weave together a story about suburbs past and present, and ultimately to insist on the centrality of suburban experience in the second half of the twentieth century.

Author Notes

Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall was born in Manhattan, New York on June 12, 1939. She received a bachelor's degree in French from the University of Wisconsin in 1961 and a master's degree from the School of Social Work at Columbia University in 1963.

She began working for the Mobilization for Youth and took part in the women's movement. She picketed the 1968 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City and had a prominent role in the abortion speakout in the West Village in 1969. In 1971, she began teaching in the American studies department at the State University of New York at Old Westbury. She later served as head of the department. After retiring from SUNY in 2012, she taught in the labor studies program of the City University of New York and at the Bayview Correctional Facility.

She along with Linda Gordon and Susan Reverby assembled primary documents that offered a sweeping history of women and labor. Their book, America's Working Women: A Documentary History, 1600 to the Present, was published in 1976. Her other books include Technology, the Labor Process and the Working Class: A Collection of Essays, Words on Fire: The Life and Writing of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement, and Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened written with Elizabeth Ewen. She died from kidney cancer on October 13, 2015 at the age of 76.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

American studies professors Baxandall and Ewen of State University of New York at Old Westbury came to their Long Island campus as urban snobs; they soon discovered neither the place nor their students fit their stereotypes. This "culture shock" produced their study of suburban America. The authors examine the growth of the robber barons' Gold Coast on Long Island's north shore but are more interested in the post-World War II development of such working-and middle-class South Shore suburbs as Levittown and Roosevelt. They trace reformer patterns for suburban communities tested in the 1930s, then describe the intense battle waged by Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the real estate and construction industries to ensure private builders (not government) would control the postwar housing boom. Pioneers explain how they humanized the mass construction efforts of Levitt and others, and then dealt with issues like integration. In the late '90s, the suburbs are receiving new immigrants, and the authors question whether, with no significant public role in housing, these aging communities can meet these new needs. (Reviewed February 15, 2000)0465070450Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Held up as postwar dream communities, the suburbs have since come to represent a conformist, antisocial and emotionally stultifying life for their residents. Baxandall and Ewen, both professors of American studies at the State University of New York-Old Westbury, revisit the 'burbs and place their conception and growth in a broad political, cultural and economic context, tracing the many changes that have occurred since the '50s. Based on new historical research and interviews with more than 230 suburbanites (many have been residents since the 1920s, '30s and '40s), Baxandall and Ewen present a detailed overview of how the interplay between urban populations and outlying areas produced the suburbs. They are at their best highlighting instances of racial and class tensions (i.e., in the 1920s one in eight residents of the new suburb of Freeport, Long Island, alarmed by the influx of immigrants and blacks, were members of the Ku Klux Klan). But the most enlightening part of their study details how postwar conservative Republicans, working with the building industry, assailed the concept of public housing in the first stage of their all-out attack on the domestic policies of the New Deal. At federal hearings on public housing led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1947, the senator essentially scuttled federally financed public housing by calling it a "breeding ground for communists." While Baxandall and Ewen never quite shake off the charges against 1950s suburbs, they do make a convincing case that economic, racial and ethnic diversity as well as new opportunities for women make contemporary suburbs substantively different from their predecessors. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Baxandall and Ewen offer a far richer and more complex view of suburbs than the title of their book suggests. The authors do more than describe "how the suburbs happened." They demonstrate how Americans desirous of housing and confronting immediate social issues were the agents that constructed suburbs. Indeed, the book is largely about working- and middle-class people expressing the power of the American dream for housing. As one of the authors' informants noted, Levitt built the houses, but the residents made Levittown. Long Island is the general location of this study, with Levittown, Freeport, and Roosevelt the particular focus. Suburbs, despite surface homogeneity, are realms of struggle that play out in zoning battles, public housing debates, and PTA meetings. Class, race, gender, and ethnicity are all crucial variables in this critical appraisal, which offers a historical perspective for understanding the suburbs today. The authors conclude with a critical look at new forms of suburbs, such as Celebration, Florida, that appear to isolate those who can afford it from the struggles that created the suburbs most American inhabit today. All levels. J. S. Wood; George Mason University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Introductionp. xv
Part 1 The Beginnings
Chapter 1 The Gold Coastp. 3
Chapter 2 The Second Industrial Revolution: Mass Production Makes a Dentp. 14
Chapter 3 Suburban Birth Pangsp. 23
Part 2 New Thoughts, New Deals
Chapter 4 Housing the Masses: Ideas and Experimentsp. 37
Chapter 5 The New Deal: One Third of a Nation Still Unhousedp. 51
Chapter 6 The Common Good: Public or Privatep. 67
Chapter 7 World War II: Baptism by Firep. 78
Part 3 Who Would House the Masses?
Chapter 8 Postwar Housing Politics: The McCarthy Hearings on Housingp. 87
Chapter 9 Home Ownership: Is It Sound?p. 106
Chapter 10 The Master Builders and the Creation of Modern Suburbiap. 117
Part 4 Suburban Life and Culture, Fifties Style
Chapter 11 The New Suburban Culture: Living in Levittownp. 143
Chapter 12 America, Love It or Levittp. 158
Part 5 Suburbia Speaks
Chapter 13 Suburban Segregationp. 171
Chapter 14 The Battle for Integrationp. 191
Chapter 15 Old Towns, New Familiesp. 210
Part 6 Critical Junctions
Chapter 16 Utopia Revisitedp. 227
Chapter 17 New Immigrantsp. 239
Conclusion: Crossroadsp. 251
Endnotesp. 261
Indexp. 291