On Wednesday, October 3, 2012, property owners will be petitioning the Hempstead Town Board to rezone a Levittown section of the former Long Island Motor Parkway and location of the Vanderbilt Cup Race grandstand and press box to build a 50-unit condominum complex. The public meeting concerning the Levittown grandstand property will be held at the Hempstead Town Hall, 1 Washington Street on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 beginning at 10:30 AM.
In the January 16, 2004 issue of he Levittown Tribune, Paul Manton provided this history of the property at the location of the grandstands and officials' box/press box for the 1908 to 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Races.
January 16, 2004
Many people in Levittown are familiar with the fact that the 1908-10 Vanderbilt Cup Races were held right here in town and that today only an undeveloped meadow resides where luminaries like Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan sat in the Grandstand and cheered-on the race car drivers who, in those days, were the nation's biggest sports heroes. Many know, too, that for some years thereafter, the Long Island Motor Parkway was employed as a toll road and that the section that ran through Levittown was used by Charles Lindbergh and other members of the Long Island Aviation Country Club. But what happened to the Levittown section after the 1930s?
In 1938, William K. Vanderbilt sold the Long Island Motor Parkway for back taxes after Robert Moses threatened to route his proposed Northern State Parkway parallel to Vanderbilt's toll road; matching it exit for exit. Putting the unprofitable toll road out of business was essential if those who controlled the purse strings in Albany were to accept Moses' claim that his parkway was absolutely necessary for Long Island.
Fifty-four years later, in 1984, Nassau County sold sections of the Long Island Motor Parkway in Levittown to a company named Giordano and Venteau - including the 2.7 acre lot between Heron and Skimmer Lanes in Levittown that had been the site of the Grandstand for the 1908-10 races. Giordano and Venteau paid $26,000 for the lot which seemed odd given that a lot of similar size between Heron and Pintail Lanes sold the following year for more than $900,000. Curious, two Levittowners investigated and found that the address for Giordano and Venteau was a boarded-up store front in Bethpage. (This and the following events were documented by Lynne Matarrese in a 1996 article in The Long Island Forum). Shortly thereafter, Terra Homes acquired the property for $90,000 - ten times less than the value of the adjacent Heron/Pintail lot!
Since 1984, Terra Homes, which now operates under the name Josato, has been engaged in a sporadic legal battle to change the Town of Hempstead's zoning laws so that it can build houses on substandard-sized parcels. In 1986, it lost its case in the New York State Supreme Court. Undaunted, it continues to this day in its attempt to build on what are the last parcels of open land left in Levittown - including the historically significant site of the Grandstand.
What should happen to this site? Obviously I don't think building upon it is a desirable endeavor. Zoning in Levittown was enacted to prevent the kind of urban crowding Terra Homes/Josato seeks. I also think that there are too many unanswered questions about how and why Nassau County sold a parcel of land worth close to $1 million for $26,000. Or why Giordano and Venteau had an abandoned store front as an address. Or why Giordano and Venteau sold a valuable parcel of land for 1/10th its value. Far too many questions. Indeed, enough to doubt the legality of the transactions and to wonder if the parties involved, who would stand to profit should this land be developed, ought to benefit. Frankly, from Robert Moses to the Nassau County sale to Giordano and Venteau and Terra Homes purchase, the history of this parcel, after its place in the history of auto racing, has been one that reeks of Big City politics; the backroom deals and boiler room operations that most of us left the Big City to the suburbs to get away from.
But mostly, I think this meadow is worth preserving because it is an important part of our history and if it were to be preserved as a park and/or a nature preserve (which Levittown lacks), it would continue to serve the interests of the ordinary people of Levittown.