Rockville Centre at the turn of the 20th century was experiencing unprecedented growth. The Long Island Railroad’s new Montauk Division was bringing families to the country to live and making it easier for the captains of industry to commute to their businesses in Brooklyn and New York City.
To accommodate these new families, homes were quickly being built, and especially for Rockville Centre’s well-established families, houses were constructed with often frightening speed. Real estate developers were buying up farmland, cutting through roads and laying foundations all across the village.
One of the first female developers on Long Island lived right here in Rockville Centre. Anna Millar caused uneasiness among her male counterparts when she purchased land on Hempstead Avenue that they deemed worthless. She herself lived at 220 Hempstead Ave. with her partner, Electa Griffen.
Millar would prove them wrong by filling and grading the area, and building and selling several homes. All were of superior design and construction, containing hot water, heat, hardwood floors, tile baths and every convenience for both beauty and comfort. Millar also developed 16 acres near Lakeview and Hempstead Avenues. The homes located there were built of stucco or brick with tile roofs. It was once said of Anna Millar, “If all the real estate operators had as good ideas in artistic developments as Ms. Millar, we need have no fear of the future beauty of Rockville Centre.”
If we build it, they will come seemed to be the mantra after Millar’s success. The next two developments to come — the Rockville Centre Terrace and Marion Park — were built by the Windsor Land and Improvement Company. In its advertisement brochure, they wrote, “Both developments were thoroughly improved, the roads were made, the sidewalks laid and curbed, water and electric lighting were installed. It is rare, to have the combined advantage of an established community, open country and diverse amusements offered to you as in the case of Rockville Centre.”
In Marion Park, Clarence Davison built houses based on the designs of Stanford White. Lewis Place and Marion Place were named after his son and daughter. John F. Hyland, a former mayor of New York City, used one of the houses was used as a summer home.
Although the housing market declined during the Great Depression, there was one bright spot. Abraham Levitt had already purchased 100 plots of land and was able to sell many of them to speculative builders. When one of those builders went out of business, the land was reverted back to Levitt, who was experiencing difficulties himself, was joined by his sons William and Alfred, forming what would become a very successful and profitable family enterprise.
In 1932, the Levitts purchased more land and constructed another 250 homes in the area of what is now known as Strathmore, many of which were built in the Tudor style.
Perhaps the most popular, extensively advertised and distinctive development in the village was Canterbury Estates. Many of these homes were also built in the Tudor style, which gave the area its name, however other styles of architecture were included, presenting a look that was different and beautiful. The streets and sidewalks were paved in concrete, and trees were abounded, due to the sensitivity of the builders.
These neighborhoods and other real estate developments will now form the historic districts to be preserved for today’s generation, and hopefully many generations to come.
Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of guest columns about the history of the village of Rockville Centre, which was incorporated 125 years ago.