“New Rochelle…or maybe White Plains. No, New Rochelle…That’s the place where the mansion will be…” — Rosemary
Rosemary’s split-second choice of suburban bliss reflects a nationwide mid-twentieth century trend. Family homes surrounding cities began popping up around the 1850s, when advances in transportation made traveling to and from home and the city feasible. Post WWII America, however, sparked the first enormous boost in suburban living; a home away from the city began to symbolize independence and affluence, and returning veterans and their families flocked to communities of their own. The first “modern” suburb was built in Long Island in the 1940s: Levittown, a name which still represents both tradition and idyllic domesticity, as well as exclusion and homogeneity. Levittown offered a middle class lifestyle at an affordable price–picture-perfect homes in safe communities, complete with manicured lawns and all the comforts of modern living a family could need.
The rest of America followed Levittown’s example: in 1950, more people lived in suburbs than anywhere else for the first time in U.S. history.
But Rosemary wants more than a building-block ranch home in an average neighborhood; she wants a mansion. So she settles on New Rochelle, then the pinnacle of wealthy American life. She considers White Plains as well, so let’s take a look at what makes these communities so emblematic of post-war euphoria, as well as why she chooses one over the other:
White Plains, NY–“The City of a Thousand Stores”: Famous for its bustling downtown and suburban shopping centers, White Plains became the first destination for post-war retail expansion. 1950’s and ’60s, major New York City department stores opened in the city, including Macy’s, B. Altmans, Alexander’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue. The area also became a hub for corporate headquarters, and many major businesses–General Foods, Nestle, Pepsico, IBM–relocated to White Plains beginning in the 1950s.
The city is still renowned as a retail and business district. Arguably its most notable resident is the 21st century Horatio Alger, Mark Zuckerberg.
New Rochelle, NY: Only a train ride away from Manhattan, New Rochelle was the symbol of upper middle class prosperity in the ’50s and ’60s. Even before the suburban rush of post-war America, it was a town of affluence: in 1904, one of the first planned communities in the country was planned in the city; in the 1930s, it was the wealthiest city per capita in New York state and the third wealthiest in the country; and in the 1940s, popular retail stores such as Bloomingdales began opening branches in New Rochelle.
Culturally, the city continues to symbolize mid-twentieth century social prosperity. Normal Rockewell, whose artwork embodied such themes, moved to New Rochelle in 1915 and some of his work was inspired by the community; George M. Cohan set his 1906 musical ‘Forty-five Minutes from Broadway’ in late 19th century New Rochelle; E.L. Doctorow’s famous book, Ragtime, as well as its 1995 musical adaptation, uses New Rochelle as a symbol for American affluence; and How to Succeed creator was an editor for a short-lived newspaper in the city, so he certainly had a picture in mind when he wrote Rosemary’s song.
Rosemary doesn’t explain why she chooses New Rochelle over White Plains, but it might be worth speculating; where White Plains embodied corporate culture and retail, an environment similar to that of Manhattan and World Wide Wickets, New Rochelle was a world unto itself. It also represented American wealth, but in a personal instead of consumer way. New Rochelle is a “place where the mansion will be,” only 45 minutes from the city, but worlds away from the corporate world of “down town.”