Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wildwood's Doo-Wop And Googie Motel Architecture

I've written about the beach-town of Wildwood, New Jersey, before but while there this last weekend I took some photos of the local motel architecture that I wanted to share. But first, a little history lesson...

"Wildwood" as it's known generally, is a barrier island almost at the southern end of the New Jersey "shore" that is made up of three smaller towns (from north to south): North Wildwood, (The City of) Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest. It was first developed in the 1880s but things really got going after World War II when returning soldiers had some cash in their pockets and wanted somewhere to take the family to relax. During the 1950s boom, around 200 small motels were built in the space-age/fantasy architectural style that would later be named Googie (not Google). Later, the term Doo-Wop was adopted by the local preservation committee to define the specific style that was prevalent in Wildwood.

Googie architecture is probably most well known for the drive-ins and road-side restaurants that became popular during the 1950s. It was also widely used in Las Vegas during their 1950s boom. The idea was that folks passing by in their cars needed to see something highly unusual for them to stop the car and visit. Some well-recognized examples include the Theme Restaurant at Los Angeles International airport (LAX), the Seattle Space Needle, the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, and lots of buildings built around Los Angeles like Bob's Big Boy and Norm's Coffee Shop.

As the people who were building up Wildwood wanted to attract travelers to their motels, they used the Googie style to draw attention to their buildings. When driving south through the Wildwoods, as if you were coming from Philadelphia or New York, the motels often had their signs and "best features" pointed north to get attention.

This is the Lollipop Motel in North Wildwood with its cutesy, fantasy sign and colorful style:

The motel design that would come to be called the Doo-Wop style is characterized by L-shaped two-and-three-story concrete buildings that frequently had a swimming pool and sun deck along with a bunch of parking spaces under and/or around the building. In many cases, bright colors and plastic palm trees were used to add to their style. All of these elements can be seen in this photo of the Blue Palms Motel, which is located in Wildwood:

Like I mentioned, approximately 200 or so motels were built during the 1950s boom but over time many have been torn down. The latest construction boom to hit Wildwood took place during the 1990s and early 2000s when many of the old motels were replaced with high-rise condos. This photo of the Beach Colony Motel in Wildwood Crest shows how the newer construction "towers" over the old:

It's not all doom and gloom though. Some motels are fighting the trend and have gone on a renovation spree where they've returned to or even exceeded their earlier grandeur. One of the best examples that I found is the Caribbean Motel in Wildwood Crest. It's a great example of the Googie style with it's curved ramp, angled windows, and fantasy plastic palms and other decorations:

Other former motels have maintained their original shape but have been converted into condo buildings. This condo complex that I found in North Wildwood was nicely redone but you can clearly see its motel roots:

Once I really started to pay attention to the architectural style, I noticed all sorts of details that I hadn't seen in all my years visiting Wildwood. My dad told me that I should check out some of the motels at night if I really wanted to appreciate them. I headed back to some of the coolest motels that I saw during the day to see what they looked like with the lights on. It didn't disappoint as you can see with this photo of the Starlux Motel in Wildwood. Note the cylinder-shaped metal structure that houses the stairs and the Starlux sign as well as the unusual-shaped office building and the fantasy-styled fence surrounding the property:

The Starlux Motel is very cool but I wanted to go back to the Caribbean Motel, which I was very impressed with during the day. It too didn't disappoint. They've lit up the whole building with bright lights and colors adding to its interesting and exciting-look.

There are a TON of things like the Doo-Wop architecture that I see now that I just didn't notice or appreciate growing up. For example, it wasn't until I went to Paris for the first time that I began to appreciate the architectural styles found in Center City Philadelphia. In some ways, it took me traveling all the way around the world to understand where I came from...but I guess that's part of the point of traveling.

There's no place like home... There's no place like home...

1 comment:

  1. My mother worked at Lollipop Motel in the 1980s.


All comments are reviewed prior to being posted.