Wildwood, New Jersey is known for a lot of things, mostly done under the boardwalk by inebriated teenagers.
Architecture didn’t make the list until 1997. That’s when the Doo Wop Preservation League established itself to raise awareness of the nation’s largest collection of 1950s and 60s resort architecture.
Palm Springs, it’s not.
Wildwood Crest, the southern-most section of the Wildwood Shore, contains more than 50 vintage motels, built during a wildly optimistic, adventurous time in American history, when every returning GI was assured a college education, a decent job, a car and a home.
This sense of ambition and wanderlust is reflected in the motels’ names. Tahiti, Singapore, Pyramid, Hawaii Kai, Casa Bahama, Palm Beach, Waikiki, Tangiers.
Some, like the Star Lux, have a futuristic, space age design. Others, compensate for their banal architecture with flashy signage, plastic palm trees and theme-park exuberance.
Just try explaining to the kids why they can’t stay at Lollipop Motel.
Previously a sleepy summer resort town of Victorian and Edwardian rooming houses, Wildwood Crest was transformed in the 1950s when the creation of the Garden State Parkway made it accessible to families in sweltering homes from Baltimore to New York City.
Motels catered to the burgeoning car culture with rock ‘n roll blasting from every radio and a neon-lit night sky. At the time, Atlantic City was a posh resort for the upper middle class and the rich with its pricey and exclusive hotels. Wildwood was for everyone else.
To appreciate Wildwood Crest’s Doo Wop District, listen up to Doo Wop music. In particular, download Bobby Rydell’s 1963 classic Wildwood Days.
You’ll discover still more about the genre when you visit the Doo Wop Experience and Neon Sign Garden, a celebration of 50s and 60s architecture, music, design and pop culture on Ocean Avenue, between Burk and Montgomery Avenues.
Trolley Tours of the Doo Wop District are offered throughout the summer.