Wildwood, New Jersey, looks great on a postcard. It was designed to. It's a veritable ghost town during the off-season, but balmy South Jersey summers bring a tsunami of over 250,000 residents to town, many of whom shack up in the over 200 mid-century motels scattered around the 'Wildwoods' area. The retro Motor Inns, some of which were built by Wilbert Morey, the so-called "Pioneer in shore kitch," all fall squarely in the lap of a unique, space-age style of the 50's and 60's dubbed Googie. "In fact," claims architectural photographer Darren Bradley: "there's probably a higher concentration of architecture of this type here than anywhere else in the world."
Bradley takes us on a tour of the retro motels of Wildwood, which sport the cantilevered structures, acute angles, illuminated plastic paneling, and freeform boomerangs that are the calling card for Googie architecture.
The style, says Bradley, was "contemptible to some architects of then-current High Art Modernism, but had defenders during the post-Modern period at the end of the 20th century." This eventually led to the official designation of the hundreds of retro-futuristic motels as the Wildwoods Shore Resort Historic District in the 1990's.
Googie architecture is rendered in plastic palm trees and neon lights. A tangent of Streamline Moderne (Art Deco's slightly-more austere sibling), Googie went on to heavily influence retro-futurism (think: The Jetsons and Disneyland's Tomorrowland). Allegedly, the style was brought to the Jersey shore by Wilbert Morey, who was "inspired to create Googie modern motels in Wildwood while visiting Miami Beach and seeing hotels like the Fontainebleau, and other designs by Morris Lapidus." Most of the motels boast amenities that might have appealed to a mid-century middle-class traveler: a pool, mini-golf, a sun deck, or any combination of those three. A vast majority have had no major work on them since they were built, and are in varying states of disrepair.
But: ain't nobody Googie-ing anything in this Atlantic coast town. According to Bradley: "Wildwood's residents don't call the prevailing style of architecture 'Googie' or even 'Mid-century Modernist'. They call it 'Doo-Wop,' apparently a term used specifically for the brand of Googie architecture found in Wildwood. "I personally HATE that name," Bradley finishes. The real tragedy, though, is how rapidly these pieces of architecture are disappearing. "In fact," he says, "more than two-thirds of Wildwood's modernist architecture has already been destroyed. I think a lot of the residents mean well, but they simply don't understand how valuable this heritage is."
For those interested in learning more about Wildwood's Googie bounty, head down the shore. There is a Doo-Wop Preservation League housed in a vintage diner in Wildwood that is dedicated to increasing awareness of the town's architectural heritage, and you can also download their walking map of the 'Doo-Wop Motel District' here. The tour, advises the brochure, is "best by night when the neon glows."
You can also gawk over the retro-fabulous Googie (or Doo-Wop) motels of Wildwood, NJ (some of which are unfortunately no longer of this world) through Bradley's stunning photography, housed on his blog.
· An Introduction to Googie, SoCal's Signature Architectural Style [Curbed]
· Wildwood: The East Coast Capital of Googie... uh, I mean Doo-Wop [Modernist Architecture]
· The Doo Wop Motel District [Official Website]
· When Art Deco is really Streamline Moderne [Hemmings Daily]
· Wilbert Morey, 70, a Pioneer In Shore Kitsch [NYT]