Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Wildwood, New Jersey, was a Mecca for family vacationers from all over the Mid-Atlantic with over 300 motels located in a two-mile stretch between Atlantic and Ocean Avenues. Known today as “Doo Wop” motels – a name given to them by the Cape May’s Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts for the “Doo Wop” music era they were built in – they were actually constructed in the very stylistic and space-age Googie and populuxe styles of architecture common for businesses at the time.
Motels featured neon signs that rivaled Vegas, enough fake plastic trees to make even Thom Yorke happy, and fantastic architecture themed to just about every genre imaginable. Dream of vacationing in the Bahamas but didn’t have the pocketbook for it? Wildwood had the answer in the tiki-inspired Tahiti Motel. Did your thoughts orbit around the Space Race? Then stay at the futuristic Satellite Motel. You could even be the mid-century modern version of Jack Sparrow at the-pirate themed Jolly Roger Motel. Indeed, they seemed to have a motel for everybody.
Wildwood’s first motel was the single-story Jay Hotel built in 1952 by, Lewis J. and Wilburt C. Morey, otherwise known as the Morey brothers. In fact, Lou and Will would go on to build many of the motels that graced this part of the South Jersey shore. (Later, they would also build the resort town’s amusement park, Morey’s Pier that, today, includes three piers and more than 100 attractions on 16 acres of optimal oceanfront property.)
By 1958, motels like the Caribbean, Rio, Sand Castle, Satellite, Swan Motel and Tangiers motels starting opening up all over town. Most of them were two or three story L- or U-shaped motels with swimming pools in the middle. They featured Googie elements of architectural design: upswept roofs, curvilinear, geometric shapes, and bold use of glass, steel – and, of course, plenty of neon.
Out in front of each motel stood a large, kitschy neon sign that attracted passing motorists like a moth to a flame. As you can imagine, as more motels were built, the signs only grew bigger and kitschier as motels competed with each other for the attention of overnight guests. Eventually, however, local laws would ban flashing signs and seriously limit revolving signs. In fact, there are only two revolving signs in Wildwood’s historic district today: the Pan American Motel and the Sandpiper Motel.
Here Today. Here Tomorrow.
Nearly twenty years ago, mid-century modern design came back into vogue. This included the rediscovery of Googie architecture and, of course, “Doo Wop” motels. Tourists fell in love again with Wildwood’s Space-Age and tiki-themed accommodations that seemed to remain exactly the same as they appeared when Chubby Checker, Frankie Valli, and the Supremes sang in local clubs.
However, while vacationers and roadtrippers were once again falling in love with Wildwood’s Doo Wop motels, a real estate boom threatened them. In fact, between 2001 and 2005, only 100 of these motels remained. Thankfully, today there are 50 Doo Wop motels still standing thanks to the efforts of the Doo Wop Preservation League which has helped ensure that the remaining historic motels within the Wildwoods Shore Resort Historic District are preserved for future generations. Here are just a few of our favorites:
BEL AIR MOTEL / 5510 Ocean Avenue
Built in 1957, the Bel Air Motel was named after the mid-1950s car that embodies the doo-wop era – the Chevy Bel Air. The motel retains its era-specific seafoam green color palette, clean lines, plastic palms, globe lighting and hand-built tiki hut that will have you thinking how neat-o it is to feel like you’ve stepped into a time machine to the past.
CARIBBEAN MOTEL / 5600 Ocean Avenue
Perhaps the Caribbean Motel says it best when it describes itself as “a timeless, Technicolor, tropical fantasy” of a motel because that’s exactly what it is. Like the Bel Air, the Caribbean Motel was built in 1957; however, it also features more than just subtle hints of Space Age influence with its futuristic floating ramp, spaceship lights and Wildwood’s very first plastic palms. Though it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was the first motel ever listed with Historic Hotels of America, the motel is anything but old and dusty. Indeed, each room is appointed with period furniture and stylings, but also includes all the modern conveniences today’s travelers have come to expect.
THE JOLLY ROGER / 6805 Atlantic Avenue
Argh, matey! The pirate that stands above the entrance has been welcomin’ landlubbers aboard the Jolly Roger motel since they first hoisted the skull ‘n crossbones in 1960. Currently undergoin’ a renovation, the Jolly Roger promises a stay at the Jolly Roger will include a fun, futuristic Jetsons vibe while also keepin’ true t’ the retro mid-century modern feels o’ the 1960s ‘n 70s. Still, here ye’ll find all the extraordinarly pleasin’ accommodations o’ the 21st century along wit’ all ye’ll ever needs fer a comfortable stay includin’ flat screen digital TVs, air-conditionin’, modern bathrooms ‘n private balconies wit’ spectacular views. Oh, ‘n fer those bringin’ yer owns drinks ‘n vittles, all rooms are equipped wit’ refrigerators, microwaves ‘n Keurig black brew makers, too.
LOLLIPOP MOTEL / 2301 Atlantic Avenue
With its candy-colored façade and sweet- looking neon sign, the Lollipop is a retro motel lover’s dream-come-true in North Wildwood. Built in 1959 and renovated in 2004, the Lollipop features modern amenities to complement its playful mid-century design that will have you singing “Lollipop. Lollipop. Oh, lolli lollipop!”
PAN AMERICAN HOTEL / 5901 Ocean Avenue
Built in 1964 by the aforementioned Morey Brothers, the 78-room Pan American celebrates the Jet Age and the heydays of luxury jet travel. Complete with a retro aviation travel theme and rooftop rotating globe sign that’s reminiscent of that other famous Pan-Am, a stay at the Pan American Hotel will truly have you feeling you’ve been a member of the jet set all along.
With over 50 other notable existing motels in the Wildwoods, there are plenty more to choose from including The Starlux, The Crusader, The Waikiki, The Newport, The Sea Shell, The Admiral, The Adventurer, The VIP, The Carriage Stop, The Daytona, The Granada, The Tangiers, the Park Lane and the Yankee Clipper. Find your perfect retro stay here.
Of course, it’s not really a road trip without taking America’s favorite road trip snack with you – the Stuckey’s Pecan Log Roll. Pick some up at one of our Stuckey’s locations along the way or order from our website before you go. Choose from some of our other fine pecan candies and mouthwatering road trip snacks including our delicious pecan pralines, heavenly pecan divinity, Hunkey Dorey, and other pecany goodness you’ve come to love us for.
Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!
Whether your next road trip is by car or by rail, it’s not really a road trip without taking Stuckey’s along. From our world famous Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls to our mouthwatering Hunkey Dorey, Stuckey’s has all the road trips snacks you’ll need to get you where you’re going.
For all of the pecany good treats and cool merch you’ll need for your next big road adventure, browse our online store now!
Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!