To visit the Wildwoods on the New Jersey Shore and to go on the “Doo Wop Back to the ’50s Neon Nights Tour” is to be told a story…a multi-layered, fabulous story of American history, and the everlasting legacy of pop cultural elements that resonate throughout the Wildwoods.
Part of the town’s eclectic history is outlined courtesy of two distinct architectural styles and accessories such as plastic palm trees, gorgeous pools and, perhaps most importantly, flashy Neon Lights.
The 1950s and 60s were about more than just malt shops, jukeboxes and poodle skirts. The decades saw a seismic shift in musical tastes, vacation trends and economic upswings. They also reflected how the country had developed an insatiable thirst for the open road and an appreciation, (and need) for the Neon Sign.
A beach haven, the Wildwoods of NJ has been celebrated as one of the “Top 10 Beaches You MUST Visit With Your Family”, by Better Homes & Gardens in July of 2015. The article lauds the five miles of beach of this area, which encompasses Wildwood, North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest, as being ideal for family fun.
The Wildwoods goes beyond being a mere destination; every establishment and nuanced commodity is deeply rooted in the development of the oasis. As for the tour itself, “Doo Wop Back to the ’50s Neon Night” runs until September 3, 2015, and is a celebration of all things mid-century, according to Dan MacElrevey, Doo Wop aficionado and Partner and co-founder of Ocean Property Management.
He stresses that local architecture is, at its core, fun and versatile, and allowed designers to flex creative muscles not only when they designed buildings, but also when it came to such additions as Neon Lights.
The tour, it begins in front of the Doo Wop Experience Museum.
Doo Wop Experience Museum
4500 Ocean Avenue
(across from Wildwoods Convention Center
between Burk and Montgomery Avenues)
Wildwood, NJ 08260
Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children
Tourists will see that the museum itself is a hodgepodge of nostalgic memorabilia from the 1950s and 60s. Items include Heywood-Wakefield furniture and Herman Miller chairs. In addition to such memorabilia, there is also a Neon Sign Garden and an informative narrative, run by Doo Wop Tour Guide, Mary Fox, prior to the beginning of the tour. The tour thrills visitors by swinging by hotels, motels, and chain stores, all of which advertise themselves with scintillating neon signs.
The Wildwoods is home to two principle styles of architecture that reigned supreme in this Shore Town darling, Post WWII. These styles were, respectively, Doo Wop and Googie.
Doo Wop is a retro chic architectural juggernaut that isn’t just a style; it’s a cultural phenomenon that encompasses everything from music to a specific architectural angles and panache. The Doo Wop style is a zeitgeist of the era, a pop culture litmus test as to what was important, beloved, danced to, relished and celebrated.
As a musical style Doo Wop channeled the Doo Wop staccato that made the youth “infatuated with the rock and roll beat. They discovered that they didn’t need a musical instrument. They could harmonize on the sidewalk,” recalls Carolyn Emigh, co-owner of the Caribbean Motel and passionate supporter of all things Doo Wop.
Emigh cites how tourists to the Wildwoods frequently hailed from East Coast metropolises, such as Brooklyn and Philly, and, in order to simply cool down at night, they often had to step outside during the summer to listen to music and dance. It was also in the nighttime landscape where neon lights created an earthbound constellation of lights and color.
In addition to the lights, colors are another trend to look for in the world of Doo Wop. Popular colors include mint-green, tangerine, Schiaparelli pink, avocado, and buttercup yellow.
Born in 1957, the Caribbean Motel is a Doo Wop Motel on a multitude of levels. It has a brazen and bold sign that glows with lagoon-blue neon lights at night, plus a luscious color scheme that includes sea foam green patio furniture that cozies up to a crescent shape pool.
More than just a confection-colored place of play, in 2005 the Secretary of Interior added the Caribbean to the National Register of Historic Places, making it the only motel to join the roster of other hotels in the Historic Hotels of America.
The neon sign trend continues in the Doo Wop coterie with such motels as the Aztec Motel that garners attention with its wattage of bright green and red bulbs.
Doo Wop is only one of the architectural aesthetics of the era.
Circa 1949, Googie architecture is a kindred spirit of Doo Wop and can be identified as a kind of kinetic form architecture that has any shape reminiscent of boomerangs, symmetrical curves, geometric accents, spaceship touches and the all important usage of neon. Neon was frequently coupled with futuristic, interstellar materials such as glass and steel. It is a style that boils down to the fact that America helped usher in an atomic age and the Space Race was on.
Googie is also educational in that it is a style of an era that saw such milestone events as Sputnik, the first satellite to shoot to the stars, and which helped fuel a fascination for all things space. Some hotels and motels that fulfill the attraction to motion and aerodynamic travel are the Astronaut Motel,the Pan American, and the sleek StarLux Boutique Hotel, outfitted with a glass lobby.
During the Doo Wop era, vacation culture evolved and become part of the summertime vernacular as families had access to such luxuries as cars. “Cars were becoming increasingly more accessible to the middle class. It was a relatively short ride “down the Shore”, to Wildwood, which was a hotbed of rock and roll” Emigh reminds.
This trend popped up in nationwide commercials, such as in a 1953 ad where Dinah Shore sings “See the USA in your Chevrolet”. The jingle reiterates the overwhelming, alluring power of automobiles that was becoming standard.
A common denominator regarding everything associated with the infrastructure of the Wildwoods of today and yesteryear, are the Neon Signs. From a traveler’s perspective, they were a guide and a practical form of advertisement in an era where there was no Internet and families hit the road for a vagabond adventure or bonding R&R.
Neon Signs have always exercised a kind of modern-day alchemy that is part advertisement and part retro razzle-dazzle. Tourists could navigate their way through the bustling Shore Town beneath the glittery, gemstone array of neon lights. They could see names of motels, hotels and dining establishments without having to leave the car.
On one level, there is something lackadaisical and sweet with the lights, as demonstrated by the Lollipop Motel; then something space age and sharp such as with the StarLux. In between, there are the copious stores and restaurants from Laura’s Fudge Shop to Juan Pablo’s Margarita Bar to Cool Scoops Ice-Cream Parlor, all of which are set ablaze with the quirky charm and advertising prowess of Neon Lights.
There remains nothing timid about this bombastic lighting style that is an art form unto itself. Like everything else about the Wildwoods – from motels that let visitors feel as though they are relaxing in the Caribbean, to futuristic hotels that are reminiscent of the daring Space Age – Neon Signs are a ubiquitous reminder that the Wildwoods, NJ was and is an atypical Shore Town that lets tourists feel as though they are back in time and in some of the most outlandish locations imaginable.