Doo Wop at the New Jersey Shore

Doo Wop at the New Jersey Shore

“Doo Wop” is the term used to describe the retro 1950s and 1960s style buildings of the city of Wildwood.  These buildings, with their distinct and flamboyant architecture, have made the Wildwoods one of the most visited tourist destinations of the New Jersey Shore, and one of the most unique tourist destinations in the world.

The history of Wildwood’s Doo Wop structures and their wild and colorful architecture can be traced to the end of the World War II.

A sense of optimism pervaded post-war America.  The Nazi’s had been defeated, the United Nations created, and the United States was now the richest and most powerful country in the world.

The American public had greater wealth and leisure time than ever before.  Television provided the American people with glimpses of the wider world, and automobiles increasingly gave the public the freedom to travel and explore.

Doo Wop music, a style of rhythm and blues, became very popular in the mid-fifties.  The style featured up-tempo rhythms and often featured lyrics containing nonsense syllables.  Bands such as “The Flamingos”, “The Spaniels” and “Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers” were just a few of the popular Doo Wop bands in the mid fifties.

Wildwood became a center significant center for Doo Wop music and American popular culture in the 1950s and 1960s, and a number of important music events took place in various clubs around Wildwood.  For example, Bill Haley and the Comets first performed “Rock Around the Clock at Wildwood’s Hof Brau nightclub, Chubby Checker introduced America to “The Twist” at Wildwood’s Rainbow Club in 1960, and Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand”, aired its first national broadcast from the Starlight Ballroom on the Wildwood Boardwalk.

Upbeat optimism and confidence also prompted a dramatic change in the architectural landscape of the Wildwoods.  Restaurants and hotels needed something extra to stay competitive, and they furiously tried to stay ahead of each other with increasingly flamboyant and eye-catching buildings and signs.

It was from this need for dynamic, vibrant and flashy buildings and signs, that Doo Wop architecture was born. Will and Lou Morey, brothers and architects, specialized in these designs and were responsible for many of the hotels in the Wildwood area.

There were many different themes used throughout the architecture of the fifties.  The Modern or “Blast Off” style was a futuristic design that included glass walls and angular roofs.  This style reflected a sense of post-war optimism, and the desire to look towards the future. It was in many ways similar to the common design for airports of that time.  The Admiral Motel in Wildwood is a great example of this theme.

The “Vroom!” style included angular and pointed buildings.  The Ebb Tide Hotel, with its extreme angled walls, demonstrates this architectural style.

The public of the post-war United States was also interested in foreign travel, particularly to exotic locals such as Asia and the South Pacific which they could now glimpse on television.

Despite this fascination, most people had neither the means nor the intention of traveling to any of these destinations.  As such, many hotels in Wildwood were designed to give the look and feel of the Caribbean or the Orient, without requiring any travel overseas.

Patriotism was also very strong in the post-war period, and some buildings, such as the Carriage Stop Motel, were constructed to reflect the Colonial history of the United States.

These different architectural themes had the common traits of loud colors, irregularly shaped buildings and bright neon signs – all meant to attract draw in a curious driver from the roads.

Doo Wop music remained very popular in the United States until the British Invasion of the 1960s, and the arrival of the Beatles, forever altered the musical landscape.  America began to change culturally throughout the sixties as well, and the colorful, playful designs of the Doo Wop architecture were replaced by more subdued styles.

The Doo Wop hotels and restaurants of the Wildwood’s area fell into disrepair as the 1960s turned into the 1970s.  By the 1980s the once vibrant community was in a full decline.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that fortunes turned around for the Wildwood’s, when the Mid Atlantic Center for the Arts officially coined the term “Doo Wop” to describe the now unique 1950s architecture that remained in Wildwood.  The city now looked to restore and preserve its historic buildings.

In 1997, the Doo Wop Preservation League was founded by Jack Morey and other business and community leaders with the intention of preserving and restoring the Doo Wop architecture of Wildwood’s buildings.  Besides simple preservation, the League’s goal was to use the historic structures and the culture of Wildwood Doo Wop to promote the city and to create a unified resort atmosphere.

Morey was inspired to form the Doo Wop Preservation League by Disney’s Boardwalk Hotel and their All Star Resort, which included replicas of Doo Wop style structures from the fifties and sixties that were almost identical to the authentic structures located in Wildwood.  The success of these two resorts convinced Morey that there was a nostalgic market for fifties and sixties American culture.

Architects were brought in from a number of the nations leading Universities to make recommendations as to the best way to restore the motels.  The Doo Wop Preservation League acted on many of these recommendations, and, today, most of Wildwood’s over 200 Doo Wop style hotels and motels have been fully restored, and collectively offer over 12,000 rooms.

The Doo Wop preservation league is currently trying to have the Wildwood Doo Wop buildings added to the National Register of Historic Places.  This will likely be a challenge, as buildings and artifacts from the recent past are typically overlooked for inclusion in the register.  However, the League does have the vital support of The New Jersey Historic Preservation Office, which recommends to the Park Service which districts should be placed in the Register.

Through the efforts of the Doo Wop Preservation League and other community leaders, Wildwood has embraced its Doo Wop past. The restoration of the city’s buildings has turned the Wildwoods, again, into a popular and successful tourist destination, with the largest collection of vintage 50s era buildings of any destination on the planet.