Setting Summers at the Shore

Don’t let go just yet!  Midvale resident Mark Havens’  breathtaking photos of Wildwood’s famously funky “Doo Wop” hotels, suspended between seasons, will help us hold onto Summer’s magic just a little bit longer.   (as featured in the NY Times)

Eastfallslocal headerLike most of us, Mark Havens has spent many summers “downashore” and is bummed when the season’s over. Unlike those of us who leave the beach with hardly a glance in the rear view mirror, Mark’s spent the last decade or so hanging around the Wildwoods after the tourists have gone, photographing many of the “Doo Wop” motels he recalls from summers past. 

Mark, a resident of Midvale Avenue and assistant professor of industrial design at Philadelphia University, has always been drawn to the flashy neon lights, kidney-shaped pools, asymmetrical designs and plastic palm trees (the official tree of Wildwood) of these motels, which were built in the 50s and 60s.

With many of the motels being demolished in the early 2000s, Mark’s photo essays are equal parts nostalgia and historical documentation. He’ll publish the full collection in his new book “Out of Season” (slated for 2016). In the meantime, he shared some of his photos with us (offered here with EF Local’s linked-up commentary).

Eastfallslocal Lollipop motel collage overlayBuilt in 1970, the Lollipop motel’s sign is characteristic of Doo Wop architecture‘s geometric shapes and bright, neon colors. Eastfallslocal blue railings vertical aqua overlay

Even the balcony railings of the motels are undulating, resembling the grilles of  automobiles from the 50s and 60s.

Eastfallslocal blue orange long beach chair overlayVinyl and aluminum pool furniture was popular because of the sharp, vibrant colors, ease of maintenance, and cheap prices.

Eastfallslocal Friendship 7 with space capsule post overlayFriendship 7 was the spacecraft in which astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. became the first American to orbit the Earth (February 20, 1962). Glenn’s accomplishment brought a sense of pride and relief to Americans who feared the Soviet Union was winning the space race. (Rockets and space travel were central themes of Doo Wop architecture.)

Eastfallslocal 1 minature golf POST overlayBuilt in 1969 as the Safari Motel, the American Safari Motel is located in Wildwood Crest. It is most notable for its unique animal theme, eye-catching bright yellow-and-white color scheme and Neo-Doo Wop roadside sign (which replaced a plastic backlit version in 2006).

Eastfallslocal 6 jolly roger overlayBuilt in 1959, the retro neon signage and larger-than-life figure (a pirate with sword and treasure chest symbolizing romanticized tales of adventure on the high seas, camaraderie, and treasure hunting) are hallmarks of Doo Wop architecture

Eastfallslocal 8 8 sans soucieSans Souci is French for ‘without cares’ or ‘carefree.’ It was named after a famous hotel in Miami Beach, Florida designed by Morris Lapidus

Eastfallslocal beach motel overalyInfluenced by Art Deco architecture of Miami Beach, Doo Wop motels featured bright colors—lots of pinks and pastels—and plenty of neon

Eastfallslocal 11 lawn chairs palm tree shadow overlayJalousie windows were a highly popular hand-cranked glass, aluminum and screen window that was in widespread use in temperate climates before the advent of air-conditioning.

Eastfallslocal 4 beach chairs like ship deck overlayIt’s no mistake these chairs recall the deck of an ocean liner–Doo Wop borrowed from the Art Deco movement, including nautical and space-aged themes

Eastfallslocal 17 aqua chairs brass night overlayAquamarine was a common color at Wildwood hotels, evoking the sea. Cigarette bins recall a time when smoking was glamorousEastfallslocal 13 hotel poles overalyThe term carport was coined by Frank Lloyd Wright, when he designed a carport for houses he built in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1936

EastFallslocal 15 stairs phone boothThe first outdoor phone booth was installed in Cincinnati in 1905. It was made of wood. In fact, glass booths weren’t implemented until the 1950s. 

Eastfallslocal 18 roof signs overlayThree Motels

Hi Lili

The Hi-Lili motel was named after a popular 1950s song. The song was featured in the movie Lili (1953, MGM) which starred Leslie Caron and won an Academy Award for best music. 


Built in the 1960’s, the Astronaut has one of the few remaining kidney-shaped pools among the Wildwood motels. Like the Satellite motel, the Astronaut evoked the Space Age optimism found in the United States in the 60s.

Kona Kai 

One of the most recognized motels in the Wildwood Crest motel district, the Kona Kai was built in 1968 by Lou Morey, who created a number of motels in Wildwood, with at least 3 in the Polynesian/tiki style. The motel featured lava rock trim, Tiki garden, and Polynesian-themed rooms. Unfortunately, it was demolished in 2005.

Eastfallslocal 16 hotel pana colorful at night overlayIn 1998, the Wildwoods launched an effort to promote their “candy-colored, flat-roofed, low-rent parking garage-like commercial architecture — especially the neon signs, plastic palm trees and kidney-shaped pools.”

Eastfallslocal 10 hotel doors with overlayAs “motor hotels” Wildwood motels were designed with parking as a central feature. This catered to 1950s America, when cars became more affordable and families began taking to the open road for summer vacations.

Eastfallslocal patio palm tree sunsetThe Tiki style  of Doo Wop architecture reflects a fascination with the South Pacific, incorporating plastic palm trees, grass huts, and tiki heads in abundance. 

See more of Mark Havens’ work on his website, and in this list of exhibitions. Read his fascinating interview with Resource Magazine from this August, and a review of a recent showing at James Oliver Gallery on Chestnut Street. FUN FACTS: Mark was part of the team who designed EFDC’s bridge-inspired logo. Mark & his wife have have lived in East Falls for 11 years (across from St. Bridget). They have two kids, 4 & 7. 

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