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)
Like 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).
Built in 1970, the Lollipop motel’s sign is characteristic of Doo Wop architecture‘s geometric shapes and bright, neon colors.
Even the balcony railings of the motels are undulating, resembling the grilles of automobiles from the 50s and 60s.
Vinyl and aluminum pool furniture was popular because of the sharp, vibrant colors, ease of maintenance, and cheap prices.
Friendship 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.)
Built 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).
Built 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.
Influenced by Art Deco architecture of Miami Beach, Doo Wop motels featured bright colors—lots of pinks and pastels—and plenty of neon.
Jalousie 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.
Aquamarine was a common color at Wildwood hotels, evoking the sea. Cigarette bins recall a time when smoking was glamorous. The term carport was coined by Frank Lloyd Wright, when he designed a carport for houses he built in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1936.
The 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.
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.
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.
In 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.”
As “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.
The 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.