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Retro Style: The Doo Wop Architecture of the Wildwoods

by Akhil Kalepu

Aug 5, 2015

Wildwood Crest, New Jersey © Allie Caulfield | Flickr


You might not have heard the terms Googie and Doo Wop in reference to architecture, but you are definitely familiar with the form. Doo Wop is a part of the mid-century modern style many call “retro,” a subdivision of the futurist movement that was born in the 1930s, but redefined post-WWII as an architectural approach influenced by car culture, the Space Race and the Atomic Age.


Lollipop Motel, Wildwood, New Jersey © Forsaken Fotos | Flickr

Lollipop Motel, Wildwood, New Jersey © Forsaken Fotos | Flickr


If you think about the look and feel of 1950s and 60s America, you can start to understand the style and aesthetic of Doo Wop, which was characterized by geometric shapes, dynamic lines and contrasting colors. Buildings utilized glass, steel and neon, and often incorporated artistic elements from the Atomic Age with parabolas, atoms, starbursts, boomerangs, saucers and parallelograms. The bright colors and free-form design were reflective of the post-war culture marked by prosperity and technological advancement.


While Doo Wop has largely fell out of favor, the Wildwoods truly embraced the aesthetic and made efforts to preserve its historic value. Its ubiquitous presence in the shore town was largely the work of the Morey family, who helped begin a building boom of amusement parks and eccentrically decorated hotels. Will and Lou Morey started it all after taking a trip to Miami, Fla., and fell in love with the Art Deco and neon styling of South Beach.


Morey's Pier on the Wildwood Boardwalk, New Jersey © Judith Bicking | Dreamstime 45538490 3mb

Morey’s Pier on the Wildwood Boardwalk © Judith Bicking | Dreamstime


According to architectural historian, George Thomas, Doo Wop’s success was aided by its location and time period: “Forty years ago, the Wildwoods was the south Jersey mecca for blue-collar workers who had enough extra dollars from the Philadelphia industrial economy to vacation at the shore. The opening of the Garden State Parkway, the ever more casual American society and the rise of the automobile led to the motel revolution that is the enduring artifact of present-day Wildwood.”


Stardust Motel, Wildwood, New Jersey © Kristine Paulus | Flickr

Stardust Motel © Kristine Paulus | Flickr


Hotels like The Crusader, The Pan American and The Royal Hawaiian provided a budget-friendly destination for working-class families in the area and were often decorated with exotic themes and plastic palm trees whose retro-cheesiness has been embraced by the area. Doo Wop buildings were also located close to the shore yet spaced wide apart with outward facing rooms, creating an open yet friendly atmosphere.


Today thousands of visitors pour into the Wildwoods for a relaxing summer retreat. Its Googie aesthetic is still vibrant, and there is also a Doo Wop Museum and Neon Garden that aims to preserve Wildwood Crest’s architectural history.



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