Doo Wop by the Sea

Architects and preservationists have turned a gaudy strip of New Jersey shore into a monument to mid-century architecture. But can they keep the bulldozers at bay?

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Helping push it that way, the Penn/Yale/Kent State students brainstormed ideas aimed at revitalizing the Wildwoods by pulling in younger tourists who don’t remember the ’50s while holding on to the regulars. Their 1999 report called for embellishments such as bigger, louder signs and more of them. George Thomas, who taught some of their workshops, says approvingly, “It’s historic preservation but on steroids.”


A notable effort to balance new cool and old cool is the Starlux, a debonair addition to Wildwood’s Rio Grande Avenue. The Starlux was a nondescript late-’50s motel until 1999 when amusement-pier mogul Jack Morey bought the building and, for $3.5 million, made it a Doo Wop revival demonstration project. “The Starlux was conceived as a year round motel,” says Stokes, who designed it. He expanded the motel and spruced it up with sling chairs and lava lamps. But he also added a new pool, conference facilities and a dramatic Astro Lounge. He got the idea for the lounge’s jaunty flying- Vroof from an old Phillips 66 station. The overall effect is playful. “We didn’t want the Starlux to look like an authentic ’50s motel,” Stokes says. “What we wanted was a 21st-century interpretation of the ’50s.”


Other businesses have begun climbing aboard the Doo Wop bandwagon. In an ice-cream parlor called Cool Scoops, you can sip a malted while sitting in the rear half of a 1957 Ford Fairlane. A new Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership resembles a ’50s movie theater, marquee and all. Sporting a more refined retro look is the MaureenRestaurant and Martini Bar, an upscale place with a 27-foot neon martiniglass sign. Even the area’s fast-food chains are ditching their generic signs. Says former Wildwood mayor Duane Sloan: “We tell them, ‘Look, we want angles, glass, neon. We want it to look unlike what you would see anywhere else.’ ” Sloan, 37, believes the Wildwoods’ unique style will survive. “Doo Wop isn’t something you can define exactly,” he says. “It’s more of a feeling. Really, what we want to be is cool.”


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