'Doo Wop' motels are fading into the past

Sunday, June 4, 2006

WILDWOOD, N.J. -- The Lollipop and The Starlux. The Shalimar and The Caribbean. The Imperial 500 and The Tangiers.

With garish neon signs, multicolored exteriors and sweeping deck overhangs, the "Doo Wop" motels of the Wildwoods are the architectural equivalents of a Vitalis-slicked pompadour.

They, too, are fading into the past.

One by one, the mom-and-pop motels are being razed, rendered economically obsolete by a real estate boom that has made the land underneath too valuable to support a couple of dozen $100-a-night motel rooms.

"It's hard," said Daytona Motor Inn owner John Donio, who has been offered five times what he paid for his 20-unit motel, two blocks from the beach. "I want to stay, I really do."

More than 50 of the motels have been demolished in the last three years, giving way to pricey condominiums with none of their charm -- or history.

"Without a concerted attempt to halt demolition, these colorful vestiges of American life will go the way of the ducktail haircut, the '57 Chevy and the drive-in double feature," said Richard Moe, executive director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Instead of being demolished to make way for nondescript new development, the Doo Wop motels should be preserved as the focus of an all-season resort and a vibrant, livable community for year-round residents."

The Trust, based in Washington, D.C., included the motels on its list of the 11 most endangered historic places in America.

More symbolic than anything, the distinction is aimed at raising public awareness about the plight of the sites.

Built in the 1950s and 1960s and dubbed "Doo Wop" after a vocal style of the period, the motels sprung up next to the ocean in Wildwood, North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest, catering to a booming post-war America that wanted vacation places with outdoor pools, parking spaces and easy ocean access.

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