Lonely Planet Writer

See the abandoned motels of New Jersey that have remained untouched since the 1950s

Once a thriving holiday resort in New Jersey, Wildwood saw a spate of modernist motels built during the 1950s post-war boom. But today most of the kitsch motels lie empty, with many being torn down for urban regeneration projects.

The architecture was heavily influenced by the modernist styles. that populated Florida at the time.
The architecture was heavily influenced by the modernist styles that populated Florida at the time. Image by Mark Havens

Philadelphia-based artist Mark Havens has spent ten years taking images of the motels, which are now published in a beautiful new book.  The hotels were the backdrop to Havens’ childhood summers and when they began to disappear he decided he had to capture their beauty before they vanished for good.

The book celebrates vanishing architecture from a bygone era.
The book celebrates vanishing architecture from a bygone era. Image by Mark Havens

Wildwood is a small barrier island that boasts the highest concentration of mid-century modern hospitality architecture in the United States. This design style is sometimes known as ‘doo wop’ with plastic palm and neon signs.

Space, travel, cars and rock 'n' roll influenced the motels' design.
Space, travel, cars and rock ‘n’ roll influenced the motels’ design. Image by Mark Havens

Motel names were heavily influenced by travel and space exploration which were so so prevalent at the time. Signs include Satellite, Astronaut, Bel Air, Kona Kai, and Waikiki.

Palm Crest Motel, the cinematic quality of the motels made them escapes for millions
Palm Crest Motel, the cinematic quality of the motels made them
escapes for millions Image by Mark Havens

Built in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Wildwood’s motels were developed in advance of the arrival of the Garden State Parkway, a four-lane toll road that would run the length of New Jersey, bringing with it a flurry of blue collar workers and their families on their annual vacations from the surrounding states.

Blue Marlin Motel: in the popular Jersey Shore resort.
Blue Marlin Motel: in the popular Jersey Shore resort. Image by Mark Havens

However, with the arrival of condos in the 1970s, and people looking to travel further afield, motels didn’t hold the same appeal for  New Jersey holidaymakers and the decline took hold.

Wildwood’s motels have remained virtually unchanged for over 40 years.
Wildwood’s motels have remained virtually unchanged for over 40 years. Image by Mark Havens

Wildwood’s motels  remained  frozen in time for over 40 years, but today many of their sites are being redeveloped.   Indeed when Havens was taking photos at the front of one motel, construction workers were demolishing the back.

Put simply by Havens: “Wildwood offers a memorial to a time, and to summers, gone by.”

Wildwood's motels remained frozen in time for over four decades.
Wildwood’s motels remained frozen in time for over four decades. Image by Mark Havens

Out of Season: The Vanishing Architecture of the Wildwoods by Mark Havens is published by Booth-Clibborn Editions.