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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”