The '50s and '60s Thrive In Retro Doo-Wop Motels

The Caribbean Motel, first opened in 1956, is a doo-wop landmark in Wildwood Crest.
The Caribbean Motel, first opened in 1956, is a doo-wop landmark in Wildwood Crest. (By Anne Mcdonough -- The Washington Post)
Sunday, June 24, 2007

Vroom, Pu-Pu Platter and Phony Colonee: Now there are some highfalutin architectural terms for you.

They're just a few of the styles known as doo-wop, the '50s and '60s throwback look that was once all the rage in the Wildwoods of New Jersey. But because of changing aesthetics and demand for shorefront condos, more than 100 of the old-time motels have met the wrecking ball in the past few years, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. How bad has the hit been? The towns' doo-wop properties made the organization's 2006 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Though there are fewer of them today, explore Wildwood and Wildwood Crest -- or hop on a seasonal trolley tour run by the Doo Wop Preservation League (Tuesday and Thursday, 7 p.m.; $10) -- and you'll see such landmark buildings as the Caribbean Motel (5600 Ocean Ave.), with (fake) palms, a "levitating" ramp that rises and curves to the second floor and George Nelson-inspired marshmallow chairs.

Oh, and those colors. "I was horrified by the paint -- it's lime rickey -- but now I think the rooms are great," said Carolyn Emigh, an Arlington lawyer who with partner George Miller bought the Caribbean in 2004.

"The Caribbean is a highlight, a classic doo-wop property," preservation league president Dan MacElrevey said. Other examples include the StarLux Boutique Hotel (305 E. Rio Grande Ave.). "The Imperial 500[6601 Atlantic Ave.] is another interesting building, really neat railings," MacElrevey said. The owners of the Shalimar (6405 Atlantic Ave.) added two floors and made it "more doo-wop than doo-wop," he said.

The motels are the known draw, but also getting into the kitsch niche are businesses such as Wawa (410 W. Rio Grande), with its retro-inspired sign, and diners such as the Pink Cadillac (3801 Atlantic Ave.). The Doo Wop Experience museum promises no letup when it opens July 4 across from the Wildwoods Convention Center.

"Hey, you're there to have fun," Emigh said. "There's no other place like it."

-- Anne McDonough

ยท More info: Doo Wop Preservation League, 609-729- 4000,

© 2007 The Washington Post Company