by Diane M. Fiske
Visitors to Wildwood cross a bridge from the New Jersey mainland to the island beach resort and step back about 50 years. Rows of small-scale, multicolored motels sit beside swimming pools and copious bright green plastic palm trees. Beaming over the motels are oversized neon signs in pink, green, yellow, and blue.
The blue-collar summer resort of Wildwood reached its pinnacle of popularity when Cadillacs had fins and television was novel. Now the town is receiving new attention because a year-round season may begin when a planned convention center opens.
The town and its unlikely architecture was a focus of the late Steven Izenour, a principal architect with Venturi Scott Brown & Associates.
Izenour called the 1950s and 60s architecture "Doo-Wop" after the a cappella singing style of the period, and he led efforts in its study and preservation. He taught studios of architecture students from the University of Pennsylvania, Kent State, and Yale University in Wildwood from 1998 to 2001.
These workshops studied land use, vacationers' activities, motels, traffic, and the all-important signage. They published their suggestions in the workbook "Learning from Wildwood." (Izenour was also coauthor with Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown of the seminal Learning from Las Vegas, in which they encourage the profession to view "tacky" architecture from a new perspective.)
The Caribbean Motel, Wildwood, New Jersey, in the characteristic "Doo-Wop" style of 1950s and 60s blue-collar resort architecture.
Photo: Steven Izenour
A map of Wildwood, New Jersey, based on concepts from the "Learning from Las Vegas" workshop, developed by students from the University of Pennsylvania, Yale, and Kent State.
Image: Richard Stokes and Tony Bracali
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