Taking Tacky to New Heights
Preserving the Wildwoods’ doo-wop treasures. By Regina Scha;er
The garish pink flamingos, giant plastic palm trees, weather-worn eon signs and faux Hawaiian
kitsch—all of it was showing its age. Jack
Morey figured it was time for a change.
It was summer 1996. The Wildwoods’
storied motels of the 1950s and 1960s,
many of which were built by Morey’s father, Will Morey Sr., and his uncle, Lou
Morey, were dying. A few attempts had
been made to reinvigorate them, but most
ended in failure. A trolley tour designed
to show off the aging attractions fizzled.
And the motel owners weren’t getting
Morey enlisted respected Philadelphia
architect Steve Izenour, of the famed Venturi Scott Brown & Associates, to renovate
some of his family’s motels and spruce up
the boardwalk amusement piers he owns
and operates with his brother, Will Jr.
Morey had big plans to turn Wildwood
into a theme park, and they didn’t include
flamingos. “Quite frankly,” Morey admits,
“I wanted to Disney-fy the motels.”
Izenour, a guy who appreciated the
fast-food joints and coffee shops that oth-
ers dismissed as downscale, was appalled
by Morey’s concept.
He faxed a letter to Morey.
You can’t and shouldn’t try to make
Wildwood into something that it isn’t, a Dis-
ney, a theme park, etc. You can’t do this for a
whole lot of reasons…. What Wildwood is, is
one of the last really down and dirty, TACK Y
with a capital T, beach resorts. What you
need to do is take tacky to new heights. In
an increasingly homogenized commercial
world it’s the perfect counter punch strat-
egy, and given the years of ad hoc evolution
it took to make it what it is, nobody, not even
Disney could beat you at your game.
Morey read the plea. A switch flipped.
“The answer was under our nose,” he admits. “And we just couldn’t see it.”
WHEN THE SUN SETS AND THE NEON
signs pulsate, a certain magic bewitches
the Wildwoods. A tacky magic.
After getting off at exit 4B of the Garden State Parkway, a quick drive down
Rio Grande Avenue into the heart of the
Wildwoods reveals an endearing jumble
of eye-catching old motels, a virtual museum of mid-century architectural kitsch.
Some, like the Bel Air, sport awkwardly jutting facades and towering plastic
palm trees. Others flaunt Polynesian-style
thatched roofs, tiki torches and kidney-shaped swimming pools. There’s the Caribbean, with its Jetsons-style ramp and
horseshoe-shaped pool, and the Sandpiper, with its Astroturf pavilion. You can’t
miss the gleeful sign for the Lollipop Mo-
SHORE GUIDE 2014 x FAUX TROPICS The plastic palm
trees are just one
of the Caribbean
tures. At night,
hostelry is a sym-
phony of neon.
(Continued on page 86) PH