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Trending: Atomic-Age Motels of the Jersey Shore

By David Schonauer   Wednesday September 7, 2016


The motels of the Wildwoods are from a different time.

The Wildwoods is a community made up of three towns—Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, and North Wildwood— along a five-mile barrier island on the southern New Jersey coastline. A destination for sun-seeking vacationers since the 19th century, the area truly came into its own with the building of the Garden State Parkway in the 1950s. Fleets of Eisenhower-era rocket-finned cars began arriving, leading to the construction of flashy new motels designed for the atomic age. The Wildwoods became home to the country’s largest concentration of midcentury hotel architecture.

“Inspired by European high modernist design, they sported bright colors, angular features and distinctive, sometimes kitschy ornamentation,” notes Slate, which features Tyler Haughey’s photographs of the wondrous places.

Haughey discovered the motels of the Wildwoods five years ago, when he was a student at Drexel University. A New Jersey native, Haughey had heard of the motels but never seen them until he happened to pass through the area. He became captivated.

“It felt like I’d happened upon an abandoned film set,” he says.

Two years later he began his series “Ebb Tide,” a documentation of the motels created with a sense of urgency: The kitschy ambiance of the Wildwoods has given way to modern condominium development, and the motels of the past are disappearing.

Haughey tells Slate that he photographed the motels with an eye for the perspectives that best encapsulated their individual identities. “Often, that meant a straightforward image of the front from the parking lot or a wider shot from across the street. Other times, he focused on the pool or the front office,” notes the website. “He was particularly drawn to the motels that borrowed the iconography of far-flung destinations.”

Haughey intentionally photographed only during the off-season. With no people around, he says, he could better focus on the architecture of the motels. He plans to turn his work into a book.

Above:Monaco Motel by Tyler Haughey. Below: Three images by Haughey.


As it happens, Haughey is not alone in his admiration for the motels of the Wildwoods. Photographer Mark Havens, who spent his childhood exploring the area, began photographing the motels there 10 years ago. “As motel after motel was demolished, I gradually began to realize that some part of myself was being destroyed as well,” he tells the Atlantic.

His work is collected in his new book Out of Season.


Haven’s images, like those of Haughey, are splendid reminders of a Coppertone-infused era of fun in the sun. The surviving motels — the Sans Souci, the Rus Mar, the Jolly Roger, the Crystal Sands and others — do business just three months a year and have remained virtually unchanged over the decades, like memories of summer that never end.

Above: Three views of the Wildwoods by Mark Havens. At top: By Mark Havens

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