Buying a doo-wop motel in the Wildwoods isn’t quite like buying any other commercial property.
The motels, a collection of buildings built in the 1950s and 1960s, don’t belong to any chain or franchise. They are not one size fits all. When one is put up for sale, there is a risk that a little bit more of doo-wop history will disappear.
“The Caribbean comes with its own cult of devoted guests,” said George Miller, who along with partner Carolyn Emigh bought the Caribbean Motel in 2004. “We’ve become the entrusted caretakers of a very special place.”
Miller and Emigh paid $2.1 million for the 1957 doo-wop classic, recognized for its “levitating” ramp and crescent-shaped pool, and they have spent thousands more restoring the property inside and out.
“It’s like owning an antique car. You never stop shining it or tinkering with it, and you don’t want it to get wet,” Miller said.
Each year after the island’s tourists come and go, a handful of the doo-wop motels go on the market, places such as the Coliseum or the Crusader, and each year Miller and other doo-wop enthusiasts hope the new owners will modernize the classic structures while maintaining their doo-wop roots.
The Eden Roc, a landmark that shares its name with the famed Miami Beach hotel, is the latest doo-wop motel to be sold.
The 30-unit motel, which sits at the corner of Bennett and Atlantic avenues, was built in the 1950s and had fallen into a state of disrepair, even earning the notorious distinction of being one of the country’s dirtiest motels, according to travel website TripAdvisor.
But Tim Patel likes a challenge.
Patel paid $1.15 million for the motel and expects to spend another $400,000 in renovations.
The Middle Township motel owner purchased the Le Voyageur Motel, also in Wildwood, in March of this year and now he’s in the midst of renovating the Eden Roc, which includes giving the doo-wop classic a new moniker.
“I really wanted to keep that Eden Roc name, but I can’t,” he said, noting the name’s tarnished reputation.
Instead, the Eden Roc will be transformed into the Dolphin Inn, a name his children liked, complete with a bright blue neon sign, a classic doo-wop element.
“I didn’t know what it was,” Patel said as he explained that he was originally in the motel business not the doo-wop business.
He was originally thinking of turning the building into an Econolodge, but real estate agent Sandra Richardson did her best to initiate Patel into the world of neon signs, kidney-shaped pools and angular roofs.
“I believe in doo-wop,” Richardson said as she and Patel walked around the Eden Roc on Wednesday.
Patel has gutted the motel rooms and plans to add everything from new furnishings and new plumbing to LED exterior lights and two rooftop decks.
The new color scheme features paint colors called golden gate, coastal paradise and San Jose blue, all evocative of the summer vacations doo-wop motels were made for.
Patel now believes in doo-wop, too.
“It used to be the place to go. We want to make it that again,” Patel said of the Eden Roc’s future.
Dan MacElrevey, president of the Doo Wop Preservation League, is a former motel owner and currently runs Ocean Property Management based in Wildwood.
MacElrevey once owned the Granada Motel in Wildwood Crest, and when he chose to leave the business he looked for a buyer who wanted to keep the motel rather than tear it down. He found one, turning down a developer who offered more money.
A survey of the island’s motel properties conducted around 2001 classified 154 properties as doo-wop.
Today, MacElrevey said, the number is down to 96.
A building boom in the early 2000s saw many of the motels torn down to make way for new development in the form of condominium complexes.
But doo-wop, locals have learned, has value, drawing interest from visitors and publications around the globe.
The Caribbean, for instance, was featured this year in an article titled “Driving USA: All American Road Trips” in The Sunday Times of London. The article even urged readers to skip Atlantic City and head to the “shoreline’s overlooked gem, Wildwood.”
“The thing that saved us was the real estate bubble burst,” Miller said of the motels that managed to avoid demolition.
Miller said he’s heard the actual number of doo-wop motels remaining could be even smaller. So, when a motel comes on the market “my partner and I try to encourage others to see the benefit of marketing the brand — doo-wop.”
That brand, Miller said, distinguishes the motels from their neon-free counterparts.
Broker Paul Chiolo said the difference between a doo-wop property and a non-doo-wop property is the owner.
“What’s different is that the purchaser is a different buyer. They’re more family-oriented. It’s more of a passion. Someone coming out of a career and not so focused on cash flow,” Chiolo said of the doo-wop buyers such as Miller.
The motels, he said, perhaps require a different temperament because of the challenges they present.
“They’re a different type of upkeep, different marketing,” he said.
Patel says he is ready for the challenge and has embraced doo-wop and what the name means.
“I’m going to do good here,” he said.
Meanwhile, Richardson, like so many residents, business owners and longtime visitors, is anxious to see what the classic motel will look like when the work is done.
“I’m excited about this place coming back to life,” Richardson said.
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