WILDWOOD — If the models of Sports Illustrated had come to Wildwood in August 1890, they would have been photographed with the “W” tree, a remnant of the heavily wooded island that settlers found here in the late 1800s.
As it is, they came to the island in 2013 and were photographed with the giant Wildwoods sign that sits on the Boardwalk at Rio Grande Avenue.
So, in an effort to keep up with what’s popular, City Commission has opted to drop the “W” tree from its logo in favor of what it calls the “Wildwood Wave.” It’s the end of an era, but it’s an end that even local historians say is due.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” said Al Brannen, vice president of the Wildwood Historical Society and a longtime island resident. “You don’t want to forget the history and the “W” tree, but there comes a time when you have to step up to what I call the Pepsi generation.”
The tree was one of the holly trees that once covered Five Mile Beach, the island on which the four Wildwoods sit, and it became a symbol of the island. There was a time when it was “the” photo op.
When President Benjamin Harrison (reportedly the only sitting president to ever visit the town) came to Wildwood in August 1890, he “insisted that his picture be taken at the ‘W’ tree,” George F. Boyer wrote in his book “Wildwood — Middle of the Island.”
The tree, which sat in the area between Pine and Wildwood avenues, was symbolic of Wildwood and the heavily wooded island early settlers found here. But the trees have long since been cleared, replaced with homes, condominiums, doo-wop motels and the resort’s many businesses.
It was once a gathering place, according to Boyer’s book, and it is central to one of the island’s most iconic images — a photo taken in 1897 of the first boy born in Wildwood.
Development meant the end for the tree, but a section was saved and put in storage. It was later moved to City Hall, before finding its current home as a display inside the city’s historical museum at 3907 Pacific Ave.
Kathy Skouras, historical society president, said people ask about the tree and its significance here, but like Brannen, she’s not offended by the move to drop the tree from the logo.
The logo also features a three-masted sailing ship and what appears to be mountains on an island with an elevation that at its highest point is about 8 feet.
“We’re trying to update things, too,” Skouras said standing beside the tree at the museum. “Maybe this looks old to people.”
Neighboring towns incorporate a variety of seashore-related images in their logos.
North Wildwood, for instance, features dolphins, a ship and even King Neptune in its logo. Wildwood Crest, which has been discussing changing its logo for more than two years, currently uses a tall ship, the Brigantine Nancy, in its logo.
“It was just a matter of the original logo was about 100 years old,” Wildwood Commissioner Pete Byron said. “We wanted something fresher, hipper.”
Changing logos is sometimes part of a new marketing or branding effort, but tourism expert Roger Brooks warns towns not to place too much emphasis on their logos.
Brooks is CEO of Destination Development International, a Seattle-based firm that offers advice to communities across the globe about ways to improve their images.
“(Logos) play virtually no role in branding. Ask yourself, ‘Have you ever gone to any place because they had a great logo?’” Brooks said.
Instead, Brooks said, “Branding is really about what differentiates you from the competition.”
“We go to places because of what we know about them and what we think about them,” Brooks said.
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