Tim Maher knew the doo-wop motels of the Wildwoods were in trouble.
A booming real estate market meant the island’s 1950s and 1960s-era properties were being torn down and replaced with rows of very un-doo-wop, very profitable condominiums.
So Maher, of Macungie, Pa., literally took to the streets, walking and riding a bike up and down the island to take pictures and preserve the motels - at least on camera. “we wanted to remember it,” he said.
The photographs, of places like the now-demolished Rio Motel, were later made into a collage that hangs in his grandson Braxton’s bedroom.
“He has a doo-wop bedroom,” said Braxton’s mother Lindsey Maher, 28, as she held the 13-month old.
What is doo wop? “It’s colorful and it’s musical,” said Tim Maher, 56..
The iconic doo-wop motels, with their neon signs, pastel trim and angular roof lines, have become synonymous with the Wildwoods and supporters continue to work for their preservation.
They also take heart in efforts to duplicate the style.
This June, for instance, Universal Orlando opened its newest hotel, Cabana Bay Beach Resort, complete with a performance by The Beach Boys.
According to Universal’s Web site, “ The brand-new hotel features a total of 1,800 moderate and value priced rooms that evoke the classic, retro-feel of iconic beach resorts from the 1950s and 60s.”
“Located on-site at Universal Orlando Resort, the new hotel is a destination within itself – featuring a stunning design with bold colors, retro-inspired architecture and sweeping vistas that transport guests back to a time of relaxation and endless family fun,” the company said.
“Copying things is a wonderful form of flattery,” said Jack Morey, vice president of Morey’s Piers, doo-wop enthusiast, and founding member of the Doo Wop Preservation League
Universal’s new addition, he said, “adds to the already overwhelming amount of confirmation that the mid-1950s and 1960s period was a really unique part of American culture.”
Motels like the Chateau Bleu in North Wildwood and the Caribbean in Wildwood Crest already appear on the state and national registers of historic places and the Moreys are hoping to add the Pan American to the list.
The motel, built in 1964, on Ocean Avenue is hard to miss with its spinning Pan Am globe on the roof. The owners have had a preliminary meeting with state officials and hope the motel will win the historic designation.
Such designations, he said, are not the island’s only attraction, but they add to its offerings.
“The folks who come (just for doo-wop motels) is a pretty narrow audience,” Morey said. “It’s the plurality of the collection. The boardwalk, the beaches and the motels.”
Dan MacElrevey, president of the Doo Wop Preservation league, said that collection continues to draw attention from travel writers and fans young and old.
The league operates of a museum on Ocean Avenue, home to everything from a pink refrigerator to neon signs of motels long gone, and offers tours at 8 p.m. each Tuesday and Thursday that wind through the Wildwoods collection of neon-lined motels.
The league has about 250 members and works to promote the style in terms of preservation and both the retro styling of new construction or renovations.
MacElrevey recalled hearing from a visitor from England recently who offered some explanation for doo-wop’s continued importance here.
“The 50s and 60s, to us, that’s America,” she told him.
George Miller, one of the owners of the Caribbean Motel, hopes more can be done to protect the doo-wop which remains here.
The motel, the place where Tim Maher and his family have stayed for about 30 years, is often featured in doo-wop articles in other countries.
“The Europeans have figured out why doo wop is important,” Miller said. “It’s the music and the culture. A time of automobiles and family vacations. The Jersey Shore, certainly for the East Coast, was the destination.”
In 2006, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Wildwoods' doo-wop motels to its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
Lindsey Maher recalled being “terrified” during the early 2000s as she watched some of those motels come down.
Her love of doo wop means that young Braxton’s bedroom is painted not just any green but “lime Ricky green,” the same color as the doors at the Caribbean.
“It’s neat,” she said. “(The doo-wop motels) are completely different from your run of the mill places.”
Tim’s wife, Carol Maher, 52, added that the motel has become a tradition, the place where her family and dozens of others stay each year.
Her daughter, Carol Maher said, will vacation in other places, but the Wildwoods are always in the mix.
“We do cruises. We do Disney. We do here,” she said.
Cheri, 59, and Steve, 63, Spangenberg, of Phoenix, Arizona, were staying in the motel room next to the Maher’s.
The two families have become friends, vacationing here year after year at the same time.
“It’s the staff and all the people we’ve met that bring us back. It’s our home away from home,” Cheri Spangenberg said.
She credited Miller and the motel’s other owner, Carolyn Emigh, with preserving the 1957 doo-wop favorite.
“They have been our saviors. They’ve got it protected,” she said. “The way it looks, the way it’s kept is doo-woppy.”
The term she coined, “doo-woppy,” to them means “the 1950s, the wild colors, the retro, the oldies music.”
Miller wants to see more done to promote the doo-wop motels as a heritage destination and Morey said local governments and residents have to protect what the island has.
Morey worries that as time goes on more will be lost.
“Many think preservation rules are onerous and ridiculous,” he said, “But Wildwood is losing its critical mass (of doo-wop motels) over time. It would certainly be a shame if we lost that.”
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