Wildwood Days Are Here Again

Wildwood's meticulously restored doo wop hotels and motels keep the place jumping.

The Starlux in Wildwood offers doo-wop ambience and Stay & Play deals.
Photo by Jeffrey Totaro.

Exactly 50 years ago this spring Philadelphia-born pop star Bobby Rydell flipped back his generous pompadour and cut loose with the hit single “Wildwood Days.” Visit the Wildwoods these days and it’s easy to flash back to that era—when this Shore community busted loose with rock ’n’ roll energy.

Nostalgia reigns in the Wildwoods and in the area’s meticulously restored doo wop hotels and motels—there are at least 50 of them—and many of the activities that keep the place jumping. May is a good time to visit—before the summer crowds and in-season prices bring you back to the 21st century.

Indeed, the Wildwoods will transport you. Sixteen years ago, a number of local leaders—including the Morey family, operators of the area’s three waterfront am­usement piers—founded the Doo Wop Preservation League, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring and maintaining the architecture and culture of the 1950s and ’60s. It worked. The Wildwoods have become a showcase for the deco curves, racy angles, playful signs and sparkling neon emblematic of those early rockin’ days down the Shore.

Back then, Wildwood was a center of summer music and entertainment. This is where Bill Haley first played “Rock Around the Clock”—considered by many to be the opening bell of the rock era—and Chubby Checker first danced the twist in public. The period lives on at the town’s neon-resplendent hotels and motels, and on the boardwalk, where the three amusement piers are decked out with doo-wop touches.

(The amusement parks are open 1 to 6 pm weekends from April through June, and weekdays starting June 10.) There’s also a Doo Wop Experience Museum displaying signs, furniture and ephemera from the postwar period.

The Wildwoods—comprising the towns of Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, North Wildwood and West Wildwood—escaped significant damage from Hurricane Sandy, so they are revved up and ready to receive guests this spring. May kicks off with the Spring Boardwalk Classic Car Show, a display of eye-popping autos, 8 am to 3 pm, May 10 to 12. The Morey’s Piers Mother’s Day Celebration also takes place on the 12th.

The action picks up on Friday, May 24, at noon with the annual Unlocking the Ocean Ceremony, a celebration of summer on the beach at the Wildwood Convention Center. Later that day, the Wildwoods International Kite Festival opens at 9 pm with an illuminated kite-fly under the stars. The festival concludes Monday, May 27, with the World Indoor Kite Competition at the Convention Center (732-822-4884, skyfestivals.com). All events are free.

One of the fanciful places to stay in Wildwood is the Starlux Hotel (609-522-7412; thestarlux.com). The Moreys renovated the four-story hotel 13 years ago, preserving its neon signage and other period features. But if you really want to do doo wop to the max, check into one of the two vintage Airstream trailers stationed across the street. Each has a kitchenette, double bed, fold-out couch, outdoor grill and a patio to mimic the camping parks of the postwar era. Preseason prices for the motel and trailer run between $79 and $213 per night.

Another retro gem is the Caribbean Motel (609-522-8292; caribbeanmotel.com), a 1957 Morey-family creation listed on the National Register of Historic Places. New owners bought the property in 2004 and have gradually been renovating; it has a fun, kitschy, tropical feel. Preseason prices for two range from $84 to $174 per night until Memorial Day weekend.

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