About the Session
Grassroots efforts can be a powerful tool in preserving the architectural history of a community. But is it always enough?
At the turn of the 21 st century, the future for Wildwood was looking rosy. With over 300 mid-century modern motels situated along a six-mile long barrier island near the southern tip of New Jersey, the Wildwoods were finally being recognized as the largest collection of Doo Wop motels in the country. In an effort to stand out from the competition, the owners of these motels had evolved a unique style that incorporated angular elements, space-age imagery, and tropical themes. The name was borrowed from the 1950s vocal style and owners used it in a bid to get families to choose their motel on streets lined with choices on both sides.
After almost thirty years of preservation by neglect caused by the loss of tourists to polluted beaches, an economic downturn, and years of bad press, the Wildwoods were finally experiencing a renaissance and resurgence of popularity. Wildwood’s collection of 1950s and 60s architecture had even attracted academic and media attention from many different sources including covers on national magazines.
With the large number of historic motels as a foundation, Wildwood staked its economic development on a Doo Wop flavor. Beginning in the summer of 2001, the Doo Wop Preservation League, a non-profit organization created to foster awareness and appreciation of the unique architecture of the Wildwoods, began working towards a National Register Historic District nomination for the island. Local support was garnered though community discussions and presentations to motel owners regarding the benefits of historic preservation. The town even put out a book of guidelines entitled “How to Doo Wop” in an effort to assist business and motel owners in redesigning their signage, structures, and even furnishings to fit into the theme of the town.
In short order the Wildwoods became a victim of their own success. With a large number of “Mom and Pop” motels, no chain stores, and its beachside location, the Wildwoods had a distinct “sense of place” and an authentic identity. Its unique character quickly attracted developers eager to cash-in on the island’s new-found popularity. Modern, innocuous condos, clad in vinyl siding, began popping up all over the island. At three to six stories high, many of these new condos were not to scale and dwarfed the motels they surrounded. With faux-Victorian features and contemporary designs, they didn’t fit in with the architectural style of the motels and, stylistically, they could be anywhere. Perhaps their biggest impact was the large number of motels lost to the wrecking ball to make room for new development. Between the years 2001 and 2006 almost 100 motels had been demolished. Unfortunately, this wholesale demolition has stalled the acceptance of the Wildwood Historic District Nomination as the boundaries have had to be repeatedly re-drawn as the number of contributing buildings was reduced.
Poised for preservation success, how did this grassroots movement fail?
About the Speaker
Stephanie M. Hoagland is a Principal and Architectural Conservator with Jablonski Building Conservation Inc. where she’s been employed since 2003. Ms. Hoagland has worked on a variety of conservation projects throughout the United States and Canada including finishes investigations, conditions assessments, and hands-on conservation treatments. Some of her favorite projects have involved the preservation of vernacular art and architecture including the preservation of Civil War graffiti at Historic Blenheim in Fairfax, VA and cemetery restoration projects across the country. She has a Master of Science in Historic Preservation from Columbia University with a concentration on materials conservation. She is a Fellow and past Chair of the Architectural Specialty Group for the American Institute for Conservation and is a Recognized Professional with the Association for Preservation Technology.
Stephanie was first introduced to the architecture of the Wildwoods when she interned for the Doo Wop Preservation League in the Summer of 2001. She then completed her graduate school thesis on the Conservation of 1950s and 60s Concrete Motels in the Wildwoods. After graduation she worked at ARCH 2 in Metuchen, New Jersey where she assisted in the completion the nomination forms for the Wildwood Shore Resort Historic District and the Motels of the Wildwoods Multiple Property Listing.
About Q&A with PNJ
Q&A with PNJ is a project of Preservation New Jersey that seeks to highlight voices across New Jersey’s historic preservation community and bring their knowledge and expertise on a wide variety of historic preservation topics to the public. This session will run approximately one hour and include time for Q&A from the Audience. –