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Demolitions by the Sea – change comes to Wildwood

Part of the Mid-Century Modern motel district in Wildwood.   

Part of the mid-century motel district in Wildwood, N.J.


By Mark C. Peyko

I’m a lifelong visitor to the Wildwoods. I was born in 1961 and first came to the Jersey Shore in diapers. There are four kids in my family, plus mom and dad.

I have an interest in architecture (in part due to the Wildwoods) and a master’s degree in historic preservation planning from Eastern Michigan University. My architectural interests range from classical, industrial and Arts and Crafts to regional folk, Mid-Century Modern and beyond. 

 I hadn’t been to Wildwood since 1991. I knew about the motel demolitions, but hadn’t seen what was lost first-hand. I visited on Labor Day in 2007 and stayed for about four days. At first, I saw many of the familiar motels. But as we drove and walked around, I began noticing what was lost. And it was more than just 50s and 60s motels. Some of the older hotels, rooming houses and apartments were gone, too. The streets west of the boardwalk used to have a soft glow from porch lights and the illuminated swimming pools. Some of the blocks were now entirely dark because they had unoccupied or vacant condos.  
The mortgage crisis will probably slow down the demolitions, but plans for super hotels – the 25ers – make me wonder about the direction the city is pursuing. Does Wildwood want an upper-tier hotel district? Is the next logical step a casino or two? And what will this glut of unsold condos mean for the motel district? Personally, I doubt the condos will hold their value. Will some become rentals during this tough patch in real estate? The irony might be a future condo ghetto: beat up and lacking anything redeeming other than their proximity to the beach. 
During my visit, I saw the marketing message in print and TV ads for Wildwood real estate. This isn’t a criticism as much as it is an observation, but the values expressed in the ads (gated community, etc.) seem to work against commerce on the boardwalk or mixing with everyday people on the beach. The marketing message, of course, indicated who the Realtors intend to attract. It also indicates the values of the target market and the aspirations of the buyer. Exclusion and filtration seemed to be the most consistent message. It was in print ads and on cable TV. It made me wonder how the owners of mid-century motels could effectively counter that message and lure customers.

 My 2007 trip to Wildwood rekindled my interest in Wildwood (and, now, its issues).