key to the Wildwoods' continuing development and success is a flexible conservation
and development strategy that celebrates the Wildwoods' vivid '50s imagery, rich
palette of color, decoration, lights, plastic and glitz, while not freeze-drying
the past. To paraphrase "The Graduate", "the future is in plastics
- palm trees." -
Steve Izenour 1940 - 2001
from the Wildwoods...
a virtue of the Wildwoods' funky '50s image in the same way that Cape May uses
its Victorian image..."
What is Popular Culture?
The Evolution of a Tourist Attraction
Change and Permanence in the
Wildwoods' Continuing Evolution
The Wildwoods' Motels: "Viva the
Some Preliminary Thoughts on
Guidelines for the Wildwoods' Future Development
In what ways are the Wildwoods a creation and an expression
of popular taste? Popular culture, as we know it, is a product of the 20th century
and is made possible by the growth of a middle class and a working class with
enough income and leisure to indulge their personal pursuit of the "good
life". Popular culture is driven by a vast reservoir of consumers trying
to satisfy their demand for leisure and culture. These consumers are searching
for something new (not like at home or at work), something they can afford, and
something which they can relate to or understand. The Wildwoods dispense all of
the above to its visitors irrespective of their class or social status - the ocean
and the beach for health and relaxation, the boardwalk for recreation, the piers
for pleasure and fantasy.
Evolution of a Tourist Attraction
Almost all resorts start with a natural
attraction like the ocean, the mountains, or a lake, but more often than not this
initial attraction is not sufficient to bring the tourists back year after year,
so we see the development of man-made attractions like the boardwalk, rides and
amusements. When these attractions are massed together, as along the boardwalk
or on a pier, all the people using them become an attraction in themselves. Competition
to attract tourists back, year after year, is fierce. Attractions often require
frequent and systematic change in order to remain competitive with each other
and other resort areas from Great Adventure to Disneyworld.
its constant need to change, most resort architecture is transitory and eclectic;
i.e., next year's ride, snack shop, t-shirt are built and/or sold next to or in
place of last year's version of the same. A second characteristic of resorts is
that the symbolism and representation used in their architecture and signs are
not necessarily place specific - many shore amusements and names are borrowed
from high profile resorts like Miami Beach and Las Vegas and exotic locales like
the South Pacific; thus names like the Tahiti, The Palm Beach Motel, and plastic
palm trees by the truckload became the Wildwoods' standard.
and Permanence in the Wildwoods' Continuing Evolution
some of the underlying principles of the evolution of resorts and resort architecture
and symbolism, it is interesting to consider possible strategies for the Wildwoods'
continuing evolution as it passes the millennium. The Wildwoods now have the opportunity
to promote a primary national attraction - one of the best beaches on the East
Coast, and manmade attractions - the boardwalk, the piers and a wonderful collection
of '50s motels, which while they are currently a support facility, have the potential
to come to the fore as an attraction in their own right.
In the last 20
years, there are two "success" stories along the Jersey Shore. On the
one hand, you have Atlantic City, which fueled an economic turnaround with gambling.
But since gambling is the ultimate inward directed activity (no windows and no
connection to the outside world), the actual boardwalk and city have lost most
of their charm and visual pizzazz as a traditional seaside resort. The other paradigm
is Cape May, where by shrewd marketing they have been able to make a virtue and
attraction out of their Victorian past. It is our assumption that the appropriate
model for the Wildwoods lies closer to Cape May than Atlantic City, ergo we don't
want to destroy the Wildwoods in order to save them.
Wildwoods have a collection of '50s era motels which are as extraordinary in their
own way as Cape May's "painted ladies." Also, we should not forget the
Wildwoods have the last really great, honky tonk boardwalk on the shore. The goal
is to develop these major assets, the boardwalk and the piers, and the motels
in a way that allows for moderate growth, but responds to changing times and tastes
while preserving and cultivating what works from the Wildwoods' rich seashore
traditions of bright lights, great rides and flamboyant motels.
Wildwoods' Motels: "Viva the Fifties"
The Wildwoods' motels
sprang up like weeds in the '50s as a result of the auto vacation boom. After
World War II, all that pent-up demand for homes, cars and vacations had to go
someplace and where it went was to the suburbs, Detroit and the shore. These pragmatic
two to three story buildings were the most efficient way to get a family into
a room, their car parked right outside, on a city block, with a pool and a lounge
deck. Since all these buildings were based on the same basic prototype, differentiation
of the product was achieved by the use of flamboyant decoration in railings, signs,
porte-cocheres, plastic palms and exotic names borrowed from far away resorts:
the Caribbean, the Palm Beach, the Tropicana, etc...
Since these motels
were primarily built and are still owned by individual entrepreneurs, they have
always been very individual in their expression, much like Atlantic City's architecture
before gambling and the recent renaissance of Miami's South Beach where the smaller
deco hotels have been restored to great effect. This fact is key to the Wildwoods'
image since while a "motel is a motel is a motel," a standardized, national
chain image (while appropriate for the convention trade) would destroy the Wildwoods'
wonderfully idiosyncratic imagery and make the Wildwoods look too much like home
rather than a resort away from home.
Preliminary Thoughts on Guidelines for the Wildwoods' Future Development
Wildwoods already have a strong image in the Delaware Valley for their traditional
summer residents and visitors. Like Disney and Cape May, the Wildwoods' heritage
can appeal to both the sophisticated user who appreciates an "American Original",
as well as less sophisticated users, meaning kids and families will love it. To
expand this market, there is a need to both expand the Wildwoods' regional Delaware
Valley market into a larger East Coast and national market and to extend the season
into the spring and fall. Some possible strategies to accomplish these goals are:
Events scheduled for the convention facilities off-peak should facilitate the
development of a spring and fall season, which will in turn require motel and
hotel facilities to serve it, i.e., meeting rooms and a potential for a year round
- Make a virtue of the Wildwoods' funky '50s image in the
same way that Cape May uses its Victorian image, as an effective marketing tool
to attract on the one hand, a middle-aged clientele that actually remembers the
'50s, and a younger audience to whom the '50s has a romantic image learned at
the movies and on TV, of cars, clothes and early rock & roll.
for Wildwood's Tropicana Motel include a Doo Wop style cocktail bar with an oversized,
olive-topped toothpick protruding from its roof...
Create a resort development zone, which includes the boardwalk, piers, motel and
commercial areas. This zone should have ample parking, public transportation and
"design guidelines" that foster the conservation of the '50s imagery,
while at the same time encouraging bright lights, sign minimums rather than maximums,
and idiosyncratic resort imagery. In other words, turning the visual volume up
on what is already there, while not overplanning or regulating what is a vital
and hoc resort environment.
composite rendering of Wildwood's 1950s-era commercial landscape.
Keep the scale of development relatively small, so as to preserve the rich mix
of activities, visual competition and excitement. Smaller scale development fits
the reality of what smaller individual owners can actually accomplish.
conclusion, the key to the Wildwoods' continuing development and success is a
flexible conservation and development strategy that celebrates the Wildwoods'
vivid '50s imagery, rich palette of color, decoration, lights, plastic and glitz,
while not freeze-drying the past. To paraphrase "The Graduate", "the
future is in plastics - palm trees."
University of Pennsylvania