Philly Prof’s New Book Treats Wildwood Motels Like the Works of Art They Are

The Blue Marlin Motel in Wildwood Crest -- blue beach chairs and blue walls

The Blue Marlin Motel, at Toledo and Atlantic avenues in Wildwood Crest | Photo courtesy of Mark Havens

It all started with the Garden State Parkway.

The roadway’s construction — complemented by the postwar boom period — led to the birth of the Wildwoods. The several cities that make up the five-mile island had been around since the late 1800s and early 1900s, but it wasn’t until carloads of middle-class Philadelphians trekked down the shore that the Wildwoods became the place we think of today.

And the simple L- or U-shaped motels built around that time are more than just places to sleep. “For a clientele whose out-of-reach dream vacation was Polynesia, the Caribbean or even the exotic Far East, Wildwood willingly stood in as a surrogate,” architecture critic Joseph Giovannini writes. “Blue-collar workers from as close as Philadelphia or as far away as Montreal could still enjoy a week of vacation on the sand in an environment that evoked distant lands.”

Giovannini writes that in an introdutory essay in a new book by Philadelphia University industrial design professor Mark Havens. His Out of Season: The Vanishing Architecture of the Wildwoods chronicles 10 years of Havens’ fine art photography of the famous Wildwood motel. While much Wildwood architecture hagiography focuses on kitsch, Havens’ book goes a bit deeper: The beauty of the chair placement at the Blue Marlin Motel, the wonderful doors at the Ocean Sands Motel, the hilarity of the neon sign and pirate combo at the Jolly Roger.

“These motels were very simple, built mostly from cinder block, stucco, iron railings and a few coats of paint,” New School professor Jamer Hunt writes in the book’s other essay. “Few mistook them for anything more than what they were—economical. But through the inventive and highly formalist use of decorative elements, owners, contractors, and architects were able to elevate these buildings beyond the utilitarian. They created a genuine, expressive middle-class vacation aesthetic that transcends the more saccharine pleasures of the big-budget signs and exotic names.”

I talked with Havens about his book. This conversation has been lightly edited for style and length. Read more »

Wildwood Boardwalk Shirts Update: Pokémon, Trump and Harambe

Pokemon Go, American Flag 'If this flag offends you, I'll help you pack' shirts

A store on the Wildwood boardwalk advertises Pokemon Go and American flag t-shirts | Photo: Dan McQuade

I was in Los Angeles last month, and I was on the lookout for t-shirts.

Not all over L.A., but during my visit to Santee Alley. Immediately after arriving there, I knew this would be a fertile ground for boardwalk-style t-shirts.

I was right! But Santee Alley was different than the Donald Trump-a-thon going on in Wildwood: The t-shirts on Santee Alley were mostly anti-Trump, including one that said: “Relax, Trump. I just look illegal.”

It is now August. It has been two months since my last boardwalk t-shirt column. When I went down to Wildwood this weekend, I knew it was time to research a boardwalk t-shirt update. Read more »

Donald Trump T-Shirts Have Taken Over the Wildwood Boardwalk


Welcome to the fifth annual edition of the Wildwood Boardwalk T-Shirt Guide!

Not a lot has changed on the boards since I did my first one of these in 2012. I probably wouldn’t have believed you four years ago if you told me that I’d still be doing this in 2016. I definitely wouldn’t have believed you if you told me Donald Trump would be the hottest item on boardwalk shirts this year.

But it’s true. I spoke with five different shop owners during a trip to the Wildwood boardwalk this week. None of them wanted to be identified — perhaps because of the massive copyright infringement the Wildwood boardwalk t-shirt business thrives on, or maybe they were just shy — but they all agreed: They expect to sell a ton of Donald Trump merchandise this summer.

[ Previous Wildwood boardwalk t-shirt columns: 2012 | 2013 (’13 Update) | 2014 | 2015 (’15 Update) ]

But if the hottest shirts on the Wildwood boardwalk this summer are ones supporting Donald Trump, the number two item might be shirts opposing him.

Wildwood boardwalk t-shirts - Trump

(Yes, that’s a “We Shall Overcomb” pun on a shirt that has turned Donald Trump’s hair into a bald eagle.) Read more »

Wildwood’s Beaches Named Top 10 for Families

Wildwood beach

Photo | Dan McQuade

It is a long walk to the ocean in the Wildwoods. At the beach’s most expansive points, expect to walk about 10 minutes from the boardwalk to the Atlantic Ocean. On hot days it seems even longer. It can be a pretty tough trek when you’re carrying loads of beach gear.

But the Wildwood beaches are also pretty nice: Their size means there’s never a problem finding a spot to soak in the sun, a place to play beach games or a deserted area to dig a giant hole in the sand. They’re clean. And they stretch for five miles along North Wildwood, Wildwood and Wildwood Crest; there’s actually a lot of variety in the beach in different places. Also, it’s free.

Wildwood’s beaches do have detractors, however. An Asbury Park Press reader survey voted them the third worst. But those are North Jersey haters. A recent ranking by Family Vacation Critic put the Wildwoods in the top-10 best beaches for families in the country. Read more »

2 Brothers Admit Peddling Bootleg Jerseys on Wildwood Boardwalk

Bootleg jerseys - Wildwood - counterfeit jerseys - U.S. Department of Justice photo

The game on the Wildwood boardwalk where the Strothers brothers gave away counterfeit basketball jerseys as prizes. (Photo: U.S. Department of Justice)

As an expert in Wildwood boardwalk T-shirts, it’s time to let you readers in on a little secret: Not all of the shirts are officially licensed products. Logos are used without permission, store owners swipe T-shirt ideas from one another and — maybe because infringers can escape into the sea — the boardwalk is generally a copyright lawlessness zone.

But not always. In the past two weeks, two South Jersey brothers have pleaded guilty to purchasing at least 16,700 counterfeit basketball and football jerseys and giving them away as prizes at three outposts on the boardwalk in Wildwood and North Wildwood. To which I say: It’s actually possible to win those prizes on the Wildwood boardwalk’s basketball games?! Read more »

“I’m Not Gay” T-Shirt Makes Our Roundup of Surprising Wildwood Finds

Philly Mag‘s own Dan McQuade writes an annual column about some of the most repetitive (and, let’s just admit it, most lame) t-shirts that seem to litter souvenir stands along the Wildwood Boardwalk, but something tells me you’d find these goods at just about any Jersey beach (Atlantic City, anyone?).

Nevertheless, in this year’s list, McQuade found a shirt mixed in amongst the mountains of Minons that’s quite surprising, given that it is 2015:


Yup, there with Frozen and Deez Nuts Got Em is a tank that says “I’m Not Gay But $20 is $20.” I’ve seen the shirt before, normally worn by gay dudes, but here it is being pimped along the boardwalk’s family friendly designs.

“Hey, everyone’s gotta make a living,” McQuade wrote about the tank. Now we know what’s going on behind those lifeguard stands. Am I right?

Minions Have Taken Over the Wildwood Boardwalk

Every kind of minion imaginable is on the Wildwood boardwalk. Even naked minions.

Every kind of minion imaginable is on the Wildwood boardwalk. Even naked minions.

When you’re the guy who writes an annual column about t-shirts on the Wildwood boardwalk, your friends send you a lot of texts about the latest t-shirt trends when they go down the shore. (I get a lot of weird texts from my friends.)

The past month, I’ve been getting the same texts from friends: Minions. There are minions all over the boardwalk.

I recently went down to Wildwood to investigate, and my friends’ texts were right: Every type of minion imaginable is on the Wildwood boardwalk. Regular minions. Minions with pithy inspirational sayings next to them. Ninja Turtle minions. Batman minions. Heath Ledger Joker minions. Superman minions. Spider-man minions. Even Green Lantern minions. Who likes Green Lantern? And, yes, there are naked minions.

Earlier this summer, I wrote about how minions are making Comcast millions. (The company owns Universal.) The spin-off movie in the Despicable Me franchise, Minions, has made more than $962 million worldwide since its release on July 10th. That’s almost a billion dollars in a little over a month! No wonder minions are all over the boardwalk. Too bad for t-shirt vendors another Universal/Comcast hit, Jurassic Park, isn’t so easily meme-able.

Let’s check out a few more late bloomers on the boardwalk this summer. Read more »

Ferris Wheels And Fine China: Breakfast At Morey’s Piers

Morey's Piers Breakfast In The Sky

Look at their smiles and see the true happiness that comes from eating breakfast in the sky above the ocean.

Because when you think Morey’s Pier, you think fine dining, right?


Well, maybe you should. Kinda. Because the newest location for fine dining at the shore is the ferris wheel at Morey’s Piers in Wildwoods, NJ. With white linens, fine china, ocean views and menu items like Belgian waffles, shrimp and lobster omelets, quiche and steak and eggs, this is just about as fancy as ferris wheels get.

I present to you the Morey’s Piers Breakfast In The Sky program.  Starting Saturday, July 25th, guests can dine “wheel-side” on the park’s 156 foot Giant Wheel (0ne of the largest on the East Coast).

Read more »

There Are Still Confederate Flag Shirts for Sale in Wildwood

Confederate Flags in Wildwood

Confederate flags for sale on the boardwalk in Wildwood (Photo: Dan McQuade)

For four years now, I’ve been chronicling Wildwood boardwalk t-shirts in a silly column on this website. Last year, I wrote about a constant presence on the Wildwood boardwalk for as long as I can remember: Confederate battle flag t-shirts.

This is particularly odd, since New Jersey was a Union state (it was the last state in the north to abolish slavery). White people wearing the Confederate battle flag can’t go with a lame “southern pride” defense when they’re in New Jersey. I checked out a sampling of 15 t-shirt stores while in Wildwood this weekend; I was able to find Confederate flag merchandise in 13 of them. Read more »

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