The quintissential doo-wop motel in the quintissential 1950s beach resort...

Postwar 1950’s America was an optimistic, confident, enthusiastic society and an economic colossus where people enjoyed increasingly greater wealth and leisure time. TV overtook radio as the most important cultural influence and began broadcasting ads for a device that would transform society: the automobile.

Families wanted to get in their cars and go! The Wildwoods accommodated them with a dynamic seaside boardwalk, amusement piers and nightclubs that became a proving ground for the period’s biggest music stars. The prosperity and vitality of the 1950’s provided the impetus for an exciting high-voltage visual style that transformed the Wildwoods’ architectural landscape. The island resort’s architecture built in this era reflected the spirit of the people: brash, bold and boastful, and the popular culture of the times. The dense building fabric presented a varied and exaggerated spectacle of designs, all competing for the passing motorists’ attention. Angular elements, space-age imagery, tropical themes and colors, with spectacular neon signage turning up the volume even more, combined to form a sensational display that can still be seen in the Wildwoods today.

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(photos courtesy Aladdin Color, circa 1950s/60s)

The Caribbean Motel was built in 1957 by Lou Morey (whose family built many of the Wildwoods’ original Doo Wop motels) for original owners Dominic and Julie Rossi.

Among the signature features of this ultra-modern motel was a curving “Jetson Ramp” that winded its way from ground level up to the second-floor sundeck & lounge in a most glamorous fashion! Then there was the crescent-shaped pool – one of the most unique in the area at the time, and still to this day!

The Caribbean is said to have been the first motel in The Wildwoods to use plastic palm trees to create an exotic atmosphere that made you feel as if you were far, far away from New Jersey! These kitschy oddities are now ubiquitous throughout the entire resort – and you can blame (or thank, depending on your point of view) the Caribbean for starting the trend!

The Caribbean’s famous oversized rooftop neon sign was designed by Harry Lanza of Allied Signs in Wildwood. When first proposed, no sign this large had ever been installed – or permitted – in Wildwood Crest! After much debate, local ordinances were changed to allow installation of the extra-large sign, setting the stage for other motels to follow suit with similarly over-the-top signs, gradually creating the neon-lit fantasyland the “strip” in Wildwood Crest would soon become, and still is today!

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Owners, George Miller & Carolyn Emigh

In the Fall of 2004, the Caribbean Motel was purchased by its new owners, George Miller and Carolyn Emigh, who saw the beauty and charm in this iconic masterpiece of 1950s “modern” architecture, and have sought to restore the motel to its original mid-century glory. Throughout the off-season, a meticulous effort has been made to preserve and refurbish the motel’s authentic architectural features while adding 21st-century amenities and services, transforming the motel into a modern-day celebration of mid-20th century leisure and lifestyle that will stand for generations to come!

Newly renovated rooms have been professionally designed by New York-based interior designer Darleen Lev, and are a re-interpretation of classic 1950s kitsch, combining vibrant colors and giddy optimism with a flare for the exotic. A mix of authentic and retro-reproduced Eames-era furnishings along with enchanting “Caribbean Deco” colors and shapes now define the motel’s interior spaces, from the lobby to the lounge to the new “Doo Wop” rooms.Here’s what Darleen had to say about her role in shaping the Caribbean Motel’s funky new interiors…

“My goal with The Caribbean was not only to restore it to an accurate representation of the aesthetics of the 1950’s, but also to create a fantasy that doesn’t end with the glowing crescent-shaped pool and multi-colored lights in the eaves. I wanted guests to feel they are experiencing the Caribbean inside the room, thus the fresh green carpet and the grass wall.

NYC-based designer Darleen Lev pictured in the Caribbean Motel's newly renovated Cabana Lounge
NYC-based designer Darleen Lev pictured in the Caribbean Motel’s newly renovated Cabana Lounge

One detail that stands out from my own trips to the Caribbean is the primitive beauty of the handpainted signs; the handmade palm trees on the grass walls above the beds are artwork with a decidedly human touch, rather than the usual bland, mass produced “painting” that blends in with the wallpaper. The palm trees also represent the Caribbean Motel’s distinction as being the first in Wildwood to import plastic palms. Stripes were big in the 50’s, and so was color. The drapes and bedding pick up the colored lights in the eaves, and contribute to the techinicolor fantasy. For me, when a technicolor movie ends, I feel a certain sadness that the world doesn’t look this way in real life. But while staying at The Caribbean Motel, I can live that fantasy, and isn’t that what a trip away from home is supposed to be about?”

Philadelphia-based architect Anthony Bracali has worked with the Caribbean Motel to help re-invent the property for the 21st century while maintaining the motel’s classic 1950s architectural design and character.

Architect/designer Anthony Bracali unveils the Caribbean’s new logo during the motel’s grand re-opening reception
Architect/designer Anthony Bracali unveils the Caribbean’s new logo during the motel’s grand re-opening reception

“The Caribbean motel is really one of a kind”, said Bracali, who has also designed the Caribbean’s new logo and identity scheme. “It assembles in one place all the elements that compose the WiMo (Wildwood Modern… aka “Doo Wop”) style: signature neon signage, a fantastic, futuristic lobby with elevated ramp and a distinctive central pool.

Our logo design work for the motel focuses on these architectural features, because they are the most tied to creating a brand for the building. Through the logos, the architecture and the image and experience of the building become one.”

Bracali has also helped to design and enhance some of the motel’s newly refurbished architectural features and outdoor spaces.

The Caribbean’s dedicated owners, George and Carolyn, continue to invest in property upgrades and renovations year after year, to ensure that the Caribbean is not only restored to its original architectural glory, but far exceeds the level of style, service and comfort the motel offered in the 1950s – and surpasses any other Doo Wop motel in The Wildwoods today!

For example, the motel’s plumbing system was completely refurbished in 2008, with all-new water pipes installed for optimal bathing and drinking quality! More improvements are in the works! Stay tuned!