Monday, May 13, 2013

Living with the past: classic cars in space-age Wildwood

The Oceanic Motel right by the boardwalk, across from the Convention Center. A friendly, no-frills base for going back in time.

The spring boardwalk classic-car show was a bit of a bust partly due to the weather. Also, someone at the Oceanic explained, there was a split in the local car club so the hotel association took over the spring show at the last minute. And before Memorial Day, Wildwood is still pretty dead.

That said, it was about time Wildwood and I found each other. Because besides the beach and the kiddie arcades, the place lives on ’50s nostalgia. Not just fake diners but real places including space-age motels and neon signs. They call it doo-wop architecture here.

In fact near the Oceanic is the Doo-Wop Museum, more about signs and furniture than music, from art deco from the ’40s to the space age trying to be ultramodern but with the older culture’s sensibility. Society hadn’t gone to hell and people were happy and hopeful. Guess that’s the magic. A sexy time.

The ’60s weren’t the Sixties. A friend remembers the Atlantic City boardwalk in the summer of ’65 when all the ’50s stuff was still there.

Anyway, off-season Wildwood, full of real places from the golden era, on a car-show weekend with the old cars simply on the road and parked around town, is a way to go back 50 years if you’re looking for it.

’60 Impala. That’s what I’m talking about.

Of course the museum has a map of all the ’50s and ’60s motels in the Wildwoods so I was all over that. Walked about half of it.

The Mass barn: St Ann’s Church, part of a parish merger, Notre Dame de la Mer. Interesting architecture, not what I expected. It’s old but designed more like a town hall, basketball stadium or Protestant church than one of ours. Like I said, a barn built for big summer congregations. They took the basilica form and turned it sideways. Instead of a chancel and apse at one end, the sanctuary’s along one of the long walls with the entrance at the other long one. So the church’s wider than it is long, with the columns and basilica arches going along with that. Most of the space is filled with galleries of pews, again anticipating summer Sunday crowds.

Going there is like taking a health check of the Roman Rite outside my semi-trad parish. First sign: the merger; the institution’s shrinking in this country because of the council and assimilation into our post-Protestant host culture, even in Italian New Jersey. Second sign: the friendly priest is from Uganda; no American vocations anymore. Third sign: Pope Benedict’s reformed text so no conscience problem even though I don’t like the new Mass. Fourth sign: even in Novus Ordo New Jersey, signs of Benedict’s high churchmanship: tabernacle back in the center, and organ prelude and Anglican hymn at the end. But it’s still Novus NJ: bad hymns, altar girls (the libs have been flogging women’s ordination for 40 years; not going to happen) and worst, the squad of Eucharistic ministers, including older people who should know better. We need 20-30 years of a younger Benedict to clean this up. Fifth: at the Our Father, from all the outstretched hands you can see that besides us trads, most Catholics who go to Mass are charismatics, a movement once strong, in the ’70s and ’80s, often presented in the parishes as the only alternative to Modernism. I’ve known Korean War vets who ended up charismatic. Lots of charismatics in this non-trad place.

Breakfast on the boardwalk after Mass was at the Olympic Flame. Not retro; old. The fakers can keep the cutesies (Elvis, Marilyn and 45s all over the walls, etc.) and the overpriced modern food; I’ll take the real thing in a 50-year-old booth with bare white walls, good, unpretentious food, something more like 1963 prices, yes, the old music playing, and wishing the Greeks a happy Easter season: Χριστός Ανέστη. Christ is risen.


  1. Everything we did this weekend was so wonderful, from staying at the cheap yet interesting hotel I found for us. The car show wasn't a total bust they had plenty to see minus the lousy rain on and off. And everything was within walking distance from the boardwalk to the little memorabilia 50's and 60's shop. It had everything in there form the vintage tables and chairs an the mini kitchen. The had oldies jukebox, photos of all the singers and groups. The had vintage side tables and bicycles and phones. Then outside in the town of wildwood it has all the oldies motels the tons of them too many to name. Sundays weather was so great warm with cool breeze, so we walked some more on the boardwalk had nice big breakfast at this Greek place we both got a special combo 2 big pancakes 2big sausages and scrambled eggs it was yummy and filling. I played a few arcade games on the boardwalk we did the water gun thing I one stuff animal duck and a turtle. Saw an old fashion arcade place inside this little stripe mall. It was such and awesome weekend being with john that he even said I come back here again. We just might enjoy all this here he posted his blogger buddies.

  2. Love the Greek diners in the tristate area. Up in Massachusetts the Greeks are mostly responsible for our great local roast beef sandwich/seafood joints. You can't get more eastern Massachusetts than heaping roast beef sandwiches, haddock-and-chowder, or fried clams. A lot of our old diners are Italian---frittata on the menu, and toast comes in white, wheat, rye, or scali (scali for me!). If you're up in these parts, John, you should try out the treasure trove of diners, some of which are original to the 1920s. One menu tip: a "milkshake" in Massachusetts is made with milk. What we call a "frappe" is what everybody else calls a "milkshake"---with ice cream!

    I must say, these posts of your and Dahna's travels make me want to check out the Philly-NJ area's contribution to the old ethnic Northeast culture.

  3. First of all, let me say that the term "doo-wop architecture" is pure genius. My husband would love this place.

    Now, one comment on one of your comments:

    "Going there is like taking a health check of the Roman Rite outside my semi-trad parish. First sign: the merger; the institution’s shrinking in this country because of the council and assimilation into our post-Protestant host culture, even in Italian New Jersey."

    You live in the wrong part of the country, bro. LOL.

    I agree re the Northeast...we re-visited our old stomping grounds last summer (Massachusetts, where I'm from; Vermont, where we lived before we moved down here to North Carolina 24 years ago). All the merged parishes surprised and depressed us.'s a whole different scene here in the Southland. The Diocese of Charlotte is booming; we cannot build new churches fast enough.

    As I noted over at Opus Publicum, the American Catholic Church isn't moribund. It is just moving South. :)

    1. I saw that; thanks. I've been to NC; greater Raleigh, over 10 years ago. My only experience of the local Catholics was SS. Cyril and Methodius Church (Ruthenian) in Cary, a dynamo of a conservative/semi-trad magnet (former SSPX parishioners went there) run by a Rome-trained young priest who was liturgically Orthodox.

    2. My parish just had two others merged into it; the church of one of the suppressed parishes is still open once a week for Mass.

    3. I have never been to Ss. Cyril and Methodius but have heard so much about it. A friend and I almost went to their Saint Nicholas Fair this past December, but it was going to be an all-day round trip, so we bagged it. Maybe one of these days.

      When we were back up North last summer, we attended several "merged parishes." They had the funniest names -- like "Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Rose of Lima Parish," that kind of thing. Some were a lot more incongruous than that; I wish I could remember them.

      I don't think there is anything like that down here.

    4. I'm so glad we got to keep our original name, Our Lady of Lourdes. At least Wildwood's merged parish got a pretty French name and its two old churches kept their names too, St Ann's and Assumption.

  4. @Childermass: Ah, someone who knows the difference between a milkshake and a frappe, LOL!

    And, of course, you know what tonic is, right? (I'm not talking about hair tonic, of course.)

    I am Boston born and bred but now living in sunny Carolina. I must confess I have zero desire to move back up to the frozen North, but I do have fond memories.

    1. I've stayed in Maine but have never been to Boston. My impression is it's a Catholic ethnic mix like Philly and Jersey (of course lots of Irish - the Kennedys - and Italians) but with a different accent ('hawf'-English: 'pahk the cah'; old Mainers sound similar) and preppier ('Hahvuhd'); the old rich WASP element is stronger there than here (because of course Massachusetts was Puritan).

    2. My good friend Bill Tighe has a Massachusetts accent.

    3. Yes, our accent is different from the rest of the planet's, and it's really hard to shake it. I still say "cahn't" and "pahst," along with "y'all." ;)

      I grew up in Very Ethnic Boston, so I have limited exposure to the preppy and Boston Brahmin sides. Except through several of my past jobs, e.g., at Fidelity Investments and at Little, Brown & Co.

      I'm half Irish and half Italian, which is the classic Boston combo. I have a t-shirt that reads: "WARNING: Irish Temper, Italian Attitude." I bought it at the Celtic Festival here in Winston-Salem. LOL.

    4. I think it's the classic NJ combo too.


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