Who would have thought that the New Jersey shoreline was a bastion of Mid Century Modern architecture? Not us, we confess. But that’s exactly what photographer Tyler Haughey set out to illustrate—impressively, we might add—with his beautifully composed Ebb Tide series, featuring images of modest vintage structures that dot a five-mile-long barrier island along the southern New Jersey coastline. Known collectively as The Wildwoods. the area’s suite of three small shore towns, Haughey claims, holds “the largest concentration of postwar resort architecture in the United States,” a collection embodied by a series of motels, built in the 1950’s and 1960’s, that remain astonishingly intact today.
What’s most remarkable about Tyler Haughey’s photographs is how thoroughly Californian they look. Spare, color-inflected, and flat-roofed, these little jewels may as easily be mistaken for edifices built in Palm Springs or Venice Beach. And, as the photographer points out, this was less an accident than a means by which post-war east coasters could assuage wanderlust without straying too far from home. “These structures represent the way America’s middle class traveled and vacationed during the postwar era,” he says, a theory confirmed in the motels’ equally intact vintage signage, where “Malibu” and “Capri” charmingly occupy the same geographic terrain.
In his Ebb Tide series, Tyler Haughey has wisely chosen to photograph The Wildwoods during the off-season, when the summer bustle and crowds are inevitably replaced with an eerie desolation, an emptiness that only lends gravitas to a bygone era’s architectural legacy. For, as impressively as these Mid Century jewels have aged, the fact remains that encroaching new construction may eventually replace entirely what still remains—more than half of the once 300+ motels have already been demolished. Haughey, not surprisingly, wants as much to record these emblems before they’re gone as make a case for their continued protection. He’s succeeded on the first count; let’s hope he succeeds on the latter one, as well.