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Architecture in Atlantic City, Wildwood, Cape May, New Jersey Shore

Things to do / Travel Guide

From the glitzy architecture of Atlantic City's boardwalk and casinos to the ornate homes, bungalows and bed and breakfast establishments (B&Bs) of historic Cape May, the Jersey Shore blends the best of the oldest and newest architectural trends. Lighthouses loom large on the Jersey Shore horizons and the Wildwood Doo Wop Historical Motel District will make you wanna croon.

Lighthouse Architecture on the Jersey Shore

Looking for a little illumination from above? Almost a dozen of the Jersey Shore's lighthouses are open to the public and are wonderful examples of the region's maritime architecture. There are several beautiful and well-maintained lighthouses that come particularly recommended:

Built in 1764 by designer Isaac Conro, a New York stone mason, the octagonal rubble stone Fort Hancock/Sandy Hook Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse in the United States. Whereas the lighthouse once stood 500 feet from the point of Sandy Hook, several centuries of sand buildup on the peninsula pushed the lighthouse back one mile from the ocean.

The Twin Lights Lighthouse of Navesink, in Highlands, was the first twin lighthouse ever built. The original 1828 structure used the first Fresnel lens in the U.S. and was the first seacoast light in the U.S. to use electricity. The current structure, rebuilt in 1862 by architect Joseph Lederle, is made from brownstone quarried in the town of Belleville, New Jersey. The twin lights are fraternal twins, not identical - Lederle decided (for reasons that remain unclear) on a square South Tower and an octagonal North Tower. The North Tower is open to visitors.

“Old Barney,” the Barnegat Light, majestically presides over the entrance to Barnegat Inlet, and is a conical structure built from brick and iron. The current Barnegat Light was built in 1859 with the design of Lieutenant W. S. Reynolds, under the supervision of General George Meade.
On a clear day, you can climb more than 217 steps for breathtaking views of Barnegat Bay and Island Beach State Park.

There is a reason why the 1857 brick Absecon Lighthouse, near Atlantic City's boardwalk, bears a striking resemblance to Barnegat Light - General George Meade also helped design Absecon. The tallest in New Jersey, a climb up the 228 steps of 171-foot Absecon's slender cylindrical tower affords beautiful views of the Jersey Shore region.

Standing like a white beacon at the tip of the Cape May Peninsula, Cape May Lighthouse is a beautifully-restored 1859 brick structure, and is one of the oldest continually-operating lights in the U.S. The Cape May Lighthouse follows the design of Barnegat Light and Absecon Lighthouse, which were overseen by General George Meade, but Cape May was constructed under the direction of Captain Willam F. Reynolds, followed by Captain W. B. Franklin and Major Hartman Bache.

North Jersey Shore Architectural Highlights

The architecture in north Jersey Shore is an eclectic mix of colonial, Victorian, and seaside constructions. Take a drive along Ocean Avenue in Deal for a view of sprawling, contemporary, colonial-style seashore and Victorian multi-million-dollar mansions. Asbury Park's primary architectural attraction is the 1930 Beaux Arts Convention Hall on the city's Boardwalk. Designed by the architects of New York City's Grand Central Station, Warren and Wetmore, the Convention Hall once hosted big band greats Glenn Miller and Harry James, and continues to host live performances and shows today.

Architecture in Ocean Grove

Ocean Grove's Great Auditorium is a focal point of the town's Methodist Camp Meeting history. Before the huge Victorian building was finished in 1894 Methodist pilgrims stayed in tents to hear their religious leaders' sermons. Since its construction (paid for by donations from Methodists), Billy Graham, Richard Nixon, William Jennings Bryan, Will Rogers, and countless other noteworthy figures either lectured, performed, preached, or visited the Great Auditorium.

Ocean Grove is also home to a large collection of Victorian summer homes, as well as examples of Queen Anne, Stick, Eastlake, Gothic Revival, and Empire Revival architectural styles. You can go on a self-guided walking tour of the town by picking up a brochure at the Tourist Center on Main Avenue.

Atlantic City Architecture

Impressive and flashy high-rise hotels and casinos line Atlantic City's boardwalk. But Trump's Taj Mahal Tower still dominates the area with its lavish, gold-painted cupolas. Designed in 1990 by Francis Xavier Dumont, Taj Mahal Tower combines a modern skyscraper structure with magnificently ornate, Indian architecture. Borgata Hotel and Casino is one of Atlantic City's most recent constructions. Completed in 2003 the $1.1 billion Borgata is the tallest building in New Jersey (outside of Jersey City) and its gold-tinted glass and unique shape awes with its architectural creativity. Don't miss the restored, Art Deco Convention Hall (now commonly referred to as Boardwalk Hall), built in 1929; it is the site of the world's largest pipe organ and boasts some of Atlantic City's biggest-name events and hosts concerts by artists like the Rolling Stones, Faith Hill, Fleetwood Mac, Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, Jon Bon Jovi, and others.

Cape May Architecture

As the oldest seashore resort in the United States, Cape May boasts one of the largest collections of authentic Victorian homes and B&Bs in the nation. More than 600 beautifully-maintained 19th century Italianate, Gothic, and Mansard-style wooden-framed and sheathed structures were designed by talented and well-known architects such as Samuel Sloan, Frank Furness, and Stepehn Dacatur Button. In the early 20th century, Cape May's architecture reflected Dutch Colonial, Renaissance Revival, and Spanish Colonial styles, as well as Arts and Crafts movement bungalows. Today, people pour into Cape May for tours and discussions about the town's unique architecture; on your visit head to Hughes Street, Columbia Avenue, Washington Street, and Jackson Street.

Emlen Physick Estate, designed in 1878 by Frank Furness, is a unique example of Stick style architecture. The mansion's exterior features boxy projections, decorative trusswork, and asymmetrical rooflines. Emlen Physick's interiors are also impressive with a square staircase, geometric mantelpiece, and many Furness-designed furnishings.

Also in Cape May, a grand Italianate villa designed by Samuel Sloan, the George Allen House (Southern Mansion), was commissioned in 1863 as vacation home. Allen paid $10,000 for this magnificent mansion with a cupola, mahogany staircase, and spectacular sea views.

Other Jersey Shore Architectural Highlights

Chubby Checker first introduced “the twist” dance craze in a Wildwood club. But that's not Wildwood's only tie to the 50s and 60s potent pop culture: In Wildwood you'll find the Doo Wop Historic Motel District - one of the nation's most impressive collections of Populuxe or Doo Wop, mid-century motels. In a 40-block area of Wildwood you will encounter more than 200 whimsical and outlandish motel designs featuring elaborate balcony railings, garish signs, and unusually-shaped lounges. Typical characteristics of the Doo-Wop architectural style include incorporated modern, sweeping angles and boomerang shapes, bright colors, neon starbursts, and plastic palm trees.