(A very early post card from the original Satellite Motel)
Origins of what's become known as Mid Century Modern design began in 1930's Europe. The form developed into its own over time, with Americanization of it really taking off in the post World War II era. Many of the US's early post-war homes in the style were commissioned by and built for the well heeled, quite often in the deserts of southern California. Just before the start of the 1950's, developer Joseph Eichler began producing many "Eichler Homes" within California, peaking in their growth around the late fifties/early sixties. Most of these homes were constructed in the San Francisco Bay area, though some were built in the southern part of the state. The growth of these Eichlers notably helped to put Mid-Century Modern styled homes in the grasp of many people in the area. Their success, along with other factors in the Mid-Century Modern design movement itself, led to more homes following nationwide in the form.
Mid-Century Modern also influenced the style of various types of non-residential architecture, as well as consumer goods. Even if someone couldn't own one of those new styled houses, that same person could at least have some of the modern experience with owning an item in the style, or in spending some of their valuable leisure time in one of these places. The two-week vacation was an important - and expected - part of many people's lives in the United States at the time. Why not give a taste of this experience to many vacationers as well, by providing guests a place away from home that was possibly quite different - and more interesting - than their actual residence, with a whiff of those luxurious, modern California homes?
By 1957, happening with all this was the "Space Race" which - like the Mid Century Modern movement - also had beginnings that took place in an earlier period. The results that could transpire from space exploration were seen by many in the USA and USSR as important to attaining international supremacy for their respective countries in the world, and therefore also optimism for the future. While Cold War relations were quite often just that from 1947 onward for many years, in 1957 a science project of sorts between multiple nations began called the International Geophysical Year. It started in July of that year but actually lasted a total of 18 months, concluding at the end of 1958. The countries involved in "IGY", as it was sometimes referred to (and immortalized in song by Donald Fagen on his 1982 album "The Nightfly"), shared in the progression of various science-related endeavors for the project. Assisting with some of these undertakings were artificial satellites that were put into orbit at the time. The USSR ended up with the first successful launch of one of these, with Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957. The USA followed up with their first effective satellite propulsion on February 1, 1958, with Explorer 1. All these factors during this period helped create a cultural melding that provided influence on and is reflected in the May 1958 opening of the Satellite Motel.
(The original Satellite's listing in the 1961 Greater Wildwood Hotel and Motel Association Accommodations Directory)
At the time the Satellite Motel first opened, it's location was beachfront, even though the motel actually faced away from the beach. To most current sensibilities that seems quite odd, but at the time it was good business. Given the "motor hotel" origins of the term "motel", such places needed to attract people driving past it on the road. A large percentage of the motels in The Wildwoods - particularly in the Crest - were the original buildings ever constructed on the land they sat on, with the Satellite being no exception. During this period when motels began to spring up in this area, some of the roads we know of in their current form didn't even exist. In a 1956 aerial photograph (from historicaerials.com) of the 5909 Atlantic Avenue property and its surroundings, Atlantic Avenue runs in front of where the Satellite would eventually go (with its pointed roof neighbor - Schumann's Restaurant - already in place, facing Atlantic Avenue). However, what's not there directly across eastward is Ocean Avenue, which ended two blocks north of the property at Heather Road (coinciding with the location of the Crest Fishing Pier). Aster Road - the cross street of the property - had its easternmost point at that intersection with Atlantic Avenue. Surrounding the area east of this point were native plants and a relatively narrow area continuing the lines of Aster Road to walk between these natural surroundings to the ocean. Given the almost certain desire for making a big impression to drivers passing by - which the Satellite most certainly ended up doing - it made sense to design the building to have such great curb appeal, and in that period the curb meant facing Atlantic Avenue, which by the nature of its location also meant having its front facade oriented west.
(The aforementioned aerial image of the original Satellite's property as it looked in 1956. It's future home has been outlined in turquoise)
The Satellite was made up of two distinct sections that were connected together as one building. However, from the Atlantic Avenue street-front, its design gave a sense of the lobby section existing as its own building. An incredible bi-level structure, with an overall look reminiscent of California Modern homes, the Satellite's lobby used ample amounts of glass and wood, with off-white flagcrete and smooth masonry to flesh out the rest. The north side of the lobby was two stories, while the south side existed on the second level only, flowing further south from the top portion of its northern side.
The ground level view into and out of the lobby was divided into multiple segments - each framed with dark stained wood - consisting of five fixed panes of vertically oriented rectangular glass, with a metal and full-length glass entrance/exit door with diagonal metal hand bars located at the corner, including a small horizontal window above the door. A wooden beam sat above these, completing their framing and placed in line where the second level of the building began. There was no such division inside however, as this main section of the lobby opened all the way up to the roof, which acted as its ceiling. Above this beam at the fore was much more glass, made up of diamond pattern windows all surrounded with more dark wood. The effect of the fascia melded both levels into one, blurred the line between outside and in, and gave the look of both multiple windows and at the same time a large glass wall artfully framed and intertwined with lots of wood. Quite a trick.
Off-white flagcrete bordered the bottom of each level, trimmed the vertical wall in the middle (including its face that served to enclose that end of the first floor), and wrapped around to the east side of the building, all helping to give form to and outline the overall building lines. Along the ground level out front, more of this was trim clad an extension used for a planter, below the vertical windows.
Perhaps the most dramatic and defining design feature of the lobby's exterior was its roof. It had its high point near (though slightly back from) the middle of the lobby's north side, with a pretty sharp pitch downward to the north, and a long slope in the other direction that essentially took the building's lines from the peak and kept them moving on a fairly soft downward angle that seemed to keep going. The roofline edges were trimmed in more dark wood that was at its widest at the roof's high point, and narrowest at each end of the building. The lowest points of the roof on each side of the lobby did not finish at the same level vertically - its north end sat much lower to the ground than its south side one. The roof had an angled overhang out front that jutted out the farthest at the peak point, and the least at each end. Exposed beams nicely broke up the area under the overhang, while also lending it more elegance. These beams traveled inside the lobby to do the same for its ceiling. A creamy pale yellow/off-white colored the overhang's ceiling, which was lit up at night with floodlights that hung within its edge.
Sitting atop the roof around its high edge was a large neon sign that said simply - but distinctively, in a script style - "Satellite" and nothing more, with the "S" not attached to the rest of the letters. The style utilized here was reused in similar forms as the motel's logo. The sign was double sided, with a "Satellite" on each side and a rectangular backing - in reddish-brown - coming up just high enough to meet the top of the "t", letting the "S"'s top curve stand out above it. In the daytime the sign's lettering was white, but at night it lit up the sky with whitish blue neon.
The upper level of the lobby contained a living room style area that was left open to the two story main portion, shielded by a silver and turquoise railing of Satellites. A set of floating stairs connected the two levels, and included a platform section near the bottom. The upstairs had another section of diamond pattern glass facing the pool, though it covered a relatively smaller area than what was used for the front fascia. The upper area provided access to and from the west end of the motel section's 2nd floor balcony via another metal and glass door two steps up from the floor near the aforementioned interior railings, with another door below this doing the same for the lobby's first level and the pool area. The lobby's upper section also led to an adjoing sundeck accessed by way of another metal and glass door at its south end. Rectangular, horizontally oriented windows were placed to each side of the entrance/exit, with flagcrete below them outside - all of which surrounded the door. This deck overlooked Atlantic Avenue and Aster Road to its south and west, with the pool area and the main part of the motel - which housed all the units - to its east.
The area below the second level of the lobby and the lobby's deck worked together to partially act as a carport for some of the motel's perimeter parking spaces. Facing out towards Atlantic Avenue at its southwest end, and placed just under the deck's edge (up against the carport's ceiling), was a neon sign. It stated AIR CONDITIONED TV HEATED POOL - with an oval around the "TV" - all in one horizontal line. The ceiling and horizontal supports underneath were in turquoise, with vertical beams clad in more off-white flagcrete. Matching the footprint on the ground of these beams in the parking area were concrete dividers to partially mark each space along the dividing lines. These continued around to the parking spaces on the Aster Road side of the property. Bordering the parking spaces and the pool area at the Satellite's center was more off-white flagcrete used as a divider between these sections, with shrubs and tall lamps in the shape of covered torches acting as a buffer on the Aster Road side.
The entire pool area was slightly elevated from street level. Two long steps at the southeast end of the property - with a companion entrance diagonally across from here, under the lobby's overhang - provided access to the area from the property's outer boundaries. Most of the grounds around the pool area were natural cement, with a section on the north side for seating poolside covered in grass. Not many years after the Satellite's opening, the grass was replaced by a checkerboard pattern surface, half of which consisted of small, red, square tile, and natural colored cement to flesh out the rest of the pattern. The northeast corner of this cemented/tiled area had a pine tree, with a round evergreen bush across from it poolside. A mix of chairs were used around the pool: wooden framed lounges stained in a medium-tone finish with vertically striped, thick cushions on top, white framed patio arm chairs with horizontal slats - white ones for the backs, yellow for the squab section - plus white framed directors' style chairs - some with yellow canvas slings, others with black ones. There was a table with a white colored round top that also had a yellow or also a turquoise umbrella at its center, trimmed in white fringe. Under the lobby - which also provided shade for it - was a shuffleboard court, finished in blue and turquoise quartz, with pale gold markings.
The pool itself was rectagular shaped, with its edge trim initially in a natural cement finish, but later painted in a clay color - likely changed once the grass area nearby was replaced. The pool's inner walls and floor were light blue, with yellow tile around the wall's perimeter. The east side of the pool was the shallow end, with three platform styled steps there to gradually walk in. After a few years, an even shallower square portion was sectioned off to one side via diamond patterned, light blue concrete blocks. Around the four foot deep point was a strip painted onto the pool's wall/floor - in a color a bit lighter than the rest, and matching the top of the steps - to mark that point. Towards the six foot deep area was a single short, straight metal ladder on the south side of the pool, allowing guests to ease into the deep section. A low rise diving board - finished in light blue around its edges, and natural finished wood on top - was at the nine foot, deepest point, at the pool's west end.
The main section of the Satellite had two wings, forming (not counting the lobby section) an "L" shape. Each wing had different heights - two floors of units plus a rooftop deck in its north wing, and three floors of rooms in the east wing for a total of 24 throughout. Orientation for the units was to the south and west respectively, and all rooms above the first level were accessed by stairs tucked into the northeast corner of the motel, which was bordered by a handful of breezeway units. The rooms themselves had their outer walls angled slightly - just enough to direct the view seen within your room and give a bit of privacy between each unit - but not to the point where the angling was a big focal point of the design or broke up the smooth flow of the building. The doors were set into the deepest part of the nook created by this technique, with the resulting walls bordering each covered in off-white flagcrete on their faces and outer edges. Rooms in the north wing had their doors towards the left side, with the ones in the east wing placed to the right. Glass for each unit was shaped to a truncated triangle, with its diagonal line beginning about one-third up from the floor of each unit, ending at the high point where it met the door. If there was no door, this line would have finished to the upper corner of the unit, completing the triangle. The area below the glass was trimmed with multiple pieces of that followed the diagonal line of the glass. The door also had this trim, but set at opposite angles. All of this was in yellow, with the effect of painting the doors the same color not letting them stand out and break the lines of the building. Exterior light for each room was accomplished by a fixture placed right on the door - shaped mostly round, giving off a satellite look - with a centered, round doorknob further down. Later on in the 1960's, these were replaced by trapezoid shaped lights that also fit the look of the motel quite well. Placed outside each room were director's styled chairs, some with red canvas slings, others a sort of steel blue.
Balcony ceilings and support beams were in turquoise, with the floors and their edge faces in a clay color. Railings around the balconies were designed in such a way that they marked each unit that it shielded. This form for the railings was accomplished via a set of vertical posts clad in off-white flagcrete on the borderlines of each room. Between these was a geometric design consisting of two trapezoids to either side, each with their long lines at the top, and an obtuse triangle placed between them, with its longest line at bottom. These shapes were colored in turquoise, and utilized thin support posts that allowed these to appear suspended in space between the top of the railings and the balcony floors. Rails across the top were fairly wide, but flat bars in a clay color matching the balcony floors. The rooftop deck's railings echoed the pattern and style set by the rooms one floor below, but also received lantern style lights on top of each flagcrete dividing post. The railings up there ran right near the lobby building's intersection, wrapping around the deck's west end.
First floor rooms were raised up slightly from the pool area and - while obviously not having an actual balcony - had a divided set of railings between each unit. These dividers shielded their rooms from the pool area, and were designed to have a similar appearance to the railings on the balconies above. The clay colored tops of each of these dividers wrapped around one side of each room for separation, with a reduced size version of the geometric design in front of each unit, and an open section in the pathway to that room's door. The southernmost room had an additional divider to shield it from people entering/leaving the pool area as it was last unit in the row.
The second and third floors had their balconies continue across the side walls of the southernmost rooms, using a continuation of the railing style and pattern seen in front of the rooms - with two of the trapezoids/triangle sets - and also more lantern lights placed towards either side on top of the rails. The corner between this area and the string of rooms did not utilize a vertical post in the railings at that precise point, but initially was left somewhat open, with only the rail top and a turquoise planter along the balcony floor wrapping around the corner. After a while, a wide horizontal bar - also in turquoise - was added between these, attached to the nearest flagcrete post on each side, and placed above the planter. Both it and the planter each followed the 90-degree corner lines without a break. Such design allowed the railings to give off a free-flowing feeling and appearance, keeping the lines of the building moving. By comparison, if these corners had vertical posts placed at those points in the railings instead, the lines wouldn't have flowed the same way, and would have appeared relatively boxed off. The portion of the railings shielding the area for the stairs on the 2nd and 3rd floors, as well as by the room closest to the lobby on the second floor, also made use of the bar/planter combination. Utilizing the bar/planter in this manner prevented distorting the geometric pattern set by the railings immediately bordering these sections of the motel. The use of these 'fill' portions was relatively inconspicuous, and precluded the need to create reduced size versions of the full set of trapezoids and triangles which likely would have called too much attention to themselves within the overall pattern of the railings in these areas.
The lobby's deck used a variation of this corner/'fill' style of railing around all of its edges. These were designed using flagcrete covered posts interspersed thoughout, with a lantern styled light placed on top of each. The turquoise planters sat at the bottom, with the clay colored rails along the top, but the horizontal bars noted above weren't ever added at all. Utilizing this open looking design throughout this deck helped to prevent it from distorting the building lines of the lobby section. A portion of the railings on the east side of the deck was left open for the stairs that led the way between the lobby's deck and the pool area. As with the staircase with the lobby interior, these steps also had a floating style, and utilized railings unique within the complex. These railings had thin vertical bars, with small Satellites dispersed between them. The handrails and the steps themselves were in clay color, with the posts, Satellites, and their bottom support that ran parallel with the top rails all finished in turquoise.
The details given above reflect the way the Satellite looked in its initial years, with only some relatively early changes noted. Many alterations were made to the motel over the years, some relatively more benign than others. None of those changes could match or improve on the Satellite's look in its early years. That said, it was always a beautiful motel, 'til its end. How great was it? Great enough for the original Satellite to be named in 2007 among the "150 Best Buildings and Places" in New Jersey by the state's chapter of the American Institute of Architects - three years after its demolition. Amazing.
Matching, and possibly surpassing that in another way are the feelings it generated for more people than can be counted, and the contribution it gave to The Wildwoods by its presence and existence. Demolition of the classic, original Satellite sadly began on October 1, 2004, making way for a condominium building that is only noteworthy for what once sat on its property, and what was lost for it to exist there. We intend to make up a bit for that loss with the 21st Century Satellite. It is our sincere desire that you'll love it nearly as much as the original.
(Much appreciation goes to Eric Bard of Aladdin Color/RetroStockPix.com for use of these beautiful photographs seen above of the original Satellite Motel. His father David Bard shot all these images, freezing the original Satellite Motel in time during its early years, in stunning quality. Thank you for preserving these original negatives, and in turn this part of the Satellite's history.)
(Our highest regards to the late Will Morey, Sr. If it were not for him and his imagination and talent, there would never have been a Satellite Motel. As the sign once said in its lobby window, he "Built and Designed" the original Satellite. Our respect for that design - which we thought was as high as could be - kept increasing as every detail of the original Satellite was studied. This translated to further admiration for the man himself. We imagine Will truly loved the Satellite...while most of his motel projects initially went to other owners, he kept the Satellite for himself and his family through its first five seasons - both as a business and a home. In the winter of 1963, he sold the Satellite to begin the spectacular Pan American Motor Inn, located just a bit northeast. The Pan American has remained in his family's hands, still looking great as ever - including its Sputnik styled "pa" globe spinning at its top. That feature strikes us as a nod to the Satellite...)