Postcard of the Blue Haven Motel, 1960s. J. J. Heatley, Smithtown, N.Y. Montauk Library Postcard Collection. Montauk Library Archives
Knowledge about Montauk’s “Golden Age,” the period of sportfishing and vacationing that pushed our sleepy village into boomtown status during the 1950s and 60s, is enhanced by the number of postcards that survive from that era. Motels and cottages dotting Montauk’s watery shores were captured in vivid color by photographers who found that lodging was a lucrative subject matter, especially when printed on 3.5 x 5.5 card stock.
The Wavecrest sat on the oceanfront, with a well-manicured pool area. Chaise longues under wide-striped umbrellas invited long afternoons of leisure. Run by Franklin and Lucille Jarmain, the Wavecrest Motel offered “luxuriously furnished rooms with ceramic tile baths, free radios and T.V.,” along with “electric heaters and maid service.”
A more economical alternative was the Blue Haven Motel on West Lake Drive, owned by Teddy and Sherry Roth, who built the establishment in 1962. Located on “Beautiful Block Island Sound — adjacent to Montauk’s Famous Fishing Fleet,” the Blue Haven Motel had “country surroundings,” yet it was “close to Montauk Village.” It’s easy to believe that the women sitting by the pool in this image are afternoon fishing widows, i.e., their husbands are out on the Gannet or Rex, catching swordfish or bass.
A comparison between the two postcards shows a marked difference in the photographers’ approach to their subjects, and this affects the way we perceive the personality of each motel. Olga Bedorf and Mona Shelley were photographers, and perhaps colorists or film processors as well, who worked in “Ektachrome,” Kodak film popular in the 1960s that allowed high-speed processing and rich, stable colors. This duo worked with a definite aesthetic. The Wavecrest diving board visually divides the almost vacant landscape, and is punctuated by the figure of the young man standing opposite. This reinforces the compositional structure of the image and speaks volumes about the artistry of the postcard’s creators. We’re aware of the architecture, the grounds, and the elegant décor. The visual message says “Cocktails at midnight under the stars.”
Conversely, the Blue Haven Motel image, shot closer to the picture frame, is more informal and has a different expression. The pool is divided by a rope with floaters and there doesn’t seem to be a diving board – but the lifeguard, draped casually over the pool ladder, is smiling. So are the guests. This image by J.J. Heatley of Smithtown concentrates on the people, and the message is clear: “Pool Party at 9 p.m.! BYOB.”
The Wavecrest and the Blue Haven Motel are still going strong, although the Blue Haven changed hands, got an upgrade, and is now called Haven Montauk. Gone are the days when a T.V. with rabbit ears was considered an amenity, but a motel pool is a blessing forever.