MARGATE CITY — A Jersey Shore treasure continues to undergo a more than $2.2 million restoration project that started almost a year ago and will hopefully be wrapped up in early fall.

While a total replacement of the outer skin and rotted wood underneath is going on, the six-story pachyderm located at 1 Lucy Plaza 9200 Atlantic Ave. remains open for tours, according to Richard Helfant, Executive Director and CEO of Lucy the Elephant.

Lucy the Elephant (Photo Credit: Save Lucy Committee)
Lucy the Elephant (Photo Credit: Save Lucy Committee)
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What is the restoration project?

While tours and the gift shop are open and available, what is not open is the park around Lucy, said Helfant. Tourists and residents, alike, also cannot see this local, state, and national phenomenon from the outside because she is surrounded by a large scaffolding for the time being.

When the project is completed, Helfant said the scaffolding will come down and there will be a grand unveiling of Lucy’s major facelift.

The project started a couple of years ago when Lucy was due to be painted again. But a problem occurred when the metal had to be stripped down.

Helfant said the process started and discovered so much of the metal skin had been rotted over the years from water infiltration. It was determined that the all metal had to be replaced. A metal specialist and restoration architects decided that the most cost-effective thing to do was to replace all of the metal on Lucy’s body.

A plan was concocted to use a nickel and copper-based metal with low iron content. Iron is what rusts in any metal.

As the metal was being stripped away, Helfant said a lot of rotted wood was discovered from water infiltration. So, all of the wood sheathing under the metal had to be replaced where necessary.

“A water barrier is being put on called ultra-grace which is like Tyvek, only much thicker and more durable. Then a rosin paper, then a new Monell, then a three-layer coating process will be the final touch on her skin, and then she’ll be 100 percent,” Helfant said.

The restoration project started in 2019 at $1.2 million. It’s now over $2.2 million and climbing, Helfant said.

One of the grants received was from the National Park Service in their Save America’s Treasure program, which just goes to show the significance of Lucy on a national level, he said.

Helfant said The Save Lucy Committee has been fortunate in applying for and receiving funding from historic preservation grant programs at both the state and federal levels totaling almost $1.2 million.

But he said that’s still $800,000 short of the cost to complete the latest phase of construction. So a capital fundraising campaign called “Lucy’s Life Preserver” has been launched.

“Anyone who donates $1,000 is going to get their names put on a bronze plaque inside the elephant that says they helped save Lucy, they’re going to get a gold pin, and lifetime membership to The Friends of Lucy which will give them free access to tours forever, and discounts in the gift shop. But more than that, they’ll be able to say they helped save this national treasure,” Helfant said.

All donations are tax-deductible and more details on how people can help save Lucy can be found at www.lucytheelephant.org.

Lucy the Elephant (Photo Credit: Save Lucy Committee)
Lucy the Elephant (Photo Credit: Save Lucy Committee)
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What is the history of Lucy the Elephant?

Lucy the Elephant was built 141 years ago in 1881 in Margate, which at that time was still called South Atlantic City, Helfant said. It did not become Margate until 1909.

Lucy was built as a gimmick, as a marketing tool to help sell real estate, Helfant said. Atlantic City had just become this brand new seaside resort in 1854 and the railroad was built from Philadelphia to Camden to Atlantic City.

A Philadelphia developer named James Lafferty had just purchased much of the land in Margate and he thought that if he could build this crazy thing which he fashioned after P.T. Barnum’s “Jumbo,” a famous circus elephant back then, people would be so curious over this oddity, that they would be compelled to come down here and see it. Then, he could sell his real estate holdings.

“So she was actually built as a tool to sell real estate,” Helfant said.

Throughout her life, Lucy has served as a tavern for a year and a single-family residence for another year. But for most of her life, she has been a tourist attraction.
Today, she is the oldest roadside attraction in the United States, and a national historic landmark, as well.

What can people expect on a tour of Lucy the Elephant?

A tour guide greets guests outside Lucy and gives them a little history about Lucy. The current tour is focused more on the restoration process than on anything else. People are given an in-depth look and an in-depth explanation of what is going on with the project. They then get to see a six-minute video on the history of the famous elephant.

Helfant said many of the artifacts that are usually found inside the elephant have been temporarily removed because of the construction, so residents won’t get to see them for the time being.

Any visitor who purchases a ticket will receive a complimentary ticket for a return visit when Lucy is completed. It’s kind of like a two-for-one deal, Helfant said.

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What are some special events happening at Lucy the Elephant?

One major event that will benefit Lucy the Elephant takes place Aug. 5 through Aug. 8 at Ocean Casino in Atlantic City. The Lucy Weekend at Ocean, as it is called, features some of the greatest DJs coming together for the 4-day event in the HQ nightclub. Lucy will receive a portion of all ticket sales from the weekend.

Then in December, there will be a benefit concert at Resorts Casino in Atlantic City. Deana Martin, daughter of legendary singer and original Rat Pack member, Dean Martin and Steven Maglio, a Sinatra-style vocalist will be doing a benefit concert on Dec. 11 in the Superstar Theater. All proceeds will go to the restoration of Lucy. Tickets are on sale now through Ticketmaster and on Lucy’s website.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at jennifer.ursillo@townsquaremedia.com

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