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‘Sand, surf, and Lucy the Elephant’: Iconic roadside attraction’s face-lift unveiled

Fifteen months and $2.4 million later, Lucy the Elephant's face-lift is ready for all the Shore to see.

Lucy the Elephant was officially unveiled in Margate, N.J., after a $2.4 million renovation Wednesday.
Lucy the Elephant was officially unveiled in Margate, N.J., after a $2.4 million renovation Wednesday.Read moreCharles Fox / Staff Photographer

MARGATE, N.J. — Lucy the Elephant is finally ready for her close-up.

After 15 months, $2.4 million for a new layer of metal “skin,” and some fund-raising woes, the six-story roadside attraction drew hundreds of spectators on a late Wednesday afternoon in the Shore’s offseason.

Parents with young children on their shoulders, seniors from neighboring Shore towns on a fun date night, and people traveling as far out as Philly and North Jersey donned elephant-related apparel for the occasion — one woman made her way to the building crowd in a Lucy the Elephant inflatable suit.

“We’ve been waiting all summer,” said Laura Cloak, 36, who made the drive from Cherry Hill with her two young children and parents.

Marty Popoloski, the children’s grandfather, said the family has a membership so they can visit Lucy every year when they pop into their Shore house a block away. Popoloski and the rest of the family weren’t surprised by the crowd of people.

“Everyone knows Lucy,” said Popoloski. “When we give people directions to come visit us here to the Shore we say, you just come down to Lucy and take a right.”

» READ MORE: Lucy the Elephant gets a shower from Margate firefighters to check for leaks in $2 million new skin

Born “Elephant Bazaar” on July 20, 1881, at 90 tons of wood and metal, the pachyderm is the last of her two contemporaries built on the Atlantic. Elephantine Colossus burned down in 1896 in Coney Island and a smaller Lucy, named the Light of Asia, was demolished in 1900.

Renamed in 1902, Lucy survived everything from lightning strikes to robberies — three men stole one of Lucy’s 6-foot sheet metal tusks in 1984 after a night of drinking, only for the other to be stolen days after her first tusk was recovered. According to her website, she served as a tavern in 1902 and as a summer home to a British doctor and his family a year after.

But the 1960s proved dire as Lucy was left in desperate need of repairs and was almost demolished. Lucy’s owners donated her to the Save Lucy Committee in 1970, which later embarked on renovations and successfully got Lucy the designation of a National Historic Landmark.

Before this most recent restoration, Lucy’s caretakers described her state as critical, her ribs broken and her wood rotting. Richard D. Helfant, chief executive of the Save Lucy Committee, said the organization is still fund-raising to help pay for the exterior work unveiled Wednesday. He’s waiting to hear how much they raised in a December benefit concert but estimates there’s about a quarter of a million dollars left to pay.

The next big project will focus on the elephant’s interior, which needs new plaster, floors, and heating. The committee wants to build a state-of-the-art gift shop as well.

Philly resident Mary Gibson, 59, answered Helfant’s call to action on the spot, handing him an envelope with a modest donation. Gibson said it’s a love of elephants, real and steel, that has brought her to Margate since she was 16.

“We come every year for her birthday party,” said Gibson, showing off an “I Love Lucy” T-shirt to prove it.

For others, the Lucy pilgrimages are relatively new.

Cathy Chaloult, 51, said she didn’t have that experience of coming to visit Lucy when she was a kid, but it’s a tradition she started with her 6-year-old daughter, Brooke, once she turned 2. The pair made the short drive from Washington Township. Brooke wore Christmas lights as a necklace and a festive Santa hat with a matching dress for the occasion and shared some fun Lucy facts she’d picked up on tours while they waited.

To Chaloult, the decision to incorporate Lucy into the family’s summer beach visits is a no-brainer, as was bringing her daughter to the unveiling, which included a performance of a Lucy country song.

“It’s a way for her to associate the beach with something even more majestic than just the water,” said Chaloult. “It’s what makes Margate Margate. Sand, surf, and Lucy the Elephant.”