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Lucy the Elephant to close for $1.4 million makeover

The iconic Margate, N.J., roadside attraction needs all-new metal skin.

Lucy the Elephant in March 2020. There were once three colossal elephants on the East Coast; Lucy is the last one standing.
Lucy the Elephant in March 2020. There were once three colossal elephants on the East Coast; Lucy is the last one standing.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

MARGATE, N.J. — Lucy the Elephant is getting a complete body makeover.

More than 50% of Margate’s iconic roadside elephant’s metal skin has deteriorated beyond repair, said Richard Helfant, executive director of the Save Lucy Committee, and will require an entirely new exterior. Talk about heavy metal.

He called the $1.4 million effort the largest restoration of the National Historic Landmark “since she was saved from the wrecking ball in 1970.” Built in 1881, the six-story-high Lucy is the oldest surviving roadside attraction in the United States.

Architects have determined that replacing the entire metal skin would be more cost effective than trying to remove “50 years of paint and rust,” Helfant said in a release.

Lucy will close Sept. 20, and weatherproof scaffolding will be built around the structure, which was once an inn, and, briefly, an Airbnb. It will be closed to the public, and, shockingly, not be visible for about nine months, Helfant said.

The restoration strategy was created by Margaret Westfield of Westfield Architects and Preservation Consultants, along with a metallurgist, said Scott Kreilick, of Kreilick Conservators.

“This is an enormous financial undertaking,” said Helfant. “We are so fortunate to have been awarded a grant from the Preserve New Jersey Preservation Fund administered by the New Jersey Historic Trust.”

He said additional funds are being sought from the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures grant program. The balance will be raised by donations.

Lucy the Elephant was moved about 100 yards to her current spot on July 20, 1970, after being saved from demolition. She has hosted weddings, weathered lightning strikes, and endured multiple pedicures. With tusks more characteristic of a male elephant, Helfant calls her “the world’s largest drag queen.” She proudly flies the rainbow flag along Atlantic Avenue.

The last day to tour Lucy will be Sept. 19 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The target date to reopen Lucy is Memorial Day weekend of 2022, Helfant said.

Lucy’s Gift Shop will remain open during the restoration, with access through the historic train station door on Atlantic Avenue.