Lucy The Elephant Margate Atlantic City, New Jersey
One of the oldest attractions on the New Jersey Shore, this famous landmark was erected in 1885.
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A national historic site as well as a unique example of the eccentric architecture of the late Victorian age, Lucy the Elephant is arguably the most beloved tourist attraction in the Atlantic City area. Located in the neighboring town of Margate, the 119-year-old elephant-shaped building has come to the brink of demolition several times, only to be saved by outpourings of public protest and grass-roots fund-raising fervor.
Lucy's massive size is apparent in comparison to an adjacent two-story souvenir shop (above, center) and the beachfront "I Love Lucy" sandwich shop (above, left). She stands at the edge of the sand, looking out at the ocean. The photo above right shows the view from the "howdah," or ornate Indian riding carriage, on Lucy's back.
Windjammer logs from over the last century indicate that on clear days Lucy is visible from eight miles out at sea, thus making New Jersey's the only coastline in the world marked by a six-story-high, elephant-shaped navigational aid.
The result of an 1881 exercise in stuntmanship and land speculation, Lucy was created as the attention-getting centerpiece of James V. Lafferty's beach real estate sales venture. Lafferty, a brash, 25-year-old engineer and would-be entrepreneur, was backed by his family's wealth and driven by a vision for a new kind of real estate promotion that would lure prospects to the desolate stretch of sand dunes and scrub pine he hoped to sell as plots for vacation cottages.
By the late 1880s, although the elephant buildings were drawing crowds of awed spectators, Lafferty's over-extended real estate ventures were losing money. Lucy and his surrounding Absecon Island holdings were sold to John and Sophie Gertzen, who operated the elephant building alternately as a tourist attraction, miniature hotel, private beach cottage and tavern. Meanwhile, "South Atlantic City" developed into a thriving shore community that later changed its name to Margate. In 1920, Lucy the Elephant tavern was forced to close by the passage of Prohibition. When that law was repealed in 1933, she immediately became a bar again. In the 1950s, as a new America emerged from World War II to build webs of superhighways and adopt airplanes as a cheap new way of travel to exotic vacation destinations, Lucy faded from the public's attention and fell into disrepair. By the 1960s, she was a dilapidated public safety hazard slated to be torn down.
In 1969, just ahead of the wrecker's ball, the "Save Lucy Committee" formed by the Margate Civic Association began two decades of public struggles that moved Lucy to beachfront land owned by the city and restored the peculiar structure as a historic site and tourist attraction. Since 1973 enough money has been collected in determined "Save Lucy" campaigns to restore the structural integrity and exterior of the 90-ton wood-and-tin pachyderm. But the fundraising battle continues today as the group works to raise additional money required to underwrite the never ending costs of fighting rust and rot and refurbish the interior of the great wooden beast as a high-quality museum.
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