This monthly feature highlights recent and fascinating National Register listings, tax act projects, compliance review success stories, as well as outstanding local efforts in New Jersey’s historic preservation efforts.
Lucy, the Elephant
Six stories tall; 134 years old; weighs 90 tons! Meet Lucy, the elephant who stands sentinel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Margate, New Jersey.
Lucy is a National Historic Landmark, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. She is older than the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. As one can imagine, she has a varied and fascinating history.
Classified as an architectural folly, Lucy is a manifestation of the innovative spirit of the Victorian period. More follies were built in the United States than anywhere else, and have a decidedly significant place in the evolution of American architecture. They were designed by famous architects and many anonymous craftsmen, in all shapes, sizes and materials.
In the 1870s, a young engineer and land speculator named, James Lafferty, Jr. was busy in South Atlantic City, now Margate, NJ. He came into possession of a number of sandy lots there, which at the time was a combination of scrub pine, dune grass, bayberry bushes and a few wooden fishing shacks. Lafferty needed an attraction to develop the area, and hired Philadelphia architect, William Free to design and construct his vision of an enormous elephant building as a tourist destination. Lucy was built in 1881 at the edge of the beach, at the cost of $25,000. Lafferty immediately began advertising his lots for sale in the Philadelphia market.
In 1882, Lafferty patented the idea and design of Lucy, and, by 1884, had designed and built two more elephants. The Light of Asia stood 40’ tall in nearby South Cape May. The enormous, Elephantine Colossus towered above Coney Island, NY at 122’, built strictly for entertainment purposes with 31 rooms and 65 windows. Sixteen short years later, both were gone due to neglect and fire, respectively. Luckily, Lucy remained.
Lafferty owned Lucy for only six years, selling her and all his property holdings to Anton Gertzen of Philadelphia, in 1887. Gertzen, his wife, children and grandchildren were to be Lucy’s owners for 83 years. The Gertzen family became prominent leaders in the Margate community, running several successful businesses, and serving in positions such as Margate City Clerk, and Mayor for 18 years.
Under the Gertzen family tenure, Lucy served as a prominent tourist spot, as testified by her guest book. Dignitaries from America and abroad frequently climbed her stairs to peer out the 22 windows and stand in the howdah atop her back. This revenue, in combination with adjacent cafes, hotels and camping facilities, were the financial mainstay for the Gertzens. In 1916, alone, Lucy’s guest book boasts such notables as President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, Vincent and John Jacob Aster, the duPonts (of Delaware), Henry Ford, and the Rajah of Bhong and his wives (from Singapore).
Storm Damage & Relocation
Standing at the beach edge, Lucy was precariously close to the ocean. The first storm to heavily damage the structure occurred in 1903, when residents subsequently found her knee-deep in sand. After being shoveled out, Lucy was moved a few blocks farther back from the sea.
A 1929 storm ripped off the original howdah. It was replaced, albeit with a less ornate version. Lucy did, however, survive the devastating hurricane of 1944, much to everyone’s surprise as the nearby Margate Boardwalk was destroyed.
Save Lucy Committee
Fast forward to 1969. Two of Anton Gertzen’s grandchildren now owned and ran Lucy and the family’s adjacent hotel. Nearing retirement, they were negotiating with a developer to purchase their land. Local citizens became concerned about demolition of the deteriorating landmark, and stepped in to negotiate to move Lucy two blocks south to a municipal-owned piece of beachfront park property. The Gertzens were happy to donate Lucy to the newly formed, Margate Civic Association, hoping Lucy would be preserved. The Save Lucy Committee was created to handle this enormous endeavor.
At the Committee’s request, a feasibility study was conducted by John Milner, AIA of West Chester, PA. After careful study, it was determined Lucy was structurally sound and would survive the move.
Mullen & Ranalli, a house-moving firm from Mount Holly, NJ was contracted to execute the move, at a cost of $9,000. The local concrete contractor, Feriozzi & Sons poured the new foundation to precise specifications, at a cost of $15,000. The Committee orchestrated an enormous fundraising campaign, hastened by the developer’s 30-day deadline to remove Lucy from his newly-purchased property.
July 20, 1970 was declared “moving day.” At 9 a.m., after a sudden heavy fog just as quickly dispersed, a small yellow pick-up truck began pulling the giant elephant toward the curb of Cedar Grove Avenue. The structure creaked and groaned as it was eased over the curb. It was a slow, but majestic march down Atlantic Avenue to Lucy’s new location, but all went well. It took approximately seven hours from start to finish before Lucy was safely tied down in her new location.
Publicity of moving Lucy was picked up by national and international wire services, and donations flowed in from around the world. But, the enormous task ahead had just begun, as the funding and meticulous restoration work would take years to complete. Community outpouring and remarkable financial support from individuals, corporations and foundations has made it possible.
Lucy opened again for tours in the summer of 1974, while restoration continued. Lucy became a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Today, she is a shining example of an exquisite and meticulous restoration endeavor, and testament to the work of scores of individuals, craftspeople and design professionals.
Lucy Fun Facts
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