Chapter 10 – Lucy Opens
The work accomplished with the $124,000 was sufficient to permit tours inside Lucy to begin again by summer of 1974. The committee members acted as guides. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held with the Mayor and Commissioners attending and press stories went out on the wire services.
“LUCY THE MARGATE ELEPHANT OPEN FOR TOURS”
The Committee again applied for help from HUD in 1975. They also filed applications with the Department of the Interior’s, National Park Service and the New Jersey Office of Historic Sites.
A New Jersey State matching grant was awarded first and work on Lucy’s metal hide began. The matching HUD grant was still being processed when the contractor informed the committee he could not stop work of applying the metal while waiting for approval, because the building would deteriorate further and work already accomplished would be in jeopardy. This was a very generous offer and the committee accepted, not realizing it would become involved in more governmental red tape on account of the decision.
The HUD office in Washington, discovering that the skin had been completely applied, refused to release the grant, pointing out it was against its policy to pay for work already accomplished. After a few trips to Washington and with the help of New Jersey legislative representatives, the committee proved that no guidelines had been established for this particular program and that the committee had notified HUD on several occasions that they were proceeding with the metal skin application to avoid jeopardizing the restoration work already accomplished. The grant was finally released, but the contractor waited several months before the committee could pay him. The restoration of Lucy’s exterior took almost three years to complete due to financing delays and escalating construction costs.
Lucy was enjoying her second year of visitors, one of whom was sailing on an ocean trip to the New York Harbor to see the “Tall Ships” arrive. Upon sighting the Elephant he decided to moor his ship at the Atlantic City Marina and taxi to Margate with his family for a tour of the famous Lucy. He later introduced himself as Irénée du Pont, Jr. from Wilmington, Del., and made the fantastic and generous offer to donate a very sophisticated fire suppression system for inside Lucy’s wooden body, similar to the kind used in museums and computer rooms. One of the committee’s main concerns had always been fear of fire and this was a gift from heaven. While on the tour inside Lucy, he had recognized his sisters’ and cousins’ names on an old 1916 guest register. They had been visiting their grandmother who owned a summer home in the neighboring community, Ventnor City.
By 1976 Lucy’s metal skin and new ornate howdah were in place and freshly painted. The U.S. Department of the Interior recognized Lucy as a National Historic Landmark, taking her place alongside of Independence Hall, the Alamo and other famous sites that possess national significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America.
For the Bicentennial celebration of 1976, the committee arranged for a series of free summer concerts on an outdoor bandstand erected especially for the occasion. These concerts drew big crowds and were so successful they have been continued each summer.
When the former Elephant Hotel and outlying buildings were being demolished to make way for a condominium at Lucy’s old site, the committee was able to secure a small building formerly used by the Camden and Atlantic Railroad in the 1880’s. It was moved and renovated to become the first gift shop on the Lucy grounds. Eventually a two-story addition to the little railroad depot was constructed by volunteers, improving the size of the shop and creating an office and badly needed storage area on the second floor. Business was growing with more and more visitors.
A Victorian wrought iron fence was purchased by the City of Margate and erected around Lucy’s historic park by the U.S. Army Reserves, C Co., 469th Engineers, “STORCK” Reserve Center, Northfield, N.J., members of the local ironworkers union.
In 1980-81, the Office of New Jersey Heritage awarded a matching grant of $48,000 to begin the interior restoration. Resorts International Casino Theatre offered the committee the chance to sell tickets to the Lou Rawls show to help match the grant. Many other fund raisers were scheduled until the committee finally matched the grant one year later. The state funds did not become available until the entire cost of $96,000 was expended, forcing the committee again to borrow thousands before reimbursement.
The future plans for the interior remain to be accomplished. Creating a museum of Southern Jersey history and Lucy memorabilia will take expert designing and, of course, funding.
Through a New Jersey Green Acres loan of $100,000 the Lucy Committee has been able to construct a Victorian-designed refreshment pavilion, relocate and rebuild the bandstand and add some much needed shrubbery.
The annual income from the gift shop and tours has covered operating costs, but has not provided sufficient funds to pursue future plans or cover the maintenance costs of repainting Lucy, which averages $12,000 every two or three years. The anticipated income from the refreshment pavilion is expected to overcome these needs.
The Save Lucy Committee, Inc. now numbers over 50 members, who act as volunteers. Millions of hours have been donated by many Lucy volunteers who are sincere in their love for this once forsaken structure.
The history of Lucy has been the history of the dedicated Gertzen family who once owned Lucy for 80 odd years and the committee, who since 1969 has accomplished almost unbelievable feats in selling the picturesque Margate Elephant to the City, the State and the Nation. The Save Lucy Committee to date has by its own efforts raised more than $600,000 to preserve for future generations this unique architectural wonder of the Victorian era, which will never be forgotten as long as Lucy continues her eternal watch over the waves of the Margate beach.