How valuable is tourism to the New Jersey economy? According to Tourism Economics, New Jersey’s tourism sector generated $38.2 billion of state GDP in 2016, representing 6.5 percent of the entire state economy.
A large portion of this tourism success is driven by New Jersey’s many wonderful beaches and the related attractions that accompany them. This includes Lucy the Elephant, the six-story roadside attraction located along the beach in Josephine Harron Park in Margate, which has been entertaining visitors since 1881.
James V. Lafferty came up with the concept of a giant elephant structure, the idea being to attract attention to his real estate holdings. The “howdah,” the carriage at the top of Lucy, is approximately 65 feet high, and Lafferty would bring potential clients up to showcase the surrounding parcels of land for sale. That would have offered an impressive view even back then. Today, the howdah is a remarkable observation deck, which offers great views of the beach, the Atlantic Ocean and the Atlantic City skyline.
The Save Lucy Committee, Inc. (SLC), a long-term NJBIA member, was founded in 1970 by a group of concerned citizens who were afraid the new land owners were going to demolish the landmark. They raised enough funds to move Lucy to a city-owned property a few blocks away and restore her to her original condition, as she had fallen into disrepair. In 1974, Lucy was again open to the public, with proceeds from tour ticket sales and a small gift shop going to restoration and long-term maintenance.
But the SLC didn’t stop there. They lobbied the federal government to designate Lucy a National Historic Landmark and were able to attain this status in 1976. They highlighted the designation with a special ceremony as part of our Nation’s Bicentennial Celebration. The “Lucy Beach Grille” restaurant was added a few years later, providing a new income stream for the property.
The SLC has faced a few more challenges along the way, but has managed to rise to the occasion every time. In the 1990s, some of the wood from 1970s restoration had rotted due to excessive moisture, but they handled that with their usual aplomb and replaced much of that with a steel superstructure. This was very helpful when Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey in 2012. There was no structural or water damage to Lucy; just damage to the restaurant in front of her and to the roof of Lucy’s parking booth.
Today, SLC has a full-time CEO/Executive Director, Richard D. Helfant, who professionally manages all the elements of the attraction, along with a devoted staff and volunteers, especially SLC board members.
There is no charge to visit the grounds of Lucy, but guided tours inside the pachyderm structure are offered for a small fee. You might want to make a visit on Saturday, July 22 when Lucy will celebrate her 136th birthday.
Congratulations to The Save the Lucy Committee for their fabulous efforts and amazing accomplishments. For more information about SLC and Lucy the elephant, visit their website as well as Facebook and Instagram pages.
The Save Lucy Committee is just one of 20,000 organizations that comprise NJBIA’s membership, which is very diverse with representation from an amazingly large and wide spectrum of fields, industries and professions. Look for more unique stories about NJBIA members in future issues of “Beyond 10 West Lafayette,” NJBIA’s membership blog.