HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Where’s Hap?

An iconic portrait of the late Sen. Frank “Hap” Farley has been missing from its perch inside the Atlantic City Expressway service plaza that is named in his honor.

Was Hap the target of art thieves or hooligans looking for a souvenir?

Nah, he’ll be back — looking better than ever.

The painting of the politician was taken down for a facelift that promises to restore it to its original luster. Over the years, it had faded and needed to be retouched. An official unveiling is scheduled for Thursday at the Frank S. Farley Travel Plaza in Hamilton Township.

“Hap’s going to look like he did in 1964,” said Kevin Rehmann, a spokesman for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, the expressway’s operating agency.

Trivia buffs may know that 1964 was the year the expressway opened, creating a new link to carry Philadelphia tourists to Atlantic City. Farley, Atlantic County’s powerful Republican senator at the time, was chiefly responsible for the state legislation to build the toll road.

The expressway’s construction was pushed to be ready in time for the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in August 1964. Ironically, a convention that was intended to make Atlantic City a national showplace became a public relations disaster when the news media focused on the resort’s poverty and blight.

Like Atlantic City itself, the expressway struggled in the 1960s. In the road’s early years, it was so sparsely traveled that it was ridiculed as “Farley’s folly.” But the arrival of casino gambling in Atlantic City in 1978 transformed the expressway into a busy corridor that now handles more than 52 million vehicles and generates $76 million in toll revenue per year.

Expressway officials are planning a series of events leading up to the road’s 50th anniversary July 31. The unveiling of Farley’s restored portrait will help kick off the celebration. Members of the Farley family and other VIPs are scheduled to attend the ceremony. Once again, Farley’s visage will greet the expressway motorists who pass through the service plaza.

Sharon Gordon, deputy executive director of the SJTA, said the portrait will be adorned with a new frame and displayed under glass to protect it in years to come. The Noyes Museum of Art in Galloway Township is doing the restoration work, which will cost less than $700, Gordon noted.

Details about the portrait remain a mystery, including when it was painted and the identity of the artist. Gordon said expressway officials are researching the painting’s history in hopes of finding out more. The artist’s signature — “Hess” — is visible in the portrait’s lower left-hand corner, but Gordon said researchers have not been able to establish the full name.

Adding to the painting’s mystique is the surprising find expressway officials made when they were rummaging around in the basement of their office building. A second portrait of Farley — identical to the first — was discovered then, Gordon said.

The second portrait will also be restored. Where it will be displayed will be decided later.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

609-272-7258

Press copy editor since 2006, copy desk chief since 2014. Masters in journalism from Temple University, 2006. My weekly comics blog, Wednesday Morning Quarterback, appears Wednesday mornings at PressofAC.com.