Margate’s famous icon probably was never in any danger, but some saw a risk in a briefly considered proposal this year to allow a small hotel to be built somewhere in her vicinity.
When people also suggested a hotel might be a threat to the city’s residential character, the idea went no further. Then recently, the City Commission and the Save Lucy Committee made it even clearer, signing a new 20-year lease of the city property beneath Lucy’s feet that guarantees it won’t be sold, rented or developed without the written permission of the nonprofit committee.
While the city has stood steadfast beside Lucy since receiving her a half-century ago when a family living within her moved out, the Save Lucy Committee has faced never-ending challenges — first moving and then maintaining a home-sized fantasy that wasn’t designed to endure the elements at the shore.
In the past two decades alone, she has had more structural and cosmetic surgery than a Hollywood star could endure.
A $109,000 repair job was needed in 1997 to replace rotten wooden sheathing and ribs in the belly of the beast. When more damage was found, the state put up another $255,500 for restoration if committee fundraising matched it.
The next year, Lucy’s steel hide was repaired and sidewalls and floorboards replaced, at an estimated $200,000.
Lightning struck Lucy in 2006, extensively damaging the howdah on her back. When the cost of repairs soared beyond the insurance coverage of $60,000, Margate agreed to cut Lucy’s annual lease payments almost in half.
A Mercer County company, Zeus Lightning Rods, at no cost installed barely noticeable rods in the howdah canopy and would have put more behind her ears and in her tail as well if her history-conscious architect hadn’t objected. In hindsight, maybe they would have been worth it, since five years later she was hit by lightning again, causing $70,000 in damage.
Her bad luck continued in 2009 when a wind-blown tent did $45,000 in damage to her tail. A few years later Hurricane Sandy arrived, thankfully leaving Lucy unscathed … but damaging her gift shop and beach grill to the tune of $70,000.
Lucy easily dodged a more modern threat in 2015, when PETA wanted to put a leg chain on Lucy and a tear in her eye, turning her into an advertisement for its anti-circus agenda. The $2,000 it offered was easily declined.
Now the committee is beginning a $500,000 restoration of her exterior surface.
Margate and the Save Lucy Committee should get some kind of award for extraordinary service in the preservation of a truly unique National Historic Landmark. Helping them through the promotional pachyderm’s next phase is as simple as buying a Lucy commemorative coin for $19.69, a small price for the wonder she continues to deliver.