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Trunk Show: Lucy Gets a Paint Job

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

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The New Jersey beachfront stomping ground has not been kind to "Lucy the Elephant."

The 134-year-old American icon is in need of more than a bit of restoration, as rust and years of exposure to sand and salt air have eaten away at its layers of protective coatings.

Fans of Roadside America attractions and visitors to the Jersey Shore are likely to recognize the unique six-story elephant-shaped structure sited on the beach in Margate, NJ.

As a result of her location, Lucy is essentially subjected to daily abrasive blasting from the grains of sand picked up by the winds, which wear away at her hide.

Cycles of Wear and Tear

As Lucy’s director of education, Jeremy Bingaman, told the Press of Atlantic City, “About every five years, Lucy needs repainting just to protect the metal from rusting.”

“About every five years, Lucy needs repainting just to protect the metal from rusting,” according to Lucy’s director of education, Jeremy Bingaman.

According to Richard Helfant, CEO of Lucy the Elephant, her last paint job—performed by Alpine Painting and Sandblasting Contractors of Paterson, NJ, with paint donated by Sherwin-Williams—was expected to last only three years, but they were pleased to see that coat last five years.

According to their project portfolio, Alpine used a product called Chlor-rid, in conjunction with pressure washing, to remove the existing salts on Lucy’s “skin” before they began painting with high-performance coating systems.

Her seams were striped with Sherwin Williams/MAB Ply Mastic 44 Series, Epoxy Mastic Coating. After priming, an elastomeric coating was applied, which will move with Lucy as she expands and contracts, Alpine said.

While that application surpassed the caretakers’ expectations for paint life, Lucy is in need of a new coat—and quite a bit more—once again.

The 2015 Restoration

The group operating the National Historic Landmark tourist attraction thought all Lucy needed was a $20,000 paint job to fix up her tin and wood exterior as usual. But as crews began work last week, they found that the bill was likely to jump to as much as $58,000, the Associated Press reports.

In addition to wear to the metal skin, the wood that makes up the railings and decorative details of the “howdah,’ or passenger carriage on top, is crumbling away.

“It takes a beating up here,” Helfant said. “There’s actually sand up here. It gets sandblasted from the wind. She’s bombarded with sand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The paint just peels off.”

Lucy the Elephant

By dtcdthingy via Wikimedia Commons

“It takes a beating up here,” said Richard Helfant, CEO of Lucy the Elephant. “It gets sandblasted from the wind. She’s bombarded with sand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The paint just peels off.”

Helfant indicated that they will replace the oak in the howdah area with a composite this time around. And to address the rust and holes afflicting the elephant’s "skin," the tin exterior will be sandblasted, rustproofed and patched before painting begins.

The repair to the howdah alone will cost about $33,000, and the paint job on the 65-foot, 90-ton structure is likely to cost more than their original $20,000 projection.

"We're going to have to raise $30,000 to $40,000 ourselves for this," Helfant told the AP.

Crowdsourcing for the Elephant

The Lucy the Elephant organization has gotten creative in funding the renovation.

This year, Benjamin Moore has agreed to donate the paint for the project, valued at $7,000-$8,000, according to the Press of Atlantic City. Alpine Painting and Sandblasting will again be contractors on the job.

A $10,000 grant was secured from the New Jersey Historical Trust through the 1772 Foundation.

Lucy’s director of education, Jeremy Bingaman, told the paper that the 1772 Foundation had agreed to a grant of about 50 percent of the project costs. But, because they were not aware of the extent of the damage at that time, they based their request on expected expenses of $22,000.

The group hopes to raise the rest of the funding by reaching out to the public. T-shirt sales are part of the crowdsourcing approach. Shirts reading “I helped paint Lucy” are on sale for $20, with all proceeds going to the repairs.

About Lucy

Lucy the Elephant was built in 1881 and was the brainchild of real estate developer James V. Lafferty who, according to Roadside America, had “a knack for promotion.” Lucy was his idea for attracting tourists and selling real estate in the area.

That year, Lafferty secured a patent that made him the sole maker, user or seller of animal-shaped buildings for the next 17 years. Lucy was his first of three such buildings and the only one remaining.

Designed by Philadelphia architect William Free and built by a Philadelphia contractor, Lucy was covered with 12,000 square feet of sheet tin.

Visitors can climb a spiral staircase in Lucy’s rear leg to reach the howdah on her back, giving them a 360-degree view of the Atlantic City vicinity.

Editor's Note: The story has been updated to include additional project details.


Tagged categories: Corrosion protection; Maintenance + Renovation; Metal cladding; North America; Paint defects; Protective coatings; Rust; Seacoast exposure

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