MARGATE CITY — She is the oldest roadside attraction in the country and will celebrate her 138th birthday next month. But it takes more than you might think to keep Lucy the Elephant, a fascinating structure made of cedar wood covered with tin, looking young.

The Save Lucy Committee, which has done just that for the past 50 years, must not only protect her from the elements, but find ways to preserve her for future generations.

"We're pretty much self-funded, and our operating budget is close to half a million dollars a year," Save Lucy Committee executive director and CEO Richard Helfant said. "It takes a lot of money to keep a 138-year-old elephant alive."

Being a prime Jersey Shore attraction does have its strong points. Original builder James Lafferty intended Lucy to be a draw for visitors to what was then South Atlantic City, in hopes they would take a look around the area and buy real estate from him. But that also means that the landmark (officially recognized nationally as such in 1976) gets bombarded daily with sand, water and salt spray.

Upkeep got so poor in the early 1960s, to the point of being nonexistent, that Lucy, which at various times was a residence and a tavern, was condemned by the city of Margate. By the time the Save Lucy Committee began to oversee it, restoration took four years just to bring the elephant to a point where it could be a tourist attraction again. But tinkering continued up through the year 2000.

Now, the next major project is repainting the massive pachyderm. Helfant said for that to be done effectively, the current paint must be stripped, the tin layer treated for rust, then primed and repainted.

That's at least a two-year project, and it is to where all proceeds from a commemorative coin the committee is releasing will go. The coin retails for $19.69 — representing the year the Save Lucy Committee was formed — and can be purchased at Lucy's gift shop and on the attraction's website.

More immediately for Lucy is an official 138th birthday party on Saturday, July 20, which provides a chance to celebrate a truly unique Jersey mainstay.

"You can go all over the world, and you can see other statues and monuments and parks and museums, but there's nothing quite like Lucy anywhere on Earth," Helfant said.

Lucy's summer hours begin on Monday: open to the public Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

If you have an idea for a future installment of "Discovering New Jersey," contact Patrick Lavery, Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming, on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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