How Superior Scaffolding tackled Lucy The Elephant challenge

31 January 2023

A six-story-tall piece of architecture recently needed repairs, but it wasn’t your typical run-of-the-mill structure. SA and Superior Scaffold report.

You can’t miss her. They say you can see her from eight miles away. She’s big, bold, beautiful and a survivor!

Lucy the Elephant in Margate, NJ, Lucy the Elephant, the six-story tall piece of zoomorphic architecture located in Margate, NJ, is a national landmark constructed of wood and tin sheeting featuring several rooms accessed through staircases in the elephant’s legs. (Photo: Superior Scaffold)

Lucy the Elephant, the six-story tall piece of zoomorphic architecture located in Margate, NJ, is a national landmark constructed of wood and tin sheeting featuring several rooms accessed through staircases in the elephant’s legs.

Lucy was built in 1881 by James V. Lafferty to promote real estate sales and attract tourists to Margate and the Jersey Shore.

And boy has she delivered.

As the world’s oldest surviving example of zoomorphic architecture, Lucy the Elephant is getting a major facelift.

The structure is having 12,000-square-feet of its metal “skin” replaced because more than 50 percent of its exterior has degraded beyond repair.

Lucy’s adventures

If only the metal elephant could talk. Lucy might tell us about being sold several times, being used at pub (and nearly burned to the ground!) and as a summer rental for parties and fun.

She could wax poetic about being a media darling who has hosted famous visitors such as Henry Ford, President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson and the Rajah of Bhong.

Lucy has survived storms and hurricanes. In 1903, one storm was so bad that she ended up knee deep in the sand and volunteers had to dig her out and move her further back from the sea.

Other similar structures in Cape May, NJ and Coney Island, NY, have not survived the elements.

In 1976, Lucy was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark as the oldest surviving example of a unique form of “zoomorphic” architecture, and the oldest “roadside” attraction in America.

Today, she stands as the most popular non-gaming attraction in the greater Atlantic City region. It was only fitting that after living an incredible life that Lucy be given her magic back. 

Back to her ‘full glory’

The project involved removing Lucy’s entire tin “skin” and repairing the damaged wood beneath, while then re-tinning the elephant exterior.

The wood beneath the tin is a special red cedar that in order to keep to the original design, was only available from one factory out of Connecticut.

Finally, painters put the final touches on Lucy with a custom 40-mill thick paint that is being specially made to the exact specifications of her original paint and color so she will shine and last another one hundred years.

Superior Scaffold’s original scaffold blueprints, created by the company’s engineer, were just a rough road map on how to erect scaffolding around the pachyderm. 

Scaffolding on Lucy the Elephant The goal was to keep the scaffolding as tight to Lucy’s form as possible to get all of the different trades – sheet metal workers, carpenters, painters, electricians – right up against her delicate skin. (Photo: Superior Scaffold)

But it was Superior Scaffold’s supervisor, Joe Woulfe, and his crew, that assembled the impressive scaffold.

Like a giant puzzle, the team wove the pieces in and out and around Lucy’s structure, following the contour of her legs, belly, butt, head, ears, tusks and body.

The goal was to keep the scaffolding as tight to Lucy’s form as possible to get all of the different trades, sheet metal workers, carpenters, painters, electricians, right up against her delicate skin.

There was system scaffold all around Lucy, including the canopy at the top and also covering the wood howdah on her back.  

It was decked at every level up to 65 feet high. The front elevation was 32-feet-wide by 40 feet to top of her head by 75-feet-long.

The rear elevation to top of canopy is 65-feet-high and her rump is 35-feet-high by 27-feet-wide. There is a stair tower for access and three ladders in various locations to access different parts of her.

Superior Scaffold also used one of the company’s 400-pound Beta Max hoists for scaffold and work supplies.

Beating the elements

Superior’s scaffold erectors built a sloped roof over the elephant using trusses and corrugated aluminum to keep rain and sun off of the crew while the work was being done.

They then wrapped the entire scaffold in thick containment wrap to keep the elements out and the warmth and debris in for crews, which was of utmost importance to Superior.

Even with the wrap, the scaffold build would still be tested by the elements: The Jersey Shore is notorious for wind, but what Superior wasn’t ready for was the gale force wind and snow storms.

Scaffolding surrounding Lucy the Elephant System scaffold was used all around Lucy, including the canopy at the top and also covering the wood howdah on her back. (Photo: Superior Scaffolding)

The extreme weather elements tested the durability of the scaffold and the containment system that the company had installed.

At one point, there was fear that Lucy would turn into a well-known flying elephant during one specific tremendous wind storm, but as she has done all along, she stood strong, as did Superios’ scaffold.

A work of art

Superior Scaffold was proud to be a part of the renovation, the company said, and, in the end, the scaffold itself was as much of a masterpiece as Lucy.

Workers doing the renovation commented on how amazing it was to get so close to every inch of her.

With renovations complete, Lucy will have at least another 150 years of stories to tell.

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