Nestled on the iconic Jersey Shore is a 65-foot-tall elephant named Lucy who has, at various points in her lengthy life, served as a real estate office, a restaurant and a private home. Now, as she approaches her 139th birthday, this prominent pachyderm is poised to take on a new title as one of the region’s quirkiest Airbnbs.
Lucy is, of course, not an actual animal, but a six-story building considered “one of the last standing pieces of roadside Americana,” according to an Airbnb statement released last week. Starting tomorrow, March 5, travelers can visit the Airbnb listing to vie for a spot in the belly of the beast, which comfortably fits two guests. Just three nights—March 17, 18 and 19—are available, each costing $138 (a nod to Lucy’s age), so the competition is likely to be fierce.
After all, says Richard Helfant, Lucy’s human handler and the host behind the Airbnb posting, to Tracey Tully of the New York Times, his charge is “the oldest surviving example of zoomorphic architecture on Earth.” Helfant, who first began volunteering with the elephant as a teenager, has been her stalwart cheerleader for more than 50 years.
Equipped with an entrance that opens by her hind feet, Lucy has a spacious interior, Victorian furnishings, a smattering of amenities and a conspicuous lack of running water. To offset this inconvenience, reports the Associated Press, Airbnb will place a heated bathroom trailer with a shower, sink and toilet on the site. Guests will still be able to enjoy breakfast, delivered right to their door on a landing just below Lucy’s luminous eyes.
Originally built in 1881 in Margate, New Jersey, a seaside locale about five miles south of Atlantic City, Lucy was the $30,000 brainchild of a somewhat eccentric land speculator named James V. Lafferty, Jr. Modeling the structure after Jumbo the Elephant, Lafferty, who had secured a short-term patent to manufacture and sell animal-shaped buildings, adorned his creation—then named “Elephant Bazaar”—with a hulking trunk, two formidable tusks, and an ornate howdah, or carriage, that still sits atop her vast backside today. He originally intended the building to serve as an elaborate tourist attraction that would offer unparalleled views of the Jersey skyline and ocean, but encountered financial troubles and was forced to sell to a private buyer in 1887. Under the ownership of the Gertzen family, the elephant was transformed into a real estate office, then, in 1902, a tavern—the year she reportedly acquired the name “Lucy,” according to the New York Times.
A family of six occupied the elephant next and substantially remodeled her interior. But by the 1960s, Lucy had fallen into substantial disrepair, prompting the city to option her demolition, reports Tanner Saunders for Travel and Leisure. Luckily, a troupe of locals came together to raise money to save and refurbish the structure, establishing what would become the “Save Lucy Committee,” which Helfant heads up today. Within just a few years, Lucy had reopened to the public; by 1976, she was designated as a national landmark.
Nowadays, Lucy’s neglect is far behind her. Some 132,000 paying visitors ascend the spiral staircase that winds through her innards each year. Those who don’t nab the coveted Airbnb spots can still pay her a visit, admiring her from afar for free or coughing up a few bucks for a guided tour.