Now shrouded by a massive cloth tarp, the water tower is being repainted and renovated as part of a $667,500 facelift.

By Donald Wittkowski

It is a feat of magic that could put even the great illusionists Harry Houdini and David Copperfield to shame.

A painting company and its workers have made Sea Isle City’s 135-foot-high water tower disappear.

Poof. It’s gone!

Actually, the water tower has vanished – just temporarily – underneath a huge cloth tarp as part of a $667,500 painting and renovation project that is scheduled to wrap up in March after four months of challenging work during winter’s harsh weather.

Soaring above the city’s skyline, the landmark structure at 39th Street and Central Avenue greets visitors entering town on the John F. Kennedy Boulevard gateway with the uplifting expression, “Smile … You’re in Sea Isle City.”

In 2002, the last time the water tower was painted, the city changed the slogan on it from the mundane “Welcome to Sea Isle City” to the whimsical “Smile … You’re in Sea Isle City.” Sea Isle officials have stressed there are no plans to change the “Smile” message this time around.

Seen here before the painting project began, the water tower features the whimsical “Smile … You’re in Sea Isle City” slogan.

After years of exposure to the elements, the tower was in need of a facelift. Its light blue paint had faded and rust streaks and giant scuff marks were visible on the underside of the structure.

Allied Painting Inc., of Cherry Hill, is giving the water tower the makeover. Chris Cannon, Allied’s foreman, explained that three coats of paint will be applied to the inside and outside of the tower – 550 gallons in all.

Allied was sandblasting the old paint off the tower last week. Cannon said it will take two days to repaint the tower and another two days to paint the “Smile” slogan.

Workers will then remove the tarp and massive complex of metal scaffolding that surrounds the tower to finish the job. Cannon said everything should be completed sometime in March.

“This water tower’s going to look really good,” he said.

Chris Cannon, of Cherry Hill-based Allied Painting Inc., serves as foreman on the water tower project.

Allied has experience painting water towers along the East Coast, including in the Jersey Shore towns of Ocean City, Seaville, Avalon and Cape May, Cannon noted.

“I’ve done water tanks all the way from New Hampshire to South Carolina,” said Cannon, whose brother, James Cannon, owns Allied Painting.

Workers are outfitted with harnesses and an array of other safety equipment to protect them from falls, Cannon emphasized. He pointed out that strong winter winds whipping off the ocean make the project a daunting task.

“Here, the challenge is the wind,” he said. “But 100 percent of what we do here puts safety first.”

Wicked winds spawned by the coastal storm that lashed the Jersey Shore over the weekend ripped off a large section of the tarp covering the water tower on the 39th Street side.

The large section of tarp torn away from the top of the water tower is evidence of the powerful winds during this weekend’s coastal storm.

The tower is draped with a network of 10 tarps measuring 40 feet-by-60 feet and another eight tarps measuring 30 feet-by-100 feet. The tarps are made of the same material as parachutes and are comparable to the cloth sails on a boat, Cannon said.

“These tarps are very heavy to keep them on the tower, because up there, it’s very windy,” he said, gazing toward the top of the structure.