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Washington Monument draws crowds as it reopens after renovations

Trips and VacationsTravelHuman InterestNational ParksWashington MonumentThe Carlyle GroupDavid M. Rubenstein
Washington Monument reopens for first time since sustaining earthquake damage in August 2011
Thousands line up to get inside the reopened Washington Monument

After three years of renovations, the Washington Monument reopened to the public Monday with some visible bruises, as thousands gathered to celebrate the restoration of the capital’s tallest monument.

"Today" show weatherman Al Roker, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and "American Idol" winner Candice Glover appeared at the opening ceremony.

Public tours reopened at 1 p.m., taking visitors on a 70-second elevator ride to the top for a vista of the National Mall, the Capitol, and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. Visitors started waiting early in the morning.

“There are thousands of people in line waiting to get inside,” said Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, “and the monument is ready to receive them in all of its glory.”

The 555-foot obelisk had been closed since August 2011, when a rare magnitude 5.8 earthquake chipped and unsettled some of its granite and marble stones.

Since then, crews of stonemasons filled cracks with epoxy, relined stone interstices with more than 14,000 feet of mortar and installed metal cradle anchors to reinforce the stone ribs sustaining the monument's pyramidion.

The arduous process began soon after the quake, with engineers rappelling from the top of the structure to investigate the damage, stone by stone. Ultimately, 132 chunks of stone were replaced with marble from the same Maryland quarry that produced some of the monument's original stones.

Paul Scherbak, 42, took advantage of his morning jog to reserve spots for himself and traveling companion David DeFelice, 54, both visiting from San Francisco. “I ran down early this morning,” he said, adding that he looked forward to getting “a different perspective of Washington.”

For DeFelice, the quake damages compelled him to make a visit he had passed up on other trips. “It was vulnerable,” he said. “It seems like it’s important to see it before something else could happen.”

But others missed the early wake-up call. Terri Schumacher, 66, visiting from San Antonio, arrived too late to secure tickets. “I would love to go up there,” she said. “It’s very beautiful.”

It was not her first disappointment on a visit to the nation’s capital, though. “We planned this trip last year, and they shut the government down,” she said.

During the repair, the neoclassical-style structure was surrounded by a stylish scaffolding covered with a blue scrim that glowed at night with lighting from 488 lamps. The protective structure, designed by New York architect Michael Graves, enveloped the monument for almost a year and was praised for its blocky modernism.

"It looked like a Transformer ... but it was all lit up," said Washington resident Steven Schwark, 29. For Schwark, a social media specialist, the reopening will be an occasion to visit the top for the first time.

The reopened monument now bears visible scars -- white gashes of epoxy and new pieces of marble that clash with the softer hue of the older stones.

"That stone has been weathered for more than 100 years," said James Perry, chief of resource management at the National Park Service. It has been "patched and cracked and chipped and hit by lightning. ... It's not meant to be pristine, it's meant to retain that character."

Visitors will also be treated to a new exhibit on George Washington's legacy and the history of the monument's construction. Park officials estimate that 800,000 people will come through every year.

Half of the $15-million repair bill was paid with a donation from David Rubenstein, a founder of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm.

The monument has a history of being fashionably late. Plans to build a structure to honor George Washington were first approved by the Continental Congress in 1783, before he became the first president.

A private group pursued the idea half a century later, but when funds dried up in 1856, construction paused for 20 years. Marble was then sourced from a different quarry, causing a slight color change near the obelisk's 150-foot mark.

The monument opened to the public in 1886 but closed quickly because of vandalism. It reopened in 1888.

lalita.clozel@latimes.com

Twitter: @lalitaclozel

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

2:31 p.m.: This post has been updated with comments from visitors to the Washington Monument.

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Trips and VacationsTravelHuman InterestNational ParksWashington MonumentThe Carlyle GroupDavid M. Rubenstein
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