Washington Monument is reopening after years of repairs

The Washington Monument will emerge bruised but not broken for its grand reopening Monday, when visitors will once again be zipping up the elevators of the capital’s tallest attraction.

The 555-foot obelisk has 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 have been busily filling cracks with epoxy, relining stone interstices with more than 14,000 feet of mortar, and installing 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. Fallen chunks of marble were replaced with pieces from the same Maryland quarry that produced some of the monument’s original stones.


Some locals are sure to look back wistfully at the years of repairs, an occasion for the neoclassical-style structure to don 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.

Some say the scars on the monument add to its mystique.

“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.”

Anticipation surrounds the monument’s emergence from the most damaging event in its history. Tourists will 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 be coming 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’s reopening celebration is to star “Today” show weatherman Al Roker, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and “American Idol” winner Candice Glover.

Starting at 1 p.m. Monday, tourists and locals will be able to embark on a 70-second elevator ride to one of the most prized vistas in the city: a bird’s-eye view of the National Mall leading to the Capitol, along with views of the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.


But others will not have that chance. Fausto Ferreira, 29, said the Washington Monument had been at the top of his priority list during his visit from Portugal. “It’s one of the most iconic monuments,” he said.

Had he known the monument would reopen Monday, he said, he would have stayed one more afternoon.

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 nation’s 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 after vandalism. It reopened in 1888.