WASHINGTON — More than 150 cracks have been repaired, rainwater leaks have been sealed, and the 130-year-old Washington Monument will reopen Monday for the first time in nearly three years since an earthquake caused widespread damage.
The memorial honoring George Washington has been closed since the August 2011 quake, so that engineers could do an extensive analysis and restoration of the 555-foot stone obelisk that was once the tallest structure in the world.
The monument’s white marble and mortar were cracked and shaken loose during the unusual 5.8-magnitude earthquake that sent some of the worst vibrations to the top. Debris fell inside and outside the structure, and visitors scrambled to evacuate. Later, engineers evaluated the damage by rappelling from the top, dangling from ropes.
New exhibits have been installed, and visitors can once again ride an elevator to look out from the highest point in the nation’s capital. The full restoration cost $15 million. Businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein contributed $7.5 million to pay half the cost and speed repairs.
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The billionaire co-CEO of The Carlyle Group has been urging other philanthropists to engage in what he calls “patriotic philanthropy.” In time, he predicts more philanthropists will make similar gifts.
Rubenstein is co-chairman of a campaign to raise funds to help restore the National Mall. He serves as a regent of the Smithsonian Institution and is chairman of the Kennedy Center. He has also made major gifts to the National Archives and Library of Congress.
During the monument’s restoration, a look at some of the worst damage revealed stones that were chipped and cracked all the way through, with deep gashes in some places. Others had hairline cracks that had to be sealed.
Some damaged marble was replaced with salvaged material or stone from the same Maryland quarry as the monument’s original marble. The replacement stone had been saved from the steps of old Baltimore row houses.
The monument was built in two phases between 1848 and 1884. When done, it was the world’s tallest structure for five years until it was eclipsed by the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The monument remains the world’s tallest free-standing stone structure.
It normally draws about 700,000 visitors a year. The National Park Service will offer extended hours to visit the monument beginning Tuesday and through summer.