WASHINGTON (AP) – After a three-year closure, the Washington Monument is reopening to the public.
The 555-foot stone obelisk was closed in September 2016 in order to replace the aging elevator and upgrade security systems. The monument will reopen to the public at noon on Thursday, and first lady Melania Trump is expected to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“When the monument was completed in 1884, it was the world’s tallest building bar none,” said National Park Service Spokesman Mike Litterst. “It was eclipsed shortly thereafter thereafter with the completion of the Eiffel Tower. But today the Washington Monument is still the world’s tallest freestanding masonry structure. There is no steel, there’s no iron that holds it up. It’s just the weight of the stones, and gravity that holds it in place.”
And it provides some of the most spectacular views of the nation’s capital.
The monument has been closed for most of the past eight years. An August 2011 earthquake left cracks in the stones near the top of the obelisk. It reopened in 2014, but Park Service officials were forced to close it again two years later after a series of elevator malfunctions.
“We have redesigned the operating system,” Litterst adds. “We replaced all the major mechanical parts. So, instead of having to have closures related to elevator two sometimes three times a week, we look forward to opening tomorrow, and moving forward for the foreseeable future without any issues.”
“What’s new at the monument, we think of most importance, is the fact that the elevator is now far more reliable than it was when it forced our closure in 2016,” he continues. “The other main thing people are going to notice is, as they get on the elevator, for the first time in the Washington Monument’s history there will not be a ranger or an attendant riding with you. It’s fully automated now. The video monitors on the walls provide the interpretation and the information from the range.”
Construction on the monument began in 1848 and took nearly 40 years to complete. The private organization that was running the project ran out of funding and construction was halted in 1854 at around 150 feet; that delay was exacerbated by the Civil War.
“The monument sat incomplete for about 22 years. Congress finally stepped in 1876, took over the project, gave it to the Army Corps of Engineers to finish. It was declared completed in 1884, and opened to the public in 1888,” says Litterst.
When construction resumed in 1879, builders were forced to use stone from a different quarry – giving the obelisk its distinctive two-tone color.
“Just like its construction, the recent work we did was also public private partnership. Businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein made a very generous donation of three million dollars to allow us to modernize the elevator. The National Park Service appropriated budget funded the construction of a security screening facility,” Litterst says.
It remains the tallest building in Washington and, when open, averages about 500,000 visitors per year.