- The Washington Times
Wednesday, September 18, 2019

For the first time in 1,128 days, visitors to the Washington Monument on Thursday will be able to ascend the 555-foot marble obelisk to take in the best view of the nation’s capital.

“We’re just excited to open it again,” National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said Wednesday during a tour of the site. “The views from up here are like nothing else.”

The monument’s reopening comes after a three-year closure for repair of its elevator and other renovations at a cost of about $3 million, thanks to a donation from philanthropist David Rubenstein.

The National Park Service will hand out the first tickets to visitors at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, and said the first group should travel to the top around 11:30 a.m. after first lady Melania Trump cuts the ribbon during the reopening ceremony.

Tickets to ride the elevator will be available each day, but only at the site until Oct. 18. Beginning Oct. 10, visitors will be able to reserve tickets online months in advance.

Mr. Litterst said he expects a big crowd at the reopening, noting that people lined up at 4 a.m. when the monument reopened in 2014 following repairs due to a 2011 earthquake.

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 string of elevator malfunctions “two or three times a week,” according to Mr. Litterst.

“We could not guarantee with any effectiveness that when you get on here we are going to get you to the top without problem,” he said, noting that visitors had to be evacuated from the elevator several times during that period.

The refurbished elevator now provides a smooth, 70-second ride to the top. What’s more, it no longer will feature a ranger providing information during the trip, relying instead on an automated system. It also can stop midride, if necessary.

Along with the upgraded elevator, a permanent security structure has been constructed in front of the monument.

The structure, which cost $12 million in National Park Service appropriations, has air conditioning and heating, is roomier and requires fewer police staff, said Brian Hall, a public affairs officer for the park service.

Security procedures to get into the monument have not changed. Visitors must go through metal detectors and are prohibited from bringing items like food or drink, strollers, large bags, weapons or animals.

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.

Construction resumed in 1879, but builders were forced to use stone from a different quarry — giving the obelisk its distinctive two-tone color.

The Washington Monument is one of the tallest free-standing masonry structures in the world. At the time of its construction in 1884, it was the tallest building in the world and is still the tallest building in Washington, receiving about 500,000 visitors a year.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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