Since its dedication in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial has been one of Washington, D.C.’s most beloved tributes. The monument is noteworthy for its sheer size—the statue of Lincoln alone clocks in at 175 tons. But over the years, it’s gained associations with the Civil Rights movement, too. In 1939, Marian Anderson, a soprano who was denied access to Constitution Hall because of her race, gave a historic concert on the memorial’s steps. And the memorial was the backdrop for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s electric “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. But in recent years, Honest Abe’s temple has gotten dirty and somewhat damaged. That’s about to change: Yesterday, the National Park Service announced that the memorial will get a multimillion-dollar renovation.
In a release, the National Park Foundation announced that philanthropist David Rubenstein has donated $18.5 million to repair and restore the memorial. The long to-do list includes plans to repair damaged brick and marble, build 15,000-square feet of additional display space, add an elevator and, of course, give the memorial a good scrub. The renovation will also open the memorial’s foundational pillars to the public, giving visitors glimpses of graffiti left by the workers who built the monument.
The gift, which will be administered by the nonprofit National Park Foundation, is just the latest from Rubenstein, a billionaire benefactor who has donated millions to restore a variety of national monuments and historic sites. Rubenstein, who owns a large private equity firm, has donated money to renovate the Washington Monument, U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial and White House Visitor Center, among others.
The Washington Post’s Michael E. Ruane reports that the overhaul will also include repairs to the memorial’s roof and restoration of its murals. Often overshadowed by the gigantic sculpture they surround, the murals are 60 feet wide by 12 feet high and depict highly stylized allegories illustrating themes of Lincoln’s life.
Gussying up the memorial won’t be easy: The work will take at least four years. But there’s good news for the more than six million people who will likely visit the memorial each year—it will remain open, so that everyone can still experience Honest Abe while he gets a few nips and tucks.