On September 19, the Washington Monument on the National Mall will reopen to the public, who will be able to ride an elevator to the top to get the best view of D.C.’s most famous sites.
For much of the last decade, visitors have only been able to gaze at the structure from a distance. On August 23, 2011, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake, a rarity for the East Coast, cracked the monument, displaced bricks and damaged the internal elevator. The shake prompted an almost two-year closure and $15 million in repair work. For much of that time, the monument was surrounded by a chain-link fence and had scaffolding surrounding the spire.
The structure reopened in May of 2014. But nearly two years later, the monument was forced to close to tourists again when a cable on its elevator snapped in August of 2016. The aging elevator already had a history of previous incidents, and Mikaela Lefrak at WAMU reports that the Park Service decided it was time to overhaul the entire system, modernize its control system and add audio-visual screens into the cabin. It awarded a contract to a Maryland construction company in September of 2017 to get to work on that and a visitor screening center outside the monument. A temporary center had been erected soon after the terrorist attacks of September, 11, 2001, but it was never replaced with a permanent structure.
The whole project was scheduled for completion in the spring of 2019. However, the discovery of contaminated soil in the area of the screening center pushed that timeline to August. Now, the Park service announced it will officially reopen to the public on Thursday, September 19. According to a press release, "same-day tickets for opening day and all tours through Oct. 18 will be available on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Washington Monument Lodge, located on 15th Street, between Madison Drive, NW and Jefferson Drive, SW." Beginning October 10, visitors can secure tickets via www.recreation.gov for tours starting October 19 onward. The monument will be open seven days a week from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
The NPS has not elaborated on what contaminated the soil found at the site, but said it poses no public health risk. About 250,000 cubic yards of earth were deposited in the area in 1888 to create the knoll that the spire sits on.
Architect Pierre L'Enfant’s original 1791 plan for Washington, D.C., included a spot on the National Mall for a monument to George Washington. In 1833, a society formed to design and raise money for the monument. Construction began in 1848, and by 1854 the monument reached a height of 156 feet.
The project was temporarily scuttled when allies of the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic and conspiracy-theory minded Know-Nothing Party took over the board of the Washington National Monument Society in 1853 and drove it into bankruptcy. The Civil War and its aftermath kept the project from getting back on track until 1876 when Congress took over the work.
In 1885, on the day before George Washington’s birthday, the monument was finally dedicated. At the time, it was the world’s tallest building at 555 feet, 5-1/8 inches. It also boasted a steam-driven elevator that got people to the top in 10 to 12 minutes. For the dedication, orator Robert Winthrop wrote: “The storms of winter must blow and beat upon it ... the lightnings of Heaven may scar and blacken it. An earthquake may shake its foundations ... but the character which it commemorates and illustrates is secure.”
Update, 8/16/19: This story has been edited to include the date the Washington Monument will reopen to the public.