Washington Monument Lit During Restoration

One of Washington's most famous landmarks got a new glow Monday evening.

Monday, the National Park Service began lighting the monument each night at dusk, with 488 lamps beautifying the monument while it is closed for earthquake damage repairs over the next year.

"When they flipped the switch, I was a little underwhelmed but it became more and more beautiful as the night went on," D.C. resident Jack Spirakes said after the ceremony Tuesday. "That's what they do with the Eiffel Tower so why not here in D.C.?"

A blue, semi-transparent fabric has been wrapped around the scaffolding that surrounds the monument as it undergoes extensive repairs from the 2011 earthquake damage.

Tonight's ceremonial first lighting featured National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis and philanthropist David Rubenstein, who donated $7.5 million to fund half the cost of repairs.

Architect Michael Graves was commissioned to design a scrim to decorate the monument between 1998 and 2000, when it was last restored. His same design was used this time to exaggerate the scale of the monument's stone pattern and the mortar that is being repaired.

National Mall Superintendent Bob Vogel told The Associated Press the lighting marks a milestone in the years-long effort to restore and reopen the monument to President George Washington.

"We know that our visitors are disappointed that they can't actually go up in the monument,'' he said. "So, we hope that this will make up for it just a little.''

The monument was lit gradually from bottom to top. It takes several minutes for all 488 lights to come to full power, Vogel said. After the first lighting, sensors will light the monument automatically each night at dusk.

Many stones near the top of the monument were chipped or cracked, and mortar was shaken loose during a 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Aug. 23, 2011, along the East Coast.

Experts have completed a detailed analysis of each stone's damage. Now, they are working to ensure all the repair plans are just right, from the color of mortar to a process for injecting a sealant into cracked stones, Vogel said. Within days, they will begin making final repairs, working stone by stone across the surface and inside the obelisk.

The monument is expected to reopen once the repairs are completed in spring 2014, the park service has estimated.

In the meantime, the National Park Service is launching a live online EarthCam view of the monument and of the National Mall.

The monument lighting also marks Rubenstein's role in a larger campaign to restore neglected sites on the National Mall, officials said. The co-founder of the Carlyle Group investment firm has joined the nonprofit Trust for the National Mall as a co-chairman to help raise $350 million to preserve and restore sites in the nation's most-visited national park.

"He's taking his leadership role as a co-chair of the campaign for the National Mall very seriously,'' said Caroline Cunningham, the fundraising group's president."We're really grateful for not only his passion about the restoration of the Washington Monument but his passion for the campaign to restore the National Mall.''

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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