Earthquake Damage To Washington Monument Worse Than First Believed

The damage to the Washington Monument from August’s earthquake is worse than initial exterior examination had indicated:

WASHINGTON — The earthquake-damaged Washington Monument has extensive cracking and chipped stones near its peak that left it highly vulnerable to rainfall, and inspectors found cracks and loose stones along the entire length of the 555-foot structure, according to a report released Thursday by the National Park Service.

The report was prepared by the engineering firm whose employees rappelled down the sides of the monument in September to inspect the damage. It offers the most detailed portrait yet of damage to the 127-year-old monument, which has been closed to visitors since a 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook the nation’s capital on Aug. 23.

The report does not estimate how long repairs would take or how much they would cost. The federal spending bill approved last week allocates $7.5 million to fix the monument, with the understanding that the National Park Service will raise an equal amount through private donations.

The repairs recommended by the report include reinforcing the cracks with stainless steel plates and filling them with sealant; replacing as many loose pieces of marble as possible and shoring them up with steel anchors or mortar; and cleaning and re-sealing all joints in the top portion of the monument to keep water out.

The report also recommends a seismic study to gauge the monument’s vulnerability to future earthquakes.

While the monument remains structurally sound, the cracks left it so exposed that after rainstorms, “a substantial amount of standing water collects on the floors of the display and observation levels,” the report found.

The inspection found six cracks that extend through the full thickness of the marble panels that form the exterior of the monument’s pyramidion, the uppermost portion of the obelisk where it begins narrowing to a point. Cracks and chipped or loose stones, found all along the structure, were more concentrated at the 450-foot mark and above.

The largest piece of stone to become dislodged was in the interior of the monument and weighed more than 200 pounds.

The monument remains closed and, as of now, there’s no timetable for repairs. This looks, though, like it could be as big a project as the year-long refurbishing that kept the structure closed for a year in the mid-1990s.

The other major structure damaged by the earthquake was the Washington National Cathedral, which was reopened after initial inspections. However, repair work to the delicate stonework that was damaged could take as much as a decade:

When the 5.8-magnitude quake hit, it shook the giant English Gothic cathedral like a stack of blocks, knocking off many decorative elements, which tumbled to the ground or smashed into other sculptures, damaging them, too.

Some are broken beyond repair and must be replaced. Others, like those in the shop in the cathedral complex on Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest Washington, can be repaired.

“We’re going to fix as many of the original stones as possible,” Uhl said recently. “There are some we’re not going to be able to fix.”

The cathedral has said it needs $15 million for the initial repairs and millions more for full restoration, which could take a decade to complete.

Replacements will be carved from stone acquired from the same Indiana quarry where the cathedral’s original stone was cut, the men said.

All this from what some west coasters derisively called a “minor earthquake.”

FILED UNDER: Open Forum, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I had several smart-alek responses come to mind while reading this post. Somehow or other, none seem to be appropriate.

    Happy Holidays…. or maybe Bah! Humbug!

    To all.

  2. All this from what some west coasters derisively called a “minor earthquake.”

    Whenever people from California mock us east coasters for our reaction to the Earthquake, I just remind them how funny we find it everytime there’s a drizzle in Los Angeles and it’s treated as though the second biblical flood has begun.

  3. Richard Gardner says:

    I’ve been to the top of the Washington Monument, but I always told visitors to go to the top of the Old Post Office Building instead when I lived in DC. No lines, similar view, way less time.