Washington Monument To Remain Closed Until 2019


If you’re visiting Washington, D.C. anytime soon, don’t plan on getting to go up to the top of the Washington Monument:

Billionaire philanthropist David Rubenstein has agreed to fund an overhaul of the Washington Monument’s broken elevator system, but the beleaguered landmark will probably remain closed for the next 2 1/2  years, the National Park Service says.

It is the second time that Rubenstein has come to the aid of the monument, which has been shuttered since Aug. 17 because of chronic elevator problems.

After the 2011 earthquake, he donated $7.5 million of the $15 million cost to repair damage to the marble-and-granite obelisk.

But there is no start date for the roughly 12-month elevator project, which will cost $2 million to $3 million, because the Park Service is awaiting funds for a new security screening entrance that it wants to build at the same time.

And even if those funds come through, the Park Service does not see the monument reopening until the “cherry blossom season in 2019,” a spokesman, Mike Litterst, said in an email.

“It does seem like it’s a long period of time,” said Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation, the charitable partner that is facilitating Rubenstein’s donation. “Just know that the Park Service is moving as fast as it can.”

“As frustrating as it can be, they’re a federal agency,” he said. “We’re talking about one of our national monuments . . . A lot of people have a say in it, and it tends to grind the process a little bit slower than we’d like.”

The centerpiece of the Mall, the monument had just reopened two years ago, following an almost three-year shutdown after the earthquake.

Normally entered by about 600,000 visitors a year, the 555-foot icon is a hallowed symbol of the United States and of Washington.

“It’s the first thing people see when they come to the city,” said Sean Kennealy, chief of the professional services division for the National Mall and Memorial Parks.


The elevator problems came just as the Park Service was about to launch an 18-month, $9 million project to build the permanent security screening facility. The present facility is temporary.

That project, which also would require closing the monument, is awaiting government funding, Vietzke said. The Park Service wants to proceed with the two projects simultaneously, so it can save money and avoid one shutdown, followed by another one.

“We want to try to do all the construction at the same time to minimize the period that we’re closed to the public,” she said.

“There’s a scenario where we could do the elevator, and then have the money for the [security] building come, and have to do that, and it would be a much longer closure period,” she said.

But it is unclear when the funding request, now before Congress, might be okayed.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said in a statement that she would work “to help secure the funding . . . so that the dual projects can take place at the same time . . . [and get] the monument to reopen as soon as possible.”

The Park Service said the new facility will feature ballistic glass and screening equipment and will be able to handle 20 to 25 visitors at a time.

Kennealy said the monument may have the most heavily used elevator in Washington.

“Our elevator runs, during the summer months . . . 13 hours a day, nonstop,” he said. “It doesn’t rest . . . This thing is running constantly, the motor, the gears, the control system, the doors.”

The monument has had an elevator since it opened. The first was steam-powered and took 12 minutes to reach the top. The trip now takes 70 seconds.

Somewhere in all of this is a pretty apt statement about the state of American politics.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , ,
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. Tyrell says:

    Years ago as a child we took the stairs. Why are they not in use ?

  2. Mr. Bluster says:

    The Washington Monument attracted enormous crowds before it officially opened. For six months after its dedication, 10,041 people climbed the 898 steps and 50 landings to the top. After the elevator that had been used to raise building materials was altered to carry passengers, the number of visitors grew rapidly, and an average of 55,000 people per month were going to the top by 1888.

    About one fourth of visitors chose to ascend the monument using the stairs when they were available. They were closed to up traffic in 1971, and then closed to all traffic except by special arrangement in 1976. The stairs had 898 steps until 1958, consisting of 18 risers in each of the 49 main stairs plus 16 risers in the spiral stair. Since 1958 the stairs have had 897 risers if only one spiral stair is counted because both spiral stairs now have 15 risers each. These figures do not include two additional steps in the entry passage that were covered up in 1975 by a ramp and its inward horizontal extension to meet the higher (since 1886) entry lobby floor. One step was 3.2 feet (1 m) away from the outer walls and the other was at the end of the passage, 15 feet (4.6 m) away from the outer walls.

    As initially constructed, the interior was relatively open with two-rail handrails, but a couple of suicides and an accidental fall prompted the addition of tall wire screening (7 feet (2.1 m) high with a large diamond mesh) on the inside edge of the stairs and landings in 1929. The original steam powered elevator, which took 10 to 12 minutes to ascend to the observation floor, was replaced by an electric elevator powered by an on-site dynamo in 1901 which took five minutes to ascend. The monument was connected to the electrical grid in 1923, allowing the installation of a modern electric elevator in 1925–26 which took 70 seconds. The latter was replaced in 1958 and again in 1998 by 70-second elevators. During 1997–2000, the wire screening at three platforms was replaced by large glass panels to allow visitors on the elevator to view three clusters of memorial stones that were synchronously lit as the elevator automatically slowed as it passed them during its descent.

    Drove to DC last Saturday.
    The trip plan was to get as far as Breezewood PA and then fork north to NYC or South to DC.
    Forked South.
    Spent several hours driving around looking for a place to park (silly me).
    Saw White House, Capitol Building (where the two Chambers of Congress meet), tourists at every crosswalk, the Supreme Court Building, Department of Agriculture and from the traffic signal at 15th Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue a clear shot at the Washington Monument.
    Right then I became painfully aware of the coffee I had been drinking all day and had to cross the Potomac on Interstate 66 into Virginia before I found relief at a Kwik-E-Mart.
    It was getting dark so I had to head south back to Sleepytown.
    But I been there done that.
    Hopefully Santa will bring me a big Sack of $$$$ this year and I can return for President Pud’s Inauguration!

  3. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tyrell: Because most Americans (including children, unfortunately) can’t climb 50 flights of stairs?

  4. Mikey says:

    It hasn’t been right since the earthquake.

  5. @Tyrell:

    The steps were closed for public use years ago due to safety issues.

  6. @Mikey:

    Yea, the earthquake is part of the reason for what’s going on here.

    They’re also still repairing damage from the quake at Washington National Cathedral.

  7. James Pearce says:

    Ah, the old dilemma:

    1. Fast
    2. Good
    3. Cheap

    Pick two.