The lights of the Washington Monument have been off for a week, and most people have adjusted, more or less, to its absence in the nighttime Washington skyline. The lights were turned off so workers could remove the 500 tons of scaffolding that enabled them to perform $15 million in earthquake damage repairs, beginning early this year. The monument will reopen and the lights will go back on in spring 2014.
Carol B. Johnson of the National Park Service says the removal project will last two to three months. “Spring” is as specific as she’ll get regarding an opening date. “They are still working on the 160-foot level and below,” she said. The work is 85 percent complete on the exterior and 50 percent complete on the interior. “By the time the scaffolding is down the exterior work will be done,” Johnson says. After the work is done on the monument itself, the plaza will be put back in place.
“They removed a large portion of the plaza so it wouldn’t be damaged by scaffolding,” Johnson said. “Each of those plaza pieces is marked, and they will be put back in exactly the same place they were removed from.” After that comes landscaping.
The repaired monument will open with a “refreshed” look and new exhibits for the estimated 700,000 people who visit each year, according to Johnson. It is the only monument that requires tickets, due to the elevator ride from the ground to the top—500 feet up—and back down again. There also are stairs, 897 of them, but they are no longer open to the public.
This is the second time the monument has been encased in scaffolding in the past 24 years. The last time was from 1989 to 2000 for a restoration project. The scaffolding—then and now—has always had its fans, who consider it “Christo-like,” especially when lit up at night. Nonetheless, the wrapping must come off. “After all, it’s the Washington Monument,” said Robert Vogel, superintendent of the Mall.