The Lincoln Memorial is about to undergo the biggest renovation in its nearly 100-year-old history, with much of the work to be financed with an $18.5 million gift from Carlyle Group founder David Rubenstein. The National Park Service says the overhaul will take about four years, and, when complete, will include the restoration of the site’s murals, a massive expansion of its exhibit space, desperately needed new bathrooms, and the exposure of the monument’s foundation and pilings, which sink as deep as 65 feet.
Rubenstein’s gift is more than three times what the federal government itself is putting forward for the overhaul. The National Park Service plans to chip in $6 million.
“The idea was to take the basic Lincoln Memorial and reshape it a bit, make it more modern, scrub it up a bit,” Rubenstein told the Washington Post about the many improvements to the memorial, which draws about 7 million visitors every year, making it the National Mall’s most-visited site.
The renovation will also include extensive work on the memorial’s slate roof, which is crumbling and often leaks. The repair work is not expected to close the memorial.
Rubenstein’s $18.5 million donation comes in the middle of a National Park Foundation initiative to raise $350 million in private funds as a (relatively paltry) down payment on an NPS maintenance backlog of about $11.5 billion. More than 10 percent of that figure—about $1.195 billion—is associated with DC sites the Park Service administers. The National Mall and Memorial Parks division, which includes the Lincoln Memorial, is about $852.7 million behind.
The Carlyle Group executive’s gift also fits in with his other philanthropic acts around Washington, which have often gone to high-profile institutions with large public followings. Rubenstein, who is worth about $2.5 billion, put up half the Washington Monument’s $15 million repair cost following the August 2011 earthquake, has given the Kennedy Center about $75 million over the years, and made a permanent loan of a $23 million copy of the Magna Carta to the National Archives. He has also given the Smithsonian Institution $9 million to fund giant panda reproduction since 2011.
Rubenstein, the son of a Baltimore postal worker, calls his philanthropy “patriotic giving.” But he has also pointed out that his gifts are more necessary now than in years past as government funding for national cultural institutions has dried up.
“The United States cannot afford to do the things it used to do,” he told the New York Times in 2014, “and I think it would be a good thing if more people would say: ‘My national zoo needs money, the archives need money. I think we’re going to have to do more for them.’ “