Washington Monument reopens after a nearly 3-year repair effort

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WASHINGTON -- Nearly 670 feet of cracks are sealed, and loose stones are once again fixed in place at the 130-year-old Washington Monument, which defines the capital skyline. The panoramic views, from about 500 feet above the landscape, are back.

During a ribbon-cutting attended by hundreds of people -- including celebrities and politicians, tourists and schoolchildren -- the National Park Service and the Trust for the National Mall on Monday reopened the Washington Monument. People gathered in the shadow of the monument and listened to a history lesson from a fourth-grade class from eastern Washington's Aiton Elementary School.

Two actors dressed as George and Martha Washington greeted visitors.

The repairs took nearly three years after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in 2011 left visible cracks in the granite-and-marble structure.

"Its foundations are very solid, so even though the damage was serious and needed serious attention, we were grateful that it still stood," said Caroline Cunningham, president of the Trust for the National Mall, a nonprofit partner of the National Park Service that raises money for the monuments.

The earthquake damaged the pyramid at the top of the monument, where the walls are "only 7 inches thick, versus 15 feet thick at the base," said National Mall superintendent Bob Vogel. "There were cracks where you could see all the way through to the other side."

Engineers spent weeks analyzing nearly 20,000 stones in the dry-stacked structure before repairs began.

For four months in 2013, scaffolding enclosed the monument, which was illuminated by 588 lights at night. "We had hundreds of people saying to us, 'Leave up the lights,' " Mr. Vogel said. "But they had to come down."

The repairs cost an estimated $15 million, but the bill was cut in half when philanthropist and financier David Rubenstein donated $7.5 million. Congress approved the rest. "We're very pleased that the park service could get this done on time and on budget," Mr. Rubenstein said before the ceremony. "It has become more of a symbol of the country than just a monument for one man."

And Monday, the 555-foot-tall structure was celebrated. One man was dressed as the monument -- pyramid dome and all -- bearing a sign that read, "Come in, we're open."

A fife-and-drum corps performed in traditional Revolutionary War-era garb, wigs included, and marched with the crowd to "Yankee Doodle."

Wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, with their families and some government officials, made the trip to the top. More than half a million people visit the monument every year, and public tours began Monday afternoon.

Mr. Rubenstein, Ms. Cunningham and Mr. Vogel were joined on stage for the ceremony by other repair work supporters, including John Podesta, a counselor to President Barack Obama; Interior Secrtary Sally Jewell; Al Roker, one of the hosts of "Today" on NBC; Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service; Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's nonvoting delegate in the House; and Washington Mayor Vincent Gray.

Candice Glover, the 2013 "American Idol" winner, sang "America the Beautiful," her first time performing the song live. "It's amazing to be a part of history," she said.

Dozens of eighth-grade students in neon orange T-shirts craned their necks at the monument base, taking in a view they would have missed over the past 32 months, when fences barred people from getting too close.

"To be here on the day it is reopening is thrilling," said art teacher Cindy Fehr-Stahanczyk of the Bridge Street Middle School in Wheeling, W.Va., who was with 65 students. "For these kids, it's exciting to see it in person."



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