Donation helps quake-damaged Washington Monument

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Philanthropist David M. Rubenstein has donated $7.5 million to help repair the earthquake-damaged Washington Monument, a gift that will jump-start efforts to reopen the national landmark to visitors.

Mr. Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group investment firm, said he gave the money as a way to “repay my debt to the country.”

“The country has been wonderful to me. The city has been wonderful to me and my family,” he said Thursday morning, standing at the base of the 126-year-old structure as a cold wind swept across the Mall.

The monument has been closed since Aug. 23, when a 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck the East Coast. The donation will be used to get a matching grant from the federal government to fix the cracks and fissures in the large stones and mortar that hold together the 555-foot-tall obelisk.

Mr. Rubenstein on Thursday recalled his first visit to the monument as a child, particularly how he was struck by the panels on the interior stones that showed U.S. states and the names of people who had donated to the monument during its construction.

“The monument was built with private funds,” Mr. Rubenstein said. “It’s stirring to see how many people donated plaques.”

Mr. Rubenstein is chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and a regent of the Smithsonian Institute. Last year alone, he donated nearly $20 million throughout the city, including $4.5 million to the National Zoo to help with its giant panda program and $13.5 million to the National Archives, which also houses his loaned copy of the 1297 Magna Carta.

Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, hopes to open the bidding process for repairs in August. He said the work likely will take at least 10 to 12 months because “this is a complex job on a one-of-a-kind structure.”

The quake cracked stones in the upper-most point of the structure, shook loose pieces of its marble interior and damaged the elevator that carries tourists to the observation deck.

Officials have said the extent of the damage could have been worse had the monument not been restored in 1998.

The announcement about the gift was welcome news for Debra Friedman, a member of the Guild of Professional Tour Guides, in the District. The D.C. resident, on the Mall when announcement was made, said she was “very excited and thrilled” and anticipates the many tourists she takes around the monument will also be looking forward to the reopening.

“People know it’s closed but they remember going up it,” she said. “Kids want to go up close to it, but they can’t.”

In the roughly five months since the quake, the Park Service has completed a full evaluation of the monument and weatherized its interior to protect against the cold and rain.

The exterior survey last fall attracted international media attention, as a team of high-climbing engineers rappelled the outside of the monument to check for damage.

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