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Old Post Office observation deck to close for building renovation

- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2014

The days are numbered for tourists to see the National Mall from a bird's-eye view, with extensive renovations set to begin this week on the District's Old Post Office Pavilion.

The pavilion and clock tower — which affords a 360-degree perspective of the city — will be closed for about two years beginning May 1 as the building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest undergoes renovations to turn the current office space into a luxury hotel.

At 270 feet, the pavilion's observation deck offers sights from the U.S. Capitol to the National Cathedral and beyond. It has filled in as one of the few ways tourists could catch a panoramic view of the city after the Washington Monument was closed for repairs due to the 2011 earthquake.

"We have signs outside the Washington Monument saying if you want a good view go to the post office," National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said. About 258,000 people visited the Old Post Office clock tower last year, she said.

As luck would have it, the Washington Monument is set to reopen on May 12, leaving only a short window that both attractions will be closed.

"I think it's serendipity," Ms. Johnson said of the timing. "We're really happy that it worked out that way."

The tower itself, at a height of 315 feet, is the third highest building in the District. The Washington Monument, by comparison, is 555 feet tall with an observation deck at 500 feet. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception stands 329 feet.

Developer Donald Trump is planning a $200 million renovation of the 114-year-old building, with the Trump Organization turning the facility into a luxury hotel, featuring high-end retailers, restaurants and a spa.

General Services Administration officials, who oversees the lease of the building, said access to the clock tower needed to be restricted for safety reasons while the building is an active construction site.

On a recent weekday, only a handful of visitors made their way through the post office pavilion's shuttered food court to a glass elevator that lifts them to the top of the post office clock tower. Souvenir shops and food vendors located in the base of building's atrium closed shop in January. Meanwhile, office tenants are also in the process of vacating the building.

A National Park Service official directing the few who arrived reminded visitors they would be among the last to see the facility for several years.

Under an agreement with the Trump Organization, the clock tower will remain publicly accessible when the hotel opens.

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