- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2006

As visitors stream by the capital’s famous landmarks this summer, they will find some of them partially obscured by orange plastic fencing and construction equipment.

Portions of both the Marine Corps War Memorial, near the north gate of Arlington National Cemetery, and the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall are undergoing work. And visitors won’t be able to miss the sights and sounds of construction at the National Zoo and the Smithsonian’s National Patent Office Building.

“The amount of visitors that we have here does take a toll, and so there’s really no best time to do major maintenance,” said Bill Line, a National Park Service spokesman, who adds that planners generally work with contractors to stagger work on major attractions so only portions of them are obstructed while work is under way.

Both the Marine Corps and Lincoln memorials have been undergoing upgrades since last year.

The base and grounds surrounding the towering bronze statue of five servicemen raising the flag over Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi is undergoing its most extensive rehabilitation since the statue was erected in 1956. Though much of the work is completed, some lighting and landscaping work will wrap up after Labor Day at a cost of $5.5 million.

At the Lincoln Memorial, the first traffic enhancement project in more than four decades is nearing completion. Although it’s among the most popular monuments on the Mall, its location near the Potomac River has been plagued by limited parking for tour buses and narrow, outdated pedestrian walkways. Once $5 million in improvements to the grounds are complete, Park Service officials say it will be easier for people to get there on foot or by bicycle or bus.

Since 1959, the Lincoln Memorial has been a ubiquitous symbol featured on the reverse of the U.S. 1 cent coin, with more than 17 billion coins minted in the past three years alone.

Construction work also is continuing at several other major attractions in and around Washington.

At the National Zoo, the $34 million Asia Trail exhibit is within six months of completion. Begun in April 2004, it will be the new home of the zoo’s giant pandas, sloth bears, clouded leopards, giant salamanders and several other species native to the world’s largest continent.

The project has been impossible for zoo visitors to avoid. The cranes tower behind the enclosures where 11-month-old Tai Shan and his parents Mei Xiang and Tian Tian remain the zoo’s most popular attractions.

“The kids usually make more noise than the construction,” said David Schnetlage, 51, of Clarksville, Tenn., as he peered through a fence at a zebra that appeared oblivious to the sounds of drilling and hammering just yards away.

Many visitors said they looked forward to returning to see the finished results after looking in on the progress crews were making preparing new pits, moats and landscaped paddocks for the animals that will move into the exhibits this fall.

“Sometimes you have to suffer in the short term to get the best out of the long term,” said Debra Schrimsher, of Orlando, Fla., who was visiting the zoo with her husband and two young granddaughters.

At the Smithsonian Institution, one major renovation project is almost finished and another is beginning.

A six-year renovation at the Old Patent Office Building, which has housed two Smithsonian museums since 1968, was expected to be completed July 1. Closed since 2000, the building has undergone substantial restoration to its Greek Revival exterior.

Built between 1836 and 1867, its stone facade required cleaning and repair. The building’s interior systems, including 550 windows, elevators, and cooling, heating and electrical systems, were upgraded.

The Smithsonian’s American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery will reopen in the building. Portions of their collections are now on loan and are being displayed at other facilities.

The portrait gallery will put up 14 new exhibits from its collection of 20,000 paintings, prints and sculptures. The art museum will exhibit about 4,000 works, five times as many as it did before.

Visitors also will be able to see art preservation and restoration work firsthand in the new 10,200-square-foot Lunder Conservation Center.

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