The National Park Service announced Tuesday that it has reopened Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial following a $12.35 million rehabilitation made possible by a donation from philanthropist David M. Rubenstein to the National Park Foundation.
The Greek revival-style mansion is located in Arlington National Cemetery and drew 650,000 visitors in previous years. It closed in 2011 following a rare 5.8 magnitude earthquake that damaged the original structure. Mr. Rubenstein stepped forward three years later with his donation; a 30-month project with a clear mission followed.
“The National Park Service has done a spectacular job refurbishing Arlington House and telling the stories of the enslaved people who built the plantation house and worked there,” said Mr. Rubenstein, who is co-founder and co-chairman of The Carlyle Group, a global investment firm.
“The reopening of Arlington House provides a place for hard and important conversations that illuminate more perspectives, including the experiences of enslaved people and their descendants,” said Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation.
The house itself has a complex heritage. Originally constructed between 1802 and 1818, it was the residence of George Washington Parke Custis and served as the nation’s first memorial to his adopted grandfather, George Washington.
“Custis’ daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis would then marry a young Robert E. Lee in the house in 1831. This house became the residence of Robert E. Lee and his family before the Civil War. During the American Civil War, the house was seized by the Union Army who proceeded to turn the plantation into a military cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery,” notes a National Park Service history of the site, which also noted that the property itself spanned 1,100 acres.
During the intense rehabilitation, curators restored over 1,000 historic objects, stabilized the foundation of the structure, restored and refurbished interiors, rehabilitated windows and doors, and reset the brick portico floor. New or improved electrical, lighting, security, climate management and fire suppression systems were also added, along with improved access ways to grounds and kitchen gardens.
“I hope many people get to visit and believe that Arlington House’s rich and complicated history will add to the necessary and important discussion in our country about racial justice,” Mr. Rubenstein said.
He has previously donated many millions of dollars to shore up major historic sites facing structural challenges or damage, including the Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, National Zoo and Washington Monument — to name a few.
He calls the practice “patriotic philanthropy,” according to a 2020 interview with National Public Radio.