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Philanthropist Donates Millions for Washington Monument Repairs



The earthquake that struck Washington, DC, last August seriously damaged the Washington Monument. Today it was announced that philanthropist David Rubenstein has donated $7.5 million to match federal funds allocated for repairs of the iconic monument.

The Mineral, Virginia, earthquake that occurred on August 23, 2011,  may not have been huge by California standards, but the magnitude 5.8 quake was powerful enough to do millions of dollars worth of damages. In Washington, DC, one of the most seriously impacted structures was the Washington Monument, a National Mall treasure of inestimable value.

Although the quake did not render the 555-foot monument structurally unsound, the shaking caused serious damage. An engineering report released by the National Park Service in December 2011  documented numerous components or areas of the monument that were impacted by cracking, chipping, spalling, displacement, shearing, and other defects that will have to be fixed at considerable expense.

The engineering report, which also recommended a seismic study, documented these principal problems.

Damages in the the obelisk's pyramid-shaped crown(pyramidion):

•    Six marble panels that form the exterior surfaces of the pyramidion developed earthquake-related cracks that extend through the full thickness of the panel. These through thickness cracks also extend over the full height of the panel and vary from approximately 1/4 inch to 1 inch in thickness. Three additional panels developed cracks that do not appear to have migrated through the full thickness of the panel.
•    A number of marble panels that form the exterior surfaces of the pyramidion formed spalls at the corners of the marble panel units. The exterior spalls that were small enough to be able to be removed by roped-access techniques and were considered falling hazards were removed during the exterior survey. The spalls that were too large to be removed during the survey were documented but left in place. The spalls that were left in place appeared to be stable in their current locations.
•    The portions of the marble rib units that serve as bearing surfaces for the support of the exterior marble panels experienced cracking. Cracking of the rib bearing surfaces occurred on some of the ribs on each of the four sides of the pyramidion.
•    A large spall was generated directly below the cruciform shaped keystone of the pyramidion in the ‘H’ rib course of the pyramidion.
•    The majority of the tie beams in the ‘F’ course of the pyramidion experienced vertical cracks at their connections to the rib units.
•    The southwest cornerstone unit at the ‘G’ course experienced a permanent lateral offset to the south of approximately 1 inch, and to the west of 1/2 inch, relative to the stone unit of the rib in the course below.
•    Components of the lightning protection system have been displaced.
•    There is a lateral offset up to 3/8-inch at a horizontal joint in at least two of the arch ribs on the east side at the display level.
•    The vertical joints of the stone panels of the pyramidion have been damaged and are allowing water infiltration into the interior.

Damage in areas below the pyramidion:

•    Mortar on the interior and exterior face of the masonry is missing at numerous vertical joints from the 450-foot level to the 500-foot level of the monument. Daylight is visible at a number of the vertical joints where mortar is missing.
•    Water leaks from a number of vertical and horizontal joints in the masonry.
•    Following rain, a substantial amount of standing water collects on the floors of the display and observation levels, and the stair landings to the 450-foot level.
•    The steel rod members which serve the purpose of retaining the elevator counter weights were bent.
•    The sheared end of an approximately 5/8-inch diameter bolt was discovered by the NPS maintenance staff.
•    Spalling of the exterior stone was observed over the entire height of the shaft of the monument with spalls being larger and more clustered above the 450-foot level. Some spalls at this level were the full thickness of the masonry block.
•    Thin shelled mortar patches with encased loose debris on the exterior are prevalent below the 160-foot level.
•    Previously repaired cracks on the exterior that are multiple courses in height have failed sealant and new cracks adjacent to the previous cracks or extending from the previous cracks.
•    Lateral movement and offsets on the exterior were observed above the 450-foot level, and were pronounced at the southwest corner of the monument.
•    Loose and degraded mortar on the exterior was found in most of the joints above the 450-foot level, with similar conditions found less frequently below this level.

The overall cost of the repair project was estimated to be around $15 million. Congress approved $7.5 million for the repairs, stipulating that an equal amount must be raised from nongovernment sources.  

On January 19, 2012, the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, and the Trust for the National Mall jointly announced a $7.5 million matching gift from philanthropist David M. Rubenstein.  Rubenstein, a billionaire, co-founded The Carlyle Group, a huge American-based firm engaged in global alternative asset management.

This $7.5 million matching gift will be made through the Trust for the National Mall, the National Park Service’s philanthropic partner in the campaign to raise $650 million over the next five to seven years for restoration of the National Mall.

In acknowledging Rubenstein's gift, Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes said:

On behalf of all Americans, I would like to thank David Rubenstein for his extraordinary gift to repair one of our nation’s most hallowed symbols. ...Thanks to his patriotism and generosity, we will be able to move forward with the necessary repairs to reopen the monument to the public. With this donation, David continues the great tradition of philanthropists such as Stephen Mather, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Andrew Mellon who have made significant donations to our National Park System for the benefit of every American.


National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis added that:

Millions of people have seen the dramatic video of chunks of mortar and limestone raining down on visitors in the monument as the quake rocked the east coast last August. While no one was hurt, the damage to this iconic obelisk was substantial and it has been closed to the public ever since.  Thanks to David’s gift and the support of the American people, the National Park Service will once again welcome visitors to the Washington Monument and share the story of our nation’s first president.


The National Park Service expects to award a repair contract by this August. The project is expected to take 10-12 months.

To see newly-released footage of the damage to the Washington Monument, click to  the National Park Service’s YouTube channel.


Quite a noble gesture on the part of a 1% member.  This 99%'er appreciates it.

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