WASHINGTON — There’s only one point in the nation’s capital from which you can see the World War II Memorial, White House, the Jefferson Memorial and United States Capitol.
But for the past three years, Americans couldn’t go up in the Washington Monument. The iconic landmark’s elevator broke down about two to three times each week in 2016, prompting the National Park Service to close the structure for an elevator overhaul.
But Mike Litterst, spokesman for the park service’s National Mall and Memorial Parks, said “we’re open for good” when the monument stages its grand reopening on Thursday.
The capital city’s tallest structure, originally slated to reopen this past spring, not only got a refurbished elevator that will whisk visitors nearly 555 feet to the observation area on top, but also a new security facility at the front door.
The monument’s elevator broke down several times over the past decade. In one incident, more than 40 people were trapped at the top of the structure.
After years of renovations, the entire building now has enhanced security features, a reliable elevator and fully functioning air conditioning and heating systems.
Previous visitors may remember riding the elevator with a park ranger giving a brief overview about the monument. The new elevator has screen monitors that show an automated tour delivered virtually by a ranger, said park ranger Brian Hall.
The structure now has more room and space for visitors, Hall said. Approximately 45 people can be at the monument’s top level at once.
Litterst was with the National Park Service when the monument closed down three years ago.
“It’s tremendously exciting,” he said. “Now we can talk about the monument as the nation’s tribute to its Founding Father and not have to worry about what’s wrong with the elevator. We can guarantee that if you have a ticket, you’re going to be able to make that trip.”
Steve Gauci of Whitehall, New York, said he visited the top of the monument about five or six years ago. He’s been back in Washington while the monument was under renovation and plans to visit the monument again in a year or so.
“It was a great experience and an honor to be (at the monument),” Gauci said. “What a beautiful building.”
The structure is only held together by stone and gravity; there are no metal beams supporting it. In total, the monument’s renovation cost $15 million, with $12 million coming from park service appropriations and $3 million from donations.
On the monument’s second floor, there are several exhibits highlighting the plans for the original monument, the unique engineering of the structure and a tribute honoring George Washington’s legacy.
For tours before October 18, same-day tickets will be available to the public on a first-come, first-served basis, beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Washington Monument Lodge. The monument will be open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Starting October 10, tickets can be ordered on the National Park Service website for tours beginning October 19.
“With four spectacular views of America’s greatest city, this is the perfect tribute to George Washington,” Litterst said.