Washington Monument Reopens

Monday, July 31st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The long-running renovation of the Washington Monument, the capital's 555-foot-high exclamation point, went on hold Monday so summertime tourists can ride up the newly uncovered obelisk.

Artistic construction scaffolding was removed from the city's tallest structure early this year to reveal the monument's gleaming white surface. But the three-year, $10 million renovation and restoration remains incomplete.

First in line to ascend Monday, nearly two hours before the ticket booth opened, were six members of the Dallman family of Chesterfield, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. Steve Dallman, vice president of a chemical company, said the family learned of the reopening three weeks ago through a school history project of daughters Natalie, 12, and Katie, 11.

Dallman, who said he last went up the monument 25 years ago, when he was 13, found the newly cleaned monument ``astounding.'' ``The view has always been beautiful,'' he said. ``It just looks the way it should look.''

A forecast of thunderstorms threatened to close the monument early on its first day.

``If the lightning gets too close, we ask people to leave,'' said Vikki Keys, a deputy superintendent of the National Park Service. ``The monument itself is protected, but we worry about people waiting down below.''

A line of about 300 snaked around paths leading to the ticket booth. Among the crowd were about 200 people in black and yellow costumes adorned with hieroglyphics, members of the Ancient Egyptian Order led by Dr. Orrin Bright, an Atlanta physician.

``It's to remind the world that the obelisk is an ancient African symbol,'' he said. The monument takes the shape of an Egyptian obelisk, although at 555 feet it rises more than five times as high as the tallest standing true obelisk, a 97-foot-high monument to Queen Hatshepsut at fabled Karnak Temple.

Under a new system, the Washington Monument's free tickets must be used at the day and time designated. A limited number are available at the ticket booth or in advance from a commercial agency at $1.50 each, plus 50 cents per order.

The monument, closed since December, will be shuttered again this December to complete the refurbishing. The National Park Service hopes for a permanent reopening in February or March, before the cherry blossoms bloom in a major Washington rite of spring.

During the closure, the monument's single elevator will get a new cab with opaque walls that become transparent so passengers can see some of the 193 memorial stones that line the surrounding staircase.

Visitors used to be able to take the stairs down from the top, but they have been closed since 1976 to curb vandalism.

Workers have cleaned 94,000 square feet of surface, remortared 11.8 miles of joints and repaired 78 of the monument's 36,000 stones.