D.C.'s Monuments Coping With Change

Monday, July 3rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two centuries ago this month the government, moving in from the old federal capital in Philadelphia, marked the first celebration of Independence Day in a new and permanent federal city.

Here is a brief status report on some of Washington's monuments and landmarks and how they are blending change and continuity at the close of two centuries of federal rule on the banks of the Potomac:

—The White House: In July 1800, the carpenters and plasterers were still working to make the House livable for John and Abigail Adams. The presidential couple were to move into the still-unfinished, damp, cold and barnlike house in November.

Two centuries of hard use later, initial design approval has been obtained for a $300 million underground expansion threaded by tunnels that would better accommodate tourists, ease staff parking, create a new press center, provide indoor recreational space for the first family, create an education center as part of an expanded tourist facility and even handle the motorcades of visiting heads of state. Completion would take 20 years. Congress must rule on all of it.

``That's a major investment of time and money. On the other hand, there is only one White House and maintaining it deserves our best effort,'' said James McDaniel, liaison from the National Park Service to the White House.

—The U.S. Capitol: The trademark cast-iron, white-painted dome, a national emblem since its completion during the Civil War, is under repair to fix cracks and leaks. And ground has been broken for the largest construction project at the Capitol since work began in the 1850s on the high dome and marble wings for the House and Senate. The aim is to build a three-level underground tourist reception center in the open green between the Capitol and the Supreme Court building. The five-year project is expected to cost $265 million and to be paid for in part by private contributions.

Driven by security concerns, the center will provide space to screen tourists well away from the Capitol itself. The new space also will feature restaurants and museum quality exhibit space exploring the history of the Capitol and Congress.

—The Washington Monument: The centerpiece of any Independence Day celebration in the capital, the white marble shaft recently emerged from a web of scaffolding installed as part of an exterior and interior restoration project. A new elevator cab is being installed and tourists will not be allowed into the monument until July 31. Over the past three years, at a cost of $10 million, structural damage to the monument has been repaired, its observation windows replaced and its cooling, heating and elevator systems repaired.

The history of the monument, which has become the rallying point for great national demonstrations and celebrations, is told in a new and comprehensive book: ``The Washington Monument: It Stands for All,'' by Thomas Allen, published by Discovery Books. In an introduction, historian Stephen E. Ambrose writes: ``It is there that we come together to protest and persuade. It is there, above any other place, that we have the monument that stands for our greatest national strength, and that symbolizes our greatest national pride, our unity.''

—The Star-Spangled Banner: The country's most celebrated flag is undergoing a stitch-by-stitch examination and repair in a dust-free laboratory room at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. The aim is to strengthen and preserve the banner for another two centuries, at least, and possibly for a millennium or more. The public can watch the work through large glass walls during normal museum hours.

The flag's history, including the bombardment that inspired Frances Scott Key to jot down verses, has been published by the museum and Harry N. Abrams Inc. It is entitled, ``The Star-Spangled Banner, The Flag that Inspired the National Anthem.''

—The Charters of Freedom: The Declaration of Independence will be read from the steps of the National Archives on Tuesday morning. The Archives already has begun work on a new titanium and glass casing system intended to preserve the Declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights through the next millennium. The Archives rotunda, where the charters are shown, will close for renovation at the end of next year's Independence Day observation and reopen on July 4, 2003.


EDITOR'S NOTE — Lawrence L. Knutson has covered the White House, Congress and Washington's history for more than 30 years.