The Washington Monument finds a savior

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WASHINGTON — On Thursday morning, Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis stood on the National Mall to announce a major donation from philanthropist David Rubenstein, co-founder and managing director of The Carlyle Group, to repair the Washington Monument, which was damaged in the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked D.C. in August.

“I know that I speak for all of us when I say how pleased I am, on behalf of the president and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, to announce that David Rubenstein has agreed to donate $7.5 million to make it possible for the National Park Service to repair the damage to the Washington Monument spurred from last August’s earthquake,” Hayes said at the morning press conference.

The National Park Service has estimated that the project to restore the 555-foot-tall monument will cost $15 million. It underwent significant cracking, displacement and spalling from the earthquake, with the heaviest damage occuring in the Pyramidion (the pointy top) between elevations 475-530 feet.

Congress recently allocated $7.5 million to restore the structure, with the understanding that the Park Service would find private donations to match it. Rubenstein’s donation has fulfilled that expectation.

“With David Rubenstein’s gift, and with matching federal funds approved by Congress in December, we now have the funds necessary to repair this damage,” Hayes said on Thursday morning.

Rubenstein said that this donation was one of the ways he is expressing his gratitude for the gifts America has afforded him.

“America has been very good to me and I am humbled to be able to honor the father of our country in this way,” Rubenstein added. “Re-opening the monument as soon as possible will help ensure that many people get to learn about American history and the unique role that George Washington played in the birth and life of our great nation.“

The National Park Service expects construction on the monument to begin in late summer or early fall and take 10-12 months to complete.

Jarvis stressed the importance of public-private partnerships to keep monuments such as this in operation.

“[Rubenstein has stepped] into the place of history of public/private partnerships of philanthropy, and protecting, repair, and stewardship of these extraordinary places places,” Jarvid said. “David joins a small and elite group of individuals that have been willing to stand up and help the National Park Service in a public/private partnership.”

Rubenstein is no stranger to philanthropy. Most recently, the Carlyle Group co-founder donated $4.5 million to the National Zoo’s giant panda program in December and $13.5  million gift to the National Archives last June.

Rubenstein will be making his donation through the Trust for the National Mall, the National Park’s philanthropic partner, which is currently engaged in a Campaign for the National Mall to raise $350 million over 5-7 years. That money will go towards the $650 million needed to restore the Mall.

“To us you are a real hero,” said Caroline Cunningham, president of the Trust for the National Mall, to Rubenstein.

According to the National Park Service, the Washington Monument attracts 800,000 visitors a year. The structure has been closed to the public since the earthquake.

A George Washington impersonator, naturally, took to the podium at the end of the press conference to thank Rubenstein for repairing his monument.

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