The Washington Monument may look beleaguered, encrusted by 500 tons of scaffolding, but Monday night, America’s great obelisk got a new boost of energy.
Electrical energy that lit 488 lamps.
Around 8:30 p.m., Robert Vogel, the National Park Service’s superintendent for the Mall, began a 10-second countdown, which was taken up by a crowd of spectators. Then the switch was thrown.
Nothing appeared to happen. A group from a U.S. Army band stepped into the breach and began to play. People chuckled.
But within what seemed to be no more than a minute, squares of light began to appear on the monument. People applauded and raised their cellphones to record the moment.
Although still damaged from the earthquake two years ago, the 555-foot tall monument again glowed in the Washington night.
Scores of people were on hand, and many seemed to like what they saw.
A couple from the District, Leah and David Pogorzala, were prepared to wait a bit for the lighting to show up after being switched on. But what surprised them was how the monument looked afterward. They were impressed.
“I thought it would look like a 9-year-old girl’s bedroom if the lights were blinking,” David Pogorzala said, smiling.
“But it’s much more subtle than that,” Leah Pogorzala said.
The Goodings from Vienna came to Monday night’s event because they often feel guilty about missing so many only-in-Washington moments. Alan Gooding, 60, a retired Fairfax County fireman, said he heard about the ceremony on the news.
“I don’t think enough people here take the time to do these things,” he said.
His wife, Denise Gooding, 56, a benefits manager at a government contracting firm, said she has been intrigued by the monument’s scaffolding and figured the lights would make the structure more attractive.
“To me, I think the monument looks like it has braces. So I want to see it lit up,” she said before the lights went on.
The lighting is no one-time affair. Sensors will switch on the illumination each night until the scaffolding is removed late this year or next.
Monday night’s lighting included a ceremony featuring speeches by Park Service and Mall officials and David Rubenstein, the philanthropist and co-founder of The Carlyle Group, who donated $7.5 million to cover half the cost of the monument’s repairs. The scaffolding — composed of 6,000 pieces — has been covered in 1.4 acres of blue fabric and was lit from behind. The lighting design, based on architect Michael Graves’s scheme used between 1998 and 2000 during an earlier restoration, mimics the landmark’s stone pattern but in an exaggerated way.
The monument has been closed to visitors since the 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck the East Coast on Aug. 23, 2011, cracking many parts of the structure. In May, workers passed a large hurdle when the repair scaffolding around the monument’s exterior was topped off, enabling the much more important work of fixing the broken marble and granite.
“We sent our engineers down the sides of the Washington Monument and discovered our concerns were real,” National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said in his speech, describing his worries after the earthquake hit.
He said there was a simple reason why they wanted to light up the monument.
“We want it to look attractive because it’s going to look like this for the next 12 months,” he said.
Martin Weil contributed to this report.