By Derrill Holly
Thursday, June 15, 2006
As visitors stream past the national capital region's famous landmarks this summer, they will find some of them partially obscured by orange plastic fencing and construction equipment.
The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, near the north gate of Arlington National Cemetery, and the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall are undergoing work. And visitors won't be able to miss the sights and sounds of construction at the National Zoo and the Old Patent Office Building, home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.
"The amount of visitors that we have here does take a toll, and so there's really no best time to do major maintenance," said Bill Line, a National Park Service spokesman, who added that planners generally work with contractors to stagger construction and renovations at major attractions so only portions of them are obstructed.
The Marine Corps and Lincoln memorials have been undergoing upgrades since last year.
The base and grounds surrounding the towering bronze statue of five servicemen raising the flag over Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi are undergoing their most extensive rehabilitation since the statue was erected in 1956. Work on the support structure, irrigation system and walkways is scheduled to be completed this fall at a cost of $5.5 million.
"The memorial can be viewed -- perhaps not as up close -- but the grounds are open," Line said.
At the Lincoln Memorial, the first traffic project in more than four decades is nearing completion. Although it's among the most popular monuments on the Mall, its location near the Potomac River has been plagued by limited parking for tour buses and narrow, outdated walkways. Once $5 million in improvements to the grounds are complete, park service officials say, it will be easier for people to get to the memorial on foot or by bicycle or bus.
The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on May 30, 1922. It has appeared on the reverse of the penny since 1959, with more than 17 billion of the coins minted in the past three years alone.
Construction work is also continuing at other major attractions in and around the District.
At the National Zoo in Northwest Washington, the $34 million Asia Trail exhibit is within six months of completion. Begun in April 2004, it will be the new home of the zoo's giant pandas, sloth bears, clouded leopards, giant salamanders and several other species native to the world's largest continent.
The project has been impossible for zoo visitors to avoid. Cranes tower behind the enclosures where the 11-month-old panda Tai Shan and his parents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, remain the zoo's most popular attractions.
"The kids usually make more noise than the construction," said David Schnetlage, 51, of Clarksville, Tenn., as he peered through a fence at a zebra that appeared to be oblivious to the drilling and hammering yards away.
Many visitors said they looked forward to returning to see the finished results after looking in on the progress that crews were making preparing pits, moats and landscaped paddocks for the animals that will move into the exhibits this fall.
"Sometimes you have to suffer in the short term to get the best out of the long term," said Debra Schrimsher, 55, of Orlando. Visiting the zoo with her husband and two young granddaughters, she said the work was "necessary to keep the park nice."
At the Smithsonian Institution, one major renovation project is almost finished and another is beginning.
A six-year renovation at the Old Patent Office Building, which has housed two Smithsonian museums since 1968, will be complete July 1.
The patent building, which has been closed since 2000, has undergone substantial restoration to its Greek Revival exterior.
Built between 1836 and 1867, the building's stone facade required cleaning and repair. Its elevators, windows, and cooling, heating and electrical systems were also upgraded.
The Smithsonian's American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery will reopen in the building. Portions of their collections are now on loan and are being displayed at other facilities.
The portrait gallery will unveil 14 new exhibits from its collection of 20,000 paintings, prints and sculptures. Visitors also will be able to see art preservation and restoration work firsthand in the new 10,200-square-foot Lunder Conservation Center.
"Museums are as much about preservation as display," said Marc Pachter, director of the National Portrait Gallery.
The site of the restoration of the "Star-Spangled Banner" flag at the National Museum of American History served as a similar observable laboratory in recent years. This fall, that 42-year-old building is scheduled to close for 20 months for an $85 million rehabilitation.
The work will include construction of a new gallery for the famous relic from the 1814 shelling of Baltimore's Fort McHenry.