CLOSURES ON MALL

Low Water Keeps Tourists Out of Museums

Signs at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian kept tourists at bay yesterday. Repairs to water main valves closed the museums.
Signs at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian kept tourists at bay yesterday. Repairs to water main valves closed the museums. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Theola Labbé and Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 14, 2007

Two Smithsonian museums on the Mall were closed yesterday because of low water pressure after a scheduled repair to three water main valves could not be completed in time for the Saturday morning opening.

Visitors to the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian found the doors shut and closure signs taped to the windows. The museums are slated to open today and the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority has rescheduled the repair work for a future date, said spokeswoman Michele Quander-Collins.

Museum officials were notified this week that WASA planned a water shut-off Friday evening to repair three valves along Independence Avenue SW between Pennsylvania Avenue and First Street, Quander-Collins said. About a month ago, while making repairs to water seeping through a wall of an underground garage of the Museum of the American Indian, WASA workers discovered the problem with the valves and scheduled that repair for Friday at 6 p.m. The plan was to have full service restored by 6 a.m. Saturday.

"Most of the time we do work at night," Quander-Collins said. "That's when there's the least amount of disruption. The traffic is down and the facilities are closed for business."

Workers needed to drain the water main to make the repair, but could not get all of the water out because of several defective valves that could not be shut, Quander-Collins said. After working through the night, they decided at 6 a.m. to postpone the repair and begin restoring service, which took several hours.

At the Museum of the American Indian yesterday, water gushed from a fire hydrant and a broken water main near Independence Avenue and Fourth Street, forming scattered, wide puddles.

Across the street at the National Air and Space Museum, the Wechsler family of Edison, N.J., walked up and stared at signs explaining the water outage. They had taken a spur-of-the-moment trip to the District but hadn't counted on a spur-of-the-moment museum closure.

"This was a shock. We are stunned," said Jamie Wechsler, who was with her husband, Steve, and daughter Aubrey, 22.

Others saw the closures as historic, in a humorous sort of way. Patty Hudson, a teacher from Boston, was videotaping closure signs on the doors of the Air and Space Museum while her friend Joe Hayes hatched alternate plans.

"Now, we'll just have to go drinking," Hayes said.

Other couples had genuine concerns, such as Michael and Nancy Gaba of Bethesda, who were visiting the Air and Space Museum with their sons Jacob, 7, and Josh, 4.

Jacob said he felt "a little bad" for hauling his family to the museum because "it was my idea to go." His parents laughed, but soon realized that their day near the Mall would come down to survival. "We basically need a toilet that flushes," Michael Gaba said.

At the U.S. Botanic Garden, which was open but had to close its restrooms because of the water outage, Drew Saunders, 29, and Jake Landis, 24, said the lack of water wasn't a problem. They said they were there just to take pictures.

"But I did overhear people saying, 'Where's the water fountain?' because it's so humid inside," Landis said.


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