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Monumental Repair Work Funded for $76.8 Million

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 23, 2009

John Philip Sousa conducted at its dedication on Armistice Day in 1931. President Herbert Hoover was on hand. And thousands bared their heads while a bugler played taps.

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The District of Columbia War Memorial, the domed temple to the city's World War I veterans and once one of the jewels of the Mall, has since fallen into crumbling neglect, forgotten with the passage of time and generations.

Yesterday, the Department of the Interior announced that the government will spend $7.3 million on its restoration, along with $69.5 million in the Washington region to fix other eyesores, repair the Jefferson Memorial seawall and rehabilitate infrastructure in Rock Creek Park.

More than $30 million will go to fix the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool, and several million will go to the Jefferson Memorial, where the seawall has been slowly slipping into the Tidal Basin for years.

The government will also spend $12 million on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, about $3 million on Arlington House, the historic mansion in Arlington Cemetery, and $5 million on Rock Creek Park, the department said.

Outside the immediate area, it will spend $9.4 million on historic overlooks along Skyline Drive, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and $108,000 to preserve headstones at the Antietam Civil War battlefield, near Sharpsburg, Md.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the funding is part of $750 million for the nation's parks that comes from this year's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The money will go to 750 park projects across the country, he said.

The beleaguered Mall has an almost $400 million maintenance backlog, and Congress stripped $200 million in similar rehabilitation funding from stimulus legislation in January.

Now funding is back. The department said it picked worthy repair projects from national parks across the country.

"Gee, that's great news," said Judy Scott Feldman, president of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall. "It's wonderful."

She said the war memorial, which was built as a bandstand in a grove of trees, and the reflecting pool to its north are in poor condition. The National Park Service wants to restore the memorial as a bandstand and beautify the reflecting pool, which is often filled with stagnant water.

"We think it's fantastic news," said Rebecca Miller, executive director of the D.C. Preservation League, which has twice had the war memorial on its most endangered list. "It's long overdue. . . . No significant work has been done on it for something like 25 or 30 years."

Salazar said work would start immediately.

"Most of these projects are projects that can start today," he said at a news briefing yesterday. "Our hope is that we have these projects up and done and completed for the American people by the end of September 2010."

"With respect to the National Mall . . . this is but the beginning," he said. "This is a down payment on the challenges that we face on the Mall. . . . This is not Washington, D.C.'s Mall, this is the Mall that belongs to the people of the United States of America. . . . This is part of the best of what is America."

Caroline Cunningham, president of the Trust for the National Mall, said: "I'm thrilled. . . . It's tremendously important that we . . . move forward with this deferred maintenance. . . . This infusion of cash is a huge help."

Park Service spokesman Bill Line said his agency, too, was delighted.

"All of these projects, we think, will ultimately make it so that the visitor has a better-quality experience," he said.

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