Restored monument to be unwrapped for holidays

November 04, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Baltimore's Washington Monument, a tourist attraction and civic icon that has been closed for repairs since 1985, will reopen Dec. 4 following completion of a $275,000 restoration.

The city-owned monument was the first formal tribute to the nation's first president and is the centerpiece of Mount Vernon Place.

Its reopening will start a month of holiday festivities throughout the city, organizers of the repair effort announced. The reopening will be accompanied by the turning on of the Christmas lights that annually stream from the 178-foot-tall landmark.

The monument is to be open five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors will be able to tour a new exhibit about George Washington that is being created inside the monument's base and then climb 228 steps to the top for panoramic views of the city.

Standing under Enrico Causici's statue of Washington in a small area that can comfortably hold about a dozen people at a time, they will be able to peer out of windows that face in all directions. As a safety precaution, people will no longer be allowed to venture onto the small outdoor platform.

The restoration effort has been a joint venture of public officials and private property owners working in conjunction with the non-profit Downtown Partnership and Baltimore City Life Museums.

Leaders of the effort say they hope the monument will draw thousands of visitors to the Mount Vernon area.

"This is the cultural heart of Baltimore," said Connie Caplan, a Baltimore businesswoman and member of Friends of Mount Vernon, a citizens' group that has waged a six-year effort to restore the monument and four surrounding squares.

"Everybody associates the monument with the city," Ms. Caplan said. "There are people from all over the metropolitan area who just love it. We are going to charge $1 per person, and you are going to be able to climb all the way to the top. It will be a very, very special experience."

"It's a Baltimore treasure, a world treasure," said Phoebe Stanton, an architectural historian who has been involved in the reopening preparations. "This monument and the Basilica [of the Assumption, on Cathedral Street"] are recognized as major international works for their time."

Designed by Robert Mills, Baltimore's Washington Monument was built from 1815 to 1829 at a cost of $200,000. It opened on Nov. 25, 1829, 55 years before the opening of the Washington Monument in the nation's capital.

Jennifer Morgan, project director in charge of the monument's reopening, said the city will charge less than it did when the monument closed in 1985. At that time, she said, admission cost $1.50 per person. "We've actually had a drop in price, a little deflation," she said.

The building was closed so crews could remove 23 coats of lead paint inside the shaft and base and correct structural defects.

The city administration of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer allocated $125,000 for the work, but that money covered removal of paint only on the building's first 20 feet. Its reopening was delayed until another $100,000 could be raised to complete the work, and that didn't happen until earlier this year.

Improvement also included repointing the tower, removal of graffiti and preparation of the base to house rotating exhibits.

Alex Castro and Rebecca Swanston, designers of the American Visionary Arts Museum proposed for the base of Federal Hill, are the exhibit designers. Dean Krimmel, curator of local history for the Baltimore City Life Museums, is organizing the first exhibit, which will focus on George Washington, the building of the monument, and the relationship between it and the community.

Ms. Caplan said much of the credit for the reopening belongs to the Downtown Partnership, an organization established to make the center city cleaner, safer and more lively. She added that the monument's restoration is actually the second phase of a plan to restore Mount Vernon Place and its monuments.

The first phase involved the restoration of the west garden and installation of $1.2 million worth of new lighting around the square. The next phase will involve the restoration of fountains in the park's east and south squares.

Merchants along Charles Street are looking forward to the reopening to help draw people to the area.

"It could become a real destination for Baltimore, like the Washington Monument is in Washington," said Jimmy Rouse, owner of Louie's Bookstore and Cafe on Charles Street.

"Mount Vernon is a beautiful area, and it didn't make any sense to have the monument closed up," he said. "This will be beneficial to everybody."

In addition to city funds, donations to restore the monument have come from the Maryland Historical Trust, Mittendorf Foundation, Mercantile Bancorp, France-Merrick Foundation, Summit Properties, the Time Group, and numerous individuals.

Ms. Caplan said the Friends of Mount Vernon will hold preview tours of the restored monument during a $500-per-person fund-raiser at the Peabody Library on Dec. 1, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Money raised from that event is to be used to establish an endowment to help keep the monument in good repair.

The $1 admission fees will cover the cost of hiring an attendant and maintaining the building, and any extra funds will be used for other improvements.

Ms. Morgan said plans also are under way to use the monument as the starting point for walking tours and other educational activities.

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