Washington Monument reopens

December 03, 1992

After seven years of repairs, Baltimore's Washingto Monument is reopening -- and not a day too soon. When the 178-foot tower was built between 1815 and 1829, using local Cockeysville marble, it was considered to be an architectural achievement for its time. It was and it is.

Baltimore's Washington Monument was the first formal tribute to the nation's first president. When it was built, it stood on a hill in an area known as Howard's Woods, far away from what was then the center of town. The ornate column caused quite an overrun for its day; it cost twice the budgeted $100,000. But that was easily taken care of with a special lottery to cover the cost.

In later years, Mount Vernon became Baltimore's premiere public square. Many notables lived in its elegant mansions and town houses, several of which are today part of the neighborhood's two key institutions, the Peabody Conservatory of Music and the Walters Art Gallery.

Like many other central city areas, Mount Vernon has experienced some hard times in recent years. But a determined civic improvement effort has managed to turn things around. While the restoration of the square is still incomplete, the surrounding neighborhood looks better and its residents sound more optimistic than in ages.

New businesses are opening in the area and the restoration of old buildings continues. A prime example is the work being done to three decrepit town houses in the 600 block of North Charles Street. They are being converted into an Elderhostel to house senior citizens taking music-related courses at the adjoining Peabody facilities.

The reopened Washington Monument will once again become a focal point for the city. Instead of being a mere traffic divider of monumental proportions, it will resume its place as a site where tourists can marvel. Those with enough stamina may climb all 228 steps to take in one of the best views of the Monumental

City.

The monument will be formally opened in festivities at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow. There will be pomp and circumstance as holiday lighting is turned on. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Gov. William Donald Schaefer are scheduled to attend.

When the monument was closed in 1985 due to potential health hazards from lead paint, the city was to pay for restoration but soon ran out of money. The work was then continued through the fund-raising of the Friends of Mount Vernon, a group headed by real estate executive Connie Caplan, and the Downtown Partnership organization. Thus, the monument today is not only a tribute to the nation's first president but also to the people of Baltimore who continue to care.

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