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Construction Report: January – March 2012

December 31, 2011


A few months ago, a Phototourism DC reader wrote to me and asked whether the amount of construction at popular sites around town would make a trip to DC disappointing.  I laid out where the major construction is and how it may impact photography so she could decide for herself.  After I wrote that e-mail I thought that that would make a great recurring column on the blog.  This is the second installment of this series.


1. The Washington Monument – The Monument suffered some damage in the August 2011 earthquake.  Since that day the observation platform at the top has been closed and the area around the base has been fenced off.

  • Impact: HIGH – There are still plenty of angles to get pictures of the exterior of the Monument though the fence surrounding the base may show up in some of your closer ones.  Also, the observation deck is a unique place, offering views that you can’t get anywhere else (like the one on the right).  The Old Post Office Clock Tower offers the closest approximation but it’s just not the same.
  • Expected Completion: Summer 2013 – The Washington Post reported today that the Monument will be closed through all of 2012 and likely longer.  The construction is not expected to start until this summer and the repairs will take about a year. It is unclear at this point whether the Monument would open back up before all of the construction is complete. Stay tuned.

2. Washington National Cathedral – The Cathedral also took a hit in the earthquake, losing some of the spires on the roof.  The interior is now open to the public and there is scaffolding around the exterior.

  • Impact: HIGH – While the exterior of the Cathedral ordinarily makes for great photographs, the equipment, scaffolding, and fencing makes this a poor time to go.  The interior of the Cathedral is the real attraction but, thanks to Phototourism DC reader, and Cathedral docent, Chris Budny I’ve learned there is netting up in the sanctuary to protect visitors from falling debris. As masons check the ceiling there will be scaffolding set up on the interior as well.  I plan to visit the Cathedral soon and I’ll give you a first hand account of the impact of the construction
  • Expected Completion: Chris also filled me in (see his comments) on the timeline for these repairs.  The exterior of the Cathedral will be in various states of disrepair for the next 10 YEARS!  The interior work will also likely take years.  The Cathedral is still open but unobstructed wide-angle shots will be tough to come by.

3. The Reflecting Pool – One of the most well-known features in DC, the Reflecting Pool, is currently undergoing renovation to add filtration systems.  The old pool was more or less a giant bathtub full of stagnant, dirty water.  The new version will be more like a swimming pool with circulating, dirty water.

  • Impact: HIGH – Some of the most iconic views of DC incorporate the Reflecting Pool in some way.  Whether that be photos of the Lincoln Memorial or of the Washington Monument.
  • Expected Completion: The National Park Service (NPS) website says the expected completion date is Spring, 2012 but I wouldn’t expect to see all of the fences down and equipment out of the way until the end of Summer, 2012 at the earliest.

4. The National Mall – In addition to the normal turf restoration that goes on during the winter months there appears to be an extensive digging/construction project too…possibly laying of sewer or draining pipes. There are fences blocking off the Mall from 3rd St. near the Capitol down to the Smithsonian Castle (basically the area shown in the Washington Monument picture above).

  • Impact: HIGH– I recently chose to upgrade this to high.  The construction zone no longer looks like the photo on the right.  There are giant mounds of dirt along with the construction equipment and fences. I’m sure things will look great when they’re done but 1/3 of the National Mall looks absolutely horrible right now.
  • Expected Completion: December, 2012 – Signs posted on the fences surrounding the construction zone say the project will continue through December.


5. The U.S. Capitol – One of the most iconic sites in DC, the Capitol and it’s dome, are going through a bit of a restoration.  A tour guide for the interior of the Capitol told me that, right now, the plan is to restore the area around the base of the dome but if plans and funding are approved to eventually restore the whole thing.  Construction staging areas have been set up on the Northwest and Southeast sides of the Capitol. Scaffolding, tubes, conveyer belts, and plastic sheeting now rings the base of the dome.

  • Impact: HIGH – When I wrote the previous edition of this post, there was only a bit of fencing.  Now with the scaffolding and plastic sheeting, the Capitol has really started to look like a construction zone.
  • Expected Completion: 1-5 years – The tour guide who told me about the plans for construction also said that the work around the base of the dome is expected to take a year and the additional restoration, if approved, would take an another 3-4 years.

6. Union Station – The city of Washington, DC has embarked on a long term restoration of the area immediately in front of Union Station. The interior is also undergoing repair for damage suffered during the earthquake.

  • Impact: HIGH– The exterior construction has expanded to take over most of the area in front of Union Station.  Exterior pictures without construction barriers are difficult but not impossible.  The interior is highly cluttered with scaffolding.  There are also nets hanging across the entire main hall to protect people from falling bits of plaster.  All of this makes for less than desirable photography.
  • Expected Completion: Exterior: 2013- References to this construction in newspapers have referred to this as a 2-year construction process and it began in August of 2011. Interior: several months at least – It’s hard to say but judging by the amount of scaffolding it looks like there’s a lot of work to be done.

7. The Ellipse – The entire Ellipse is currently blocked off for (a) the National Christmas Tree, (b) the National Menorah, and (c) turf restoration.  Also, the area in front of the White House will soon undergo a massive restoration to help hide some of the functional but unfashionable security features and make the park more useful and beautiful.

  • Impact: Medium– The Ellipse itself is not very picturesque.  It is a great place, however, to view the White House and to catch a glimpse of Marine 1. The walkways on the south side of the White House Grounds are still open but the large Ellipse area is closed off.
  • Expected Completion: The tree set up and the Menorah will go away shortly after the New Year, but it will take weeks, maybe months, to get rid of all of the temporary walkways and roadways they built for hosting these two popular sights.  Fences will likely block off the Ellipse for the remainder of the Spring and possibly into the Summer.  They may start the restoration project soon as well, meaning it could be more than a year until this area is open to the public.


1. Constitution Gardens – A contractor was recently selected to revitalize the area just to the North of the Reflecting Pool.  This area isn’t necessarily a draw for people but it does offer great views of the Washington Monument and is beautiful in the Fall.

2. Union Station Interior – In addition to cleaning up the damage from the August 2011 earthquake, a number of construction projects are planned for the interior of the station, including removing the elevated restaurant in the middle of the Grand Hall and adding stairwells to the lower level.

3. American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial –  This Memorial is supposed to go up relatively soon in an area to the South of the National Botanic Gardens.  It is out of the way and won’t likely get in the way of your photos but it’s worth keeping in mind as a photo location in a year or two when it’s complete.

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