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Construction Report: April – June 2012

April 2, 2012


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 third installment of this series. Not much has changed since the last installment but some projects are near completion and others are about to get started.

Feel free to comment below and let me (and the readers) know if I missed the mark about how this construction might impact their photography. Also, if there is a picturesque area in DC that’s under construction that I should add, let me know. I update this post throughout the quarter.


1. The Washington Monument – The Monument suffered damage in the August 2011 earthquake.  It took awhile to diagnose exactly what happened but the damage was quite extensive. Since that day the observation platform at the top has been closed and the area around the base has been fenced off.

  • Impact: MEDIUM – 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. Once renovations start, cranes, scaffolding, and other equipment is going to litter the view.
  • Expected Completion: Summer 2013 – The Washington Post reported a couple months ago  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.  You can still get unobstructed views of the front of the Cathedral but the side is not picturesque (see photo below).  The interior of the Cathedral is the real attraction but netting spans the ceiling of the sanctuary to protect visitors from falling debris (see photo below). As masons check the ceiling there will be scaffolding set up on the interior as well. There are other places in the Cathedral to take photos, and if there weren’t a better alternative I’d be tempted to give it a MEDIUM rating, but if you only have a short time you should check out the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception instead.
  • Expected Completion: Phototourism DC reader, talented photographer, and Cathedral docent Chris Budny 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.


Photos taken April 1st, 2012 ______________________________________________________________

Photo taken April 1st, 2012

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 work has been moving along for a year and is nearly complete.

  • 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: According to a regional director of the National Park Service who testified before a Congressional Subcommittee, the Reflecting Pool is expected to reopen around the 1st week of August.  Not quite the Spring 2012 date they were predicting but not bad.

Photo taken March 29, 2012

4. The National Mall – In addition to the normal turf restoration that goes on during the winter months there is also a more extensive project laying of sewer and 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– The construction zone looks just like that, a construction zone; piles of dirt, construction equipment, and fencing. I’m sure things will look great when they’re done but 1/3 of the National Mall looks absolutely horrible right now. Photos down the National Mall either of, or from, the Capitol include this eyesore.
  • Expected Completion: December, 2012 – Signs posted on the fences surrounding the construction zone say the project will continue through December.


Photo taken March 29, 2012

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 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: MEDIUM–  I’ve seen people’s comments on pictures of the Capitol and they don’t seem to notice what I call the neckbrace around the base of the dome, so I am lowering this to an impact of medium.  It still bothers the hell out of me.
  • Expected Completion: 6 months-5 years – According to an article in the Washington Post, the work around the base of the dome is expected to be complete around October, 2012, and the additional restoration, if approved, would take an another 3-4 years (possibly into 2016).


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 very difficult now.  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 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: 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.

8. The National Museum of African American History and Culture – The newest Smithsonian Museum, set to open in 2015, is now just an open construction lot.

  • Impact: Low – The reason I bring this up here is because I’ve gotten several great pictures of the Washington Monument during twilight (see picture on the right) from the place that is now fenced off for construction. There are plenty of other great places to take picture of the Washington Monument though.
  • Expected Completion: The museum is expected to be completed in 2015. I can’t tell from the drawings of the building whether there will still be a nice, unobstructed view of the Washington Monument from it’s grounds. But there will be plenty of new sights to photograph.


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.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Rebecca permalink
    May 17, 2012 9:38 am

    Well I do thank you for this information… out of all of the sites I have looked at for info on the reflection pool construction THIS one is the best! I just wish I had found it sooner, as I will be in DC May 26 – June 1 for vacation with my boys (their first trip) and I am highly disappointed that many of the great sites I wanted them to see are under construction. I understand things have to be fixed and upgraded but do they ALL have to be done at the same time? lol

    • May 17, 2012 9:56 am

      Thanks for the comment Rebecca, and thanks for reading. I haven’t been down to that end of the National Mall since I wrote that post, so I’m not sure where things stand. It’s unlikely for things to finish early though. It is a crazy (and annoying) flurry of construction these days and there’s more planned. There’s still a lot to see, it’s just hard to get real-quality photos. I’m sure your boys will love it. Thanks again and good luck with the trip. P.S. Check out the Smithsonian Air and Space Udvar-Hazy Center. That place was made for kids I think 🙂

  2. Helen Wraight permalink
    June 5, 2012 4:38 pm

    Thanks for the updates we visited last year unfortunately our first day in arlington cemetery we experiened the earth quake so several of the attraction were then shut, also very dissappointed that the pool of reflection was empty, so as were returning to the US to new york this June thought we’d have a few days in washington as I’d read the pool should of been completed! sadly this is not so but I’m sure we’ll have a great trip and thanks to yu can plan our visit more effectively thanks x

    • June 5, 2012 5:01 pm

      I’m very glad you found the site helpful. Sorry that so many things will be under construction. It’ll be great when these things are back up and running, but then there’ll just be other stuff under construction 🙂


  1. Construction Report: October 2014 – March 2015 | PhotoTourism DC

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