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Construction Report: July – September 2012

July 9, 2012


A Phototourism DC reader wrote to me a while back and asked whether the amount of construction at popular sites around town would make a trip to DC disappointing.  I thought that idea would make a great addition to this blog.  After three iterations of the Construction Report, it is now one of my most popular articles; with 1553 total pageviews across the three articles (or about 9% of all pageviews).  The most common search engine terms that bring visitors to the site are construction related and specifically related to when the Reflecting Pool project will be finished (see below for details).

This is the fourth installment of this series and there are finally some changes starting to happen.  Several projects are finishing up; others are getting underway.

Please comment below if anything you see here is inaccurate or if there is anything I should add.  I try to stay up-to-date on things but occasionally fall behind. I try to update the information and photos in the Construction Report posts throughout the quarter.


1. The Washington Monument – No change here.  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 will litter the view. Though if it looks like these photos from the last renovation in 1999, there may be some cool, unique photo opportunities.
  • Expected Completion: 2014– In an article published July 9th, The Washington Post reported  that the Monument  was more damaged than previously thought  and will likely be closed through all of 2013.  The renovations are expected to start this Fall.

2. Washington National Cathedral – No change here either.  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 awhile back.  I haven’t seen an update since.  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 July 22nd, 2012

3. The Reflecting Pool – This is close to completion.  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: UPDATE (28 August 2012): I just read an interview with the National Park Director on NPR, saying that the Reflecting Pool should be fully opened (i.e., the fence will be removed) by August 31st.  That is great news!  My understanding is that there will still be a ceremony for the grand reopening, but that will come later.  I am going to head down to the Pool this weekend and post some updated photos.  For photogs visiting DC, this is a huge deal.

Photo taken June 11, 2012

4. The Supreme Court – The Supreme Court building has been undergoing restoration work for years now, but until recently that work has stayed to the less visually interesting North and South sides.  Within the last couple months scaffolding has popped up along the entire West (front) side of the building.

  • Impact: HIGH– This is a somewhat dated picture.  The scaffolding now also covers the area at the top of the stairs and there is some additional netting set up which obscures the view. According to this article, a “scrim” with a photograph of the facade is supposed to be hung up along the scaffolding to decrease it’s impact on the look of the building, but that has not happened yet.
  • Expected Completion: TBD – Articles I’ve read about this restoration effort don’t mention the timeline.  These things generally take longer than you think they should take.  My guess is that this will take at least a year, putting the estimated completion time somewhere in mid-2013.  I’ll keep you updated.


Photo taken June 5, 2012

5. The National Mall – No change, it still looks terrible.  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 2012.


6. The U.S. Capitol – This has improved drastically over the last month.  The base of the Capitol dome has been undergoing restoration for the last 9 months or so.  There is some scaffolding set up and a large construction yard set up on the Northwest side of the building.

  • Impact: LOW–  The construction workers removed the plastic sheeting that used to cover the scaffolding (probably because of the heat) and have started to remove the top of the scaffolding.  It is hardly visible now and will likely have little impact on the quality of your photos (see photo on left below).  The construction yard is still there though and that really detracts from photos from the Northwest side (see photo on right below), but there are plenty of other angles.
  • Expected Completion: 1-3 months – According to an article in the Washington Post, the work around the base of the dome is expected to be complete around October, 2012, though it appears things may be wrapping up early.  There has been talk about restoring the rest of the dome, a project that would take several YEARS to complete, but that is now in doubt because of funding problems. UPDATE (10 JULY 2012): How quickly things change. I was walking by the Capitol today and saw workers taking down the fence in the picture at the lower right.  It will probably take a while before this area gets back to normal but things are winding down.  This likely answers the question about whether the rest of the dome will be renovated.


    Photo taken July 6, 2012                                               Photo taken August 2, 2012


Photo taken July 6, 2012

7. 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 is starting to wind down but still occupies most of Columbus Circle.  Exterior pictures without construction barriers are still difficult.  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 still a lot of work to be done.  Once the restoration work is complete there are several additional construction projects scheduled for the Main Hall, meaning it may be several years before the interior is ready to photograph.


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 and the Washington MonumentThe Trust for the National Mall recently solicited design proposals for several areas along the National Mall, namely the area to the North of the Reflecting Pool known as Constitution Gardens and a theater on the grounds of the Washington Monument.  Winning designs have been selected but it is unclear how soon construction will begin, what it’s impact will be, and how long it will take.

2. 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. July 11, 2012 9:56 pm

    Thank you for the update, heading up next week and have enjoyed reading your blog and appreciate the info! Keep it up!

  2. Patty Langer permalink
    August 14, 2012 12:05 pm

    glad I saw this! My son and I were planning a spontaneous trip to DC next week and the thing we were looking forward to most was haning out on the mall! Think we’ll go to Chicago instead and visit DC next summer.

    • August 14, 2012 12:42 pm

      I don’t know if I would let this article convince you not to come Patty. It really only applies to photos…all of the museums, monuments, and memorials are still open. And if you come next week the Reflecting Pool may even be open (it is running a little behind schedule). If you have the option to come at some later time, delaying might not be such a bad idea either. Best of luck and thanks for reading.

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