Washington Monument Elevator Breakdown: Norton Raises Alarm

At the Washington Monument reopening, Sgt. 1st Class Crystal Lee and Staff Sgt. Troy Paolantonio of the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps perform on National Mall. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Two days after the Washington Monument reopened following a $15 million, 32 month renovation, an elevator breakdown briefly stranded visitors near the top of the 555-foot-tall national landmark.  

The elevator stopped functioning at 10:53 a.m. Wednesday, according to the National Park Service. A contractor put the elevator back into service at 12:25 p.m.  

The temporary glitch forced one group of visitors to walk down 896 steps from the observation level, while 18 others aboard the non-functioning elevator were able to get off on the ground level. All of the nearly 80 visitors inside were evacuated safely.  

"The elevator at the Washington Monument, like the elevators at our other sites, is heavily used and like any mechanical system is subject to breakdown," Carol Johnson, spokeswoman for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said in a Wednesday statement. "Our staff is well trained to handle periodic outages like this one to ensure the safety of our visitors, as they did today."  

News of the mishap and its timing startled Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.  

On Monday, the congresswoman joined officials from the National Park Service, the White House and the Department of the Interior for a ribbon-cutting ceremony  to celebrate the monument's reopening. Funding for the massive restoration project covered the repair of 150 cracks caused by the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the region on Aug. 23, 2011. But the elevator — installed in 2001 — was not replaced.  

Norton spoke with NPS Superintendent Robert Vogel, who assured her the elevator was operationally safe and that the breakdown was an issue with the door.  

"I was relieved to learn that the elevator was refurbished during the restoration, was certified last week, and was up and running again not long after today’s breakdown," Norton said in a statement. "However, this appears to be a unique elevator in the District, in that it is in operation 13 hours a day, seven days a week because there is room for only one elevator in the Monument."  

With its stunning view of the city, the Washington Monument is a big draw for tourists. Norton deems its elevator as perhaps the most important in the city. Norton says she wants the NPS to learn a lesson from Wednesday's breakdown and take into account the burden placed on the elevator and what can be done to protect against future problems.  

The NPS did not immediately respond to questions seeking more information.  

The earthquake repair was funded through a public-private partnership. Philanthropist David Rubenstein donated $7.5 million to the monument restoration, matching government funding for the project.