Billionaire philanthropist David Rubenstein makes a habit of shelling out huge sums of money to America’s historical monuments. On President’s Day, his gift of $18.5 million to fund a much-needed renovation of the Lincoln Memorial was announced by the National Park Service.
In addition to sprucing up the monument, the gift will also help tell a broader story about President Abraham Lincoln in a new exhibition space, said National Mall and Memorial Parks Superintendent Gay Vietzke.
“This place has become symbolic of so much more. And in this tiny footprint, it’s near impossible to talk about… the power of the place and (his) legacy and why it’s really relevant to us today.”
Dignitaries gathered at the site, in the snow, to usher in the renovation project on Monday, the Washington Post reported. Rubenstein even channeled the great Civil War president’s second inaugural address during the festivities.
“I assure you I have malice towards nobody for the weather,” Rubenstein told the crowd. “But charity towards all of you for coming. I’m very honored as an American to be able to contribute in this way.”
Rubenstein’s money has been used on numerous renovation and charitable projects, and he never donates just a little bit — his gifts have ranged from $5 million on the bottom end, with this most recent gift at the top. He’s given money to the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, James Madison’s historic home, the White House Visitor Center, Robert E. Lee’s home, post-earthquake renovation of the Washington Monument, and pandas at the National Zoo, CNN added.
A restoration of the glorious and massive dedication our 16th president is “long overdue;” National Park Foundation President Will Shafroth called the monument “old and tired.”
“In some ways, we’ve let this place get… run-down. The improvements that are going to be made are going to make it a much more welcome place to be.”
The reason why the memorial is so “old and tired” is written right into the billionaire’s philosophy about philanthropy: the government doesn’t have the money to keep it, and other monuments, in good shape: “we have gigantic budget deficits and large debt. And I think private citizens now need to pitch in.”
The renovation will be its most significant overhaul since it was dedicated in 1922, in the presence of honest Abe’s own son, Robert, then 78. Ground was broke on Lincoln’s birthday — Feb. 12 — in 1914. The cornerstone went down a year later.
The massive, 38,000-ton memorial featuring a 19-foot, 175-ton marble Lincoln was built upon fill dug from the Potomac and is supported by concrete pilings sunk 44 to 65 feet into the bedrock. The renovation will allow visitors to visit the cavernous space underneath and see these pilings.
Today it’s the most visited memorial in Washington D.C. And the renovation will really spruce it up — without closing the famous site to tourists. On the laundry list of fix-ups: the bookstore will be expanded; access provided to early 20th century graffiti from construction workers; the slate roof will be repaired and the memorial given a thorough scrub; the 60-foot murals will be restored; and earthquake damage will be repaired.
The exhibit space will grow to 15,000 square feet and the space used to tell Lincoln’s story in new exhibits.
“When you go to the Lincoln Memorial today, you see this great statue of Lincoln,” Rubenstein said. “But there’s no real museum or education center about Lincoln. So I think it would be a good idea to have such a thing. This is an extraordinary country that enables people from all races, all backgrounds, all ethnicities to be able to rise up and do things that they maybe couldn’t have done in any other country.”
[Photo by Engel Ching/Shutterstock]