Washington Monument repairs: David Rubenstein to donate $7.5 million

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WASHINGTON (AP) - A billionaire history buff has stepped forward to donate a $7.5 million matching gift that's needed to start repairing cracks near the top of the Washington Monument caused by last summer's East Coast earthquake.

Cracks emerged near the top of the monument after the August 2011 earthquake. (Photo: National Park Service)

Businessman David Rubenstein said he was inspired to help fund the repairs to the 555-foot obelisk when it became clear how severely damaged it was by a 5.8-magnitude earthquake Aug. 23.

The National Park Service and nonprofit Trust for the National Mall announced Rubenstein's gift Thursday morning.

It is the largest gift to the nonprofit group, which aims to raise $350 million to restore the mall's grounds and facilities.

Rubenstein came forward very soon after the earthquake.

"I would suggest it hadn't even stopped shaking before David Rubenstein came to me and asked if he could help," said National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said.

The famous landmark received about 1 million visitors a year before it was closed to the public after the quake.

The Park Service hopes to have a contractor begin work by the end of August. Bob Vogel, superintendent of the national mall, said the park service is working to get the monument reopened as quickly as possible.

He said repairs will likely take a year to complete, but such an undertaking has never been done before, so the exact timeline is uncertain.

"This is a complex job," Vogel said. "This is a one-of-a-kind structure that poses challenges for repair that other buildings don't."

Congress allocated $7.5 million in December on the condition that private donations would match that amount.

The combined $15 million in public and private funds is expected to cover the cost of repairing damage directly caused by the quake, said National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson.

Repairing water damage will cost more, as would a seismic study or reinforcements to strengthen the structure against future earthquakes, she said. Rubenstein is a co-founder of The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm.

"This Washington Monument is probably one of the most recognizable buildings in the United States next to the Capitol and the Empire State Building," he said. "It could use a little repair work, and I wanted people to get to see it as soon as possible."

He also acknowledged some of the large gifts he's made in recent years to the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives, the Library of Congress and the Kennedy Center.

Last month, Rubenstein gave $4.5 million to the National Zoo to fund its giant panda reproduction program for five more years.

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