Most visitors to the famed Lincoln Memorial in Washington are unaware of the structure’s undercroft, a cavernous area underneath the tribute to America’s 16th president.
That’s about to change in a big way.
National Park Service (NPS) officials have awarded a contract to begin construction next month on an immersive museum and other upgrades at the monument, with construction expected to be completed in time for the 250th anniversary of U.S. independence in 2026.
Access to the memorial, including the steps and chamber with Lincoln’s statue, will remain open during the construction process. Basement exhibits, current restrooms, and an elevator will close this spring, although temporary restrooms will be added elsewhere.
“Improving the visitor experience at the Lincoln Memorial is vitally important to connecting Americans to the rich history of our country, the triumphs, the failures, and the lessons learned,” David M. Rubinstein, financier and philanthropist, said in a NPS release.
A Huge Undertaking
The project will cost $69 million to complete and add 15,000 square feet of exhibit space to tell the full story of the Lincoln Memorial.
The project will be built in the undercroft and feature exhibits and multimedia presentations taking visitors through the idea, construction, and completion of the memorial.
Visitors will also be taken through some of the significant moments that have taken place at the memorial, including exhibits dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr., Marian Anderson, and others.
It will also include new bathrooms, a refurbished elevator, a larger bookstore, and other improvements to enhance the visitor experience. It will also take visitors inside the undercroft.
“The undercroft of the Lincoln Memorial, long hidden from public view, offers a fascinating setting to learn more about America’s 16th president and the memorial that honors him,” said Jeff Reinbold, superintendent of National Mall and Memorial Parks. “Thanks to the National Park Foundation and its generous donors, visitors will be able to view this dramatic architectural feature, learn about how the memorial was built and how its meaning has evolved over the last century.”
The $69 million cost will not be coming out of taxpayers’ pockets, for the most part. A public-private partnership, first announced 7 years earlier, started with an $18.5 million donation from Rubinstein.
That pot has continued to grow, with the National Park Foundation having contributed more than $43 million to date, including $38.5 million from private donors.
The NPS has put $26 million toward the project.
“For more than a century, the Lincoln Memorial has been the crucible of American democracy, an enduring platform for free speech, the site of civil protests that still shape society, and the scene of national celebrations,” said Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. “Thanks to generous donors, the National Park Service will ensure the Lincoln Memorial continues to make history for another 100 years.”