Norton: Monument elevator breakdowns ‘killing our tourist seasons’

WASHINGTON — D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton says “chronic breakdowns” of the Washington Monument’s sole elevator “are killing our tourist seasons.”

After Tuesday’s fifth elevator incident since the the monument reopened in 2014, Norton called Superintendent of National Mall and Memorial Parks Gay Vietzke, looking for answers.

“One thing we can’t tolerate is the breakdown of the monument elevator, at the height of the cherry blossom season,” Norton told WTOP.

The elevator stopped at the at the top level Tuesday afternoon, says National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst. More than 15 people on the elevator and about 25 people at the observation level were safely evacuated.

The park service said at about 8:15 a.m. Wednesday that the monument would reopen at 9.

“We can’t afford to have groups of seniors, disabled people, (stranded) at the top of the monument,” Norton said. “This is perhaps the one place most visitors want to come.”

With the National Cherry Blossom Festival in full swing, Norton says the timing of the elevator’s problems couldn’t be worse.

“These breakdowns have tended to occur at the most untimely parts of the year, and nothing could be more untimely than the height of the cherry blossom tourist season,” said Norton.

Norton says Vietzke believes the issue is a 20-year-old mechanical system that controls the movements of the elevator. The control system was not upgraded during the rehabilitation of the monument and its elevator following an August 2011 earthquake.

Vietzke told Norton the National Mall had applied for, and was awarded internal National Park Service project grant funding to design a new elevator control system.

Norton says the Washington Monument is likely the top tourist attraction in the area.

“It’s the only place from which you can see the entire nation’s capital,” says Norton. “When that breaks down, so does the revenue that we look for during this season.”

When tourists are turned away from the chance to ride to the top of the monument, Norton says the District’s reputation as a destination is diminished.

“Ultimately, people will say ‘Why go to Washington, since it’s likely that the Monument elevator will be broken down,'” Norton said.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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