While the main attraction of the Lincoln Memorial is the larger-than-life, 19-foot-tall statue of the United State’s 16th president, that may soon change with a plan that envisions an immersive exhibition space underneath the building’s hallowed halls. The National Park Service has announced it has awarded a contract that will remodel the lower level beneath the sculpture chamber into a multimedia gallery space that will recall the site’s history.
The Grecian structure honoring President Abraham Lincoln opened in 1922. It is fronted with 36 fluted columns, each representing one of the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s assassination. A sculpture depicting the former president seated in a chair at the top of the stairs overlooking the National Mall. Since its construction, the memorial has served as both a symbol of and backdrop for numerous historical events, most notably as the location where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I have a dream” speech in 1963.
The renovation project was first announced in 2016, with a $18.5 million monetary bump from businessman and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein. On February 20, the National Park Service announced it had awarded design and construction contracts to Quinn Evans for architectural services and to Consigli Construction Co. for engineering- and construction-related services. Both firms come with an extensive portfolio of projects in and around the National Mall with clients like the Architect of the Capitol and the Smithsonian Institution.
Much of the renovation effort will be concentrated on the “undercroft,” the lower level of the building, a section of the memorial currently not open for public access. This unseen area of the memorial will be converted into an exhibition space where history buffs and visitors can learn about the memorial’s construction and the significance of the site.
“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,” Jeff Reinbold, superintendent of National Mall and Memorial Parks, shared in statement. “Thanks to the National Park Foundation and its generous donors, visitors will be able to view this dramatic architectural feature, learn about the how the memorial was built and how its meaning has evolved over the last century.”
In addition to adding 15,000 square feet of gallery space the project will also include new bathroom facilities, an expanded bookstore, and will furnish redesigned elevator access between the lower level and the chamber level. Mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and security systems throughout the memorial will also be upgraded.
Exhibiton content will be arranged across a series of concrete columns and will include texts, photography, drawings, models, and a theater for video presentations. Large spans of glass will grant visitors views through to the expanses and depths of the undercroft.
“The Lincoln Memorial represents a transformative moment in our Nation’s history, and this work will allow visitors to experience its significance for generations to come,” President of Consigli Construction Co. Matthew Consigli shared in a press release. “Our Mid-Atlantic team is ready to undertake this critically important project, and we look forward to working collaboratively with the National Park Service and our partners to deliver this once-in-a-lifetime renovation.”
The project is estimated to cost $69 million. Beyond Rubenstein’s initial donation, several other philanthropists and entities have signed on to contribute funds. More than $26 million will be sourced from the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation will contribute $43 million. The memorial and statue room will remain open during construction while the auxiliary spaces will close this spring with temporary facilities added in their stead.
Construction is anticipated to begin next month. As to align with the country’s 250th birthday, the improvements are slated to be completed in 2026.