4:13am

Sun August 26, 2012
NPR Story

Restoration Done, Iconic Reflecting Pool Reopens

Originally published on Sun August 26, 2012 10:32 am

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The Reflecting Pool on Washington, D.C.'s National Mall began as a glorious mirror for the Washington Monument, stretching out from the foot of the Lincoln Memorial stairs. Visitors could see the reflection, the obelisk itself, and over its shoulder the huge dome of the Capitol, the site everyone who comes to Washington wants to see. But over the years, the pool grew increasingly dank and slimy looking, leaking, smelly. Finally, the Park Service closed it for a complete do-over. Two years later, it's almost ready.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Dennis Quinn is the lead engineer for the project. Standing on the edge of the pool, he explained it all to us.

DENNIS QUINN: This whole area was at one point a marshland. And during the early 20th century, they dredged material and dumped it. And then they built the Reflecting Pool on top of it. Well, that over time settled some and created the problems that we had and problems that we overcame with his new reconstruction.

WERTHEIMER: Big-time engineering.

QUINN: Pretty strong.

WERTHEIMER: In fact, the pool is not that different from a building. Fifty foot timber pilings driven into the ground to support the bottom, a seven- acre platform of dark-colored concrete. The color is new to make the pool even more reflective. There's a new sidewalk but the coping stones - the granite edge of the pool is original - is a little shallower to make it easier to clean.

So, when you emptied the pool, was at full of gunk?

QUINN: Well, we had about seven months of material left at the bottom of the pool.

WERTHEIMER: How would you describe that material?

QUINN: Mainly the refuse from waterfowl.

WERTHEIMER: I see.

(LAUGHTER)

QUINN: A nice, green mucky, not something that you want to be playing around with. That's what we're hoping the circulation system will have eliminated majority of that.

WERTHEIMER: A mile of pipes, pumping stations that gently circulate the water, amazingly the old pool was filled with tap water. Now it comes from the Tidal Basin, part of the Potomac River. It's filtered through sand but it still has the color of a natural body of water.

QUINN: From where you're standing, you can see there is a black cover there. That's where the water is entering the pool. They're 58 of them...

WERTHEIMER: I see.

QUINN: ...through the length of the pool, so we don't have any dead spots in the water itself.

WERTHEIMER: The pool was almost half filled when we saw it, the concrete bottom still visible in places. Quinn says two million gallons to go.

We walked up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to see the view we can with the superintendent of the National Mall, Bob Vogel. He told us the infamous economic stimulus package paid for the new Reflecting Pool.

BOB VOGEL: We have unified the need for the project for many years, but weren't sure that we were going to get the funding 'cause it's a very expensive project. And so, we feel truly blessed by the American Recovery Act, which gave us the $34 million that was needed.

WERTHEIMER: This is the stimulus package that we're talking about here.

VOGEL: Yes, it is. Yes, it is..

WERTHEIMER: And is the stimulus package paid for, the renovation of the Reflecting Pool?

VOGEL: It did. It did and this is the largest stimulus project in the National Parks Service.

WERTHEIMER: I remember being here on lots of great events. And then I remember being here for the Martin Luther King's March on Washington. And a number of occasions where people were sitting around the Reflecting Pool with their feet in the water. Can they do that again?

VOGEL: People can put their feet in the water. We don't want people to - it is a memorial space so we don't want people swimming or wading in it. Just don't want people actually in the water.

(LAUGHTER)

VOGEL: We have, you know, we do have a lot of huge events here. And this is still a very popular gathering place for American discourse. In fact, a year from now, August 28th, will be the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech. And we're planning a huge events with hundreds of thousands of people here for that.

WERTHEIMER: I can also remember some other kinds of events, like I think the last time was during the Reagan administration, when we had a terribly cold winter. People were ice-skating on the reflecting pool.

VOGEL: Yes, there's a history of doing that too. And we don't allow that anymore but we have lots of historic photos of it through the ages and, you know, people with a wooden boats, model boats, out on it, too.

WERTHEIMER: And there will be people sitting on the steps, as we did, watching the clouds reflected in the water; maybe watching the Fourth of July fireworks over the Washington Monument appear on the surface of the pool. Thousands, maybe millions of us will march on the Mall and sit on the edges of the pool to hear speeches. We'll go with our families to see the monuments lighted at night, reflected in the pool.

There is still some cleanup to do; fences to come down, grass to be restored. But by the end of the month, the Reflecting Pool will be back.

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