Washington Monument set to reopen 3 years after earthquake

The Washington Monument finally reopens to the public on Monday. Nearly three years ago, an earthquake caused major damage. The monument, made of 100,000 tons of solid rock, has been closed for repairs ever since.

The anchor of the nation's capital was massive and unshakeable until 1:51 p.m. on August 23, 2011, CBS News' Jan Crawford reported.

A 5.8-magnitude earthquake in nearby Virginia literally shifted the Washington Monument.

Dozens of tourists were caught at the top. As stones cracked and crumbled, the building held strong. Everyone made it out safely.

But as Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Park Service Director Jon Jarvis explained, the damage was severe.

"(Most of the damage was) near the top," Jarvis said. "At the top, obviously, because it magnified as it went up."

"There's one little spot where the monument just shifted a little bit," Jewell said. "A half-inch or five-eighths of an inch."

Park police immediately surveyed the monument by air and discovered multiple dislodged stones and cracks -- one four feet long.

They brought in engineers who repelled from the top for an even closer look. Their findings triggered a massive restoration project that lasted nearly three years. And for the first time -- with repairs now complete -- the Park Service took CBS News inside Washington's most iconic landmark.

The structure is 555 feet high, with 55 stories.

These days, the debris is gone, cracks are filled, and joints are reinforced.

A park ranger told CBS News, "A lot of the stone repairs are pretty subtle and the public won't be able to pick them up unless they're specifically looking for them."

The repairs were done with a sense of purpose. The monument is a powerful symbol of democracy. The monument has had a role in almost every historic event in Washington, from the struggle for civil rights to protests over Vietnam to the inauguration of Barack Obama.

And inside at the top, you can see the very structure of government. Jarvis said, "You can get an iconic view, whether it's Arlington Cemetery, or the White House, or the Lincoln Memorial, or the Capitol, so it's all of those views."

But those views come with daunting challenges when you're in a one-of-a-kind building.

Visitors can't access the monument from any given floor, so crews had to build special scaffolding -- complete with an elevator.

Jewell said workers were learning techniques that would repair the damage without damaging the stone. But the biggest challenge was money. The Park Service needed help, and billionaire investor David Rubenstein gave it.

Rubenstein donated $7.5 million -- half of the project's cost -- to get the work done -- and done right. Rubenstein said, "I try to call what I've done a patriotic philanthropy, which is to say, try to give back to your country in any way you can, and that's what I've tried to do with the Washington Monument."

The Park Service says Rubenstein's contribution is why the monument is going to open on time and on budget. Starting Monday, after the opening ceremonies, people will be able to go up to the top and eventually, visitors will be able to take the stairs from the top to the bottom on tours.

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