Beneath the Lincoln Memorial is its "undercroft," a cavernous area filled with rows of tall concrete columns and large expanses of open space that has long been hidden from the public — and soon, it will be the site of a new immersive museum.
On Monday, the National Park Service announced plans to create 15,000 square feet of exhibit space that will explore the history of President Abraham Lincoln and the memorial that honors him.
Construction for the project, which is estimated to cost $68.8 million, is set to begin in March, the NPS said. It is scheduled to be completed in 2026, in time for the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
The exhibit space will include floor-to-ceiling glass walls providing a view of the long-hidden undercroft and the pillars that support the memorial above it, along with an immersive theater presentation that will project images of historic events onto the foundations.
Visitors will learn how the memorial was constructed, as well as how the statue became an iconic backdrop for civil rights demonstrations. The museum will also highlight prominent figures who have the shaped the history of the memorial, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and singer Marian Anderson.
The project was initially announced in 2016 after an $18.5 million donation from philanthropist David M. Rubenstein.
But the idea to renovate the undercroft had been under discussion for years, said Jeff Reinbold, the Park Service superintendent of National Mall and Memorial Parks.
"Over time, we got more excited about the opportunity to take people down there and give them a chance not only to see the space, but to tell the story about the creation of the Lincoln Memorial," Reinbold told NPR.
A major goal of the remodeling process will be to preserve the historic character of the undercroft, most of which will be left untouched, Reinbold said. Glass walls in the exhibit space will allow visitors to view the unfinished parts of the structure, including century-old graffiti marks left by the memorial's originalbuilders.
"The whole site will be left unfinished, just as the workers left it," Reinbold said.
The project will also include upgrades for other areas of the site, including new restrooms and a larger bookstore.