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Washington, D.C.’s most highly trafficked Greek Doric temple is getting a multi-million dollar makeover—or at least the cavernous space beneath it is. 

As revealed this week by the U.S. National Park Service, the Lincoln Memorial, completed in 1922 as the final project of Beaux-Arts heavyweight and Charles McKim mentee Henry Bacon, will be the future home of a 15,000 square foot “immersive museum” that will use multimedia presentations to delve into the rich history of the site with a focus on its construction and its enduring role as an “international icon dedicated to the achievements of Abraham Lincoln and individuals such as Marian Anderson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who have shaped the history of the memorial," said the NPS in its President's Day–timed announcement.

section drawing of lincoln memorial.

Cross-section of the Lincoln Memorial undercroft. Image Courtesy NPS

While the three interior chambers of the Neoclassical landmark are a key stop on the D.C. tourist circuit, the planned museum will be built-out in a section of the memorial where very few visitors have tread: it’s undercroft. Open to the public for guided tours in the 1970s and 1980s before ultimately being closed off due to asbestos concerns, the Lincoln Memorial’s vast undercroft—“a tall grid of concrete columns surrounded by large expanses of open space,” per the park service—will be transformed via floor-to-ceiling glass walls that will provide views deep into the space while “immersive theater presentations” will be projected onto the foundation of the structure. 


Undercroft exhibition space. Rendering courtesy NPS  

“Improving the visitor experience at the Lincoln Memorial is vitally important to connecting Americans to the rich history of our country, the triumphs, the failures, and the lessons learned,” said D.C. financier and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, who kickstarted the project in 2016 with a $18.5 million donation. Other sizable funding sources, public and private, have since been secured, including a $43 million contribution from the National Park Foundation.

rendering of an immersive theater space.

Immersive theater beneath the Lincoln Memorial. Rendering courtesy NPS

Parallel with the undercroft-to-museum project, additional work will entail new basement-level restrooms, an expanded bookstore, and a refurbished elevator to the memorial’s chamber level. The memorial’s central hall, containing Daniel Chester French’s soaring white marble statue of a seated Lincoln, will remain open during construction, which is anticipated to commence in March. The memorial’s basement-level public features—including the bookstore, restrooms, and elevator—will be closed and temporarily relocated while work is underway.  

The new museum and other upgrades at the Lincoln Memorial are anticipated to open by 2026, ahead of the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Although a just-announced construction contract has been awarded to Consigli Construction Co., an exhibition designer for the project has yet to be named.