In his most recent donation to the National Park Foundation, businessman David M. Rubenstein has written a check for $12.35 million to help with the restoration of the Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial, that is located on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
The gift complements President Obama's Centennial Initiative for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016, a multi-year effort to invest wisely in the park system's most important assets, use parks to enhance informal learning, engage volunteers, provide training opportunities to youth and enhance the National Park Service's ability to leverage partnerships to accomplish its mission.
'Arlington House, originally constructed to memorialize George Washington, tells America's story from its founding, to the shame of slavery and a nation divided, to a nation again made whole,' said National Park Service Jon Jarvis, who was on hand Thursday to thank Mr. Rubenstein. 'We are honored by Mr. Rubenstein's patriotism, his generous gift, and his dedication to the future of America's treasures. We are eager to start the transformation that his 'patriotic philanthropy' will make possible.'
When the projects are completed, visitors will see Arlington House as it was in 1860, with every room restored to its historical appearance. An important aspect of this project is to restore the slave quarters to better represent and tell the stories of the enslaved. Visitors will learn from park rangers and volunteers, or via new mobile and web assets, in addition to audio tours and changing exhibitions. As visitors move between the mansion and the new museum and bookstore, they will pass along accessible paths that stretch through the restored grounds, including heirloom gardens and new trails. People who cannot visit in person will enjoy a more robust experience through virtual tours, complete with detailed displays of the rooms and museum objects.
'I am honored to support the National Park Service's renovation of historic Arlington House built in honor of George Washington and located on hallowed ground atop Arlington National Cemetery," said Mr. Rubenstein. "I hope that upon its restoration, Arlington House will appropriately remind visitors of America's rich history and our country's good fortune to have such a unique site to honor our veterans, especially those who gave the last full measure of devotion on behalf of this nation.'
In 2012, Mr. Rubenstein donated $7.5 million to repair the earthquake-damaged Washington Monument.
The National Park Foundation, as the official charity of America's national parks and nonprofit partner of the NPS, received the latest gift that will make the critical projects at the memorial possible.
Mr. Rubenstein has set the tone for a new era of investment in America's national parks. For 100 years, generous philanthropists have stepped forward to keep the national parks beautiful, vital and accessible. Rubenstein's donation is the largest gift associated with the NPF's Centennial Campaign. In preparation for the milestone anniversary, Director Jarvis has asked the Park Foundation to spearhead and implement the Centennial Public Engagement and National Fundraising Campaigns. Through these efforts, NPS and NPF will celebrate the NPS's centennial and reintroduce the NPS's work and opportunities to a new generation of Americans, inviting them to protect America's special places, working together to connect all people to their parks, and inspiring the next generation of park stewards to visit and get involved with their national parks.
'Mr. Rubenstein's transformative philanthropic support will not only restore and rejuvenate Arlington House, enlivening it for new audiences, but it also provides an inspiring example of how public-private partnership is vital to ensure these special places thrive,' said Neil Mulholland, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. 'America's national parks belong to each and every one of us, and, as such, we share the responsibility to protect and preserve them now and for the next generation.'
The residence of Robert E. Lee and his family before the Civil War, the story of Arlington House connects to many important figures, issues and events in American history. Built by George Washington Parke Custis and his slaves between 1802 and 1818, the house and grounds have served many purposes over the last 200 years: a family home for the Lees and Custises, a plantation estate and home to 63 slaves, a monument honoring George Washington, a military headquarters for Union troops, a community for emancipated slaves and a national cemetery. With 650,000 visitors per year, Arlington House is the most-visited historic house museum in the national park system.