ADVERTISEMENT

Philanthropist David Rubenstein at Lee’s Arlington House.

Cliff Owen • Associated Press,

Donor rescues Robert E. Lee's house

  • Article by: Michael E. ruane
  • Washington Post
  • July 17, 2014 - 6:57 PM

After philanthropist David M. Rubenstein agreed to fund half the cost of fixing the earthquake-damaged Washington Monument, he asked National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis: “What else you got?”

“Well, I have a long list,” Jarvis said he replied. At the top was the repair of the tattered 200-year-old Arlington House and Robert E. Lee Memorial in Arlington Cemetery. Its condition, Jarvis thought, was embarrassing.

Last winter, Jarvis gave Rubenstein a tour of the house where the famous Confederate general had lived before the Civil War. Rubenstein asked for a repair proposal.

“We proposed $12.3 million,” Jarvis said Thursday. He said Rubenstein replied: “Be glad to do that.”

On Thursday, Jarvis stood beside Rubenstein outside the portico of Arlington House and announced that the Bethesda, Md., billionaire was donating $12.3 million to rehabilitate the house, grounds and slave quarters.

The majestic Greek Revival home of Lee and his family for 30 years is one of the most beautiful spots in the area. The columned mansion sits high on a hill overlooking the cemetery, the Potomac River and the District of Columbia.

The money is going to the National Park Foundation, the Park Service’s fundraising partner. The Park Service operates Arlington House.

The donation will transform the site and the experience for the 650,000 people who visit each year, Park Service officials said. The house and grounds are to be restored to the way they were in 1860.

New interior lighting will be installed. Work will be done on the damaged foundation. And a state-of-the-art climate control system will be installed.

Most work will take place in 2016. It could require closing the museum for nearly a year.

“My goal has been for the last couple years to give back to the country some of the good fortune that I’ve had,” said Rubenstein, co-founder of the global private equity firm the Carlyle Group.

“The goal is to remind people of American history,” he said. “Unfortunately, people know so little about our history. … If you get a chance to tour this house and you think more about history … maybe you’ll be inspired to learn more about your country. And that’s really why I try to do this.”

Arlington House is said to be modeled on the ancient Greek Temple of Hephaestus in Athens. Built as a tribute to George Washington, it was also the place where, at the start of the Civil War, an anguished Lee decided to leave the U.S. Army and cast his lot with the South.

© 2014 Star Tribune