George Washington's estate plans new center to attract younger

Sunday, April 21, 2002

MOUNT VERNON, Va. -- Officials at George Washington's estate are planning a new $85 million museum and high-tech orientation-center complex to attract younger visitors.

For more than a century, visiting Mount Vernon has been a quiet and decidedly low-tech experience. When the project is finished in 2006, officials said, it will include a 15-minute film produced by Steven Spielberg about Washington's life, an education center and exhibits that couldn't be housed in the mansion.

"Over time, our staff started to realize the people coming through the gates were different than 20 years ago, down to the fact the children wouldn't laugh about the dentures or the cherry tree," Jim Rees, executive director of the mansion, told the Washington Post in Friday's editions. "They didn't know the staples of Washington. It was shocking."

The project, to be officially announced next week, involves two separate buildings about 1,000 feet from the mansion. The additions will tell another, perhaps more modern story about Washington.

"Of all the Founding Fathers, Washington was the most robust, the most athletic," Rees said. "He was the action hero of his time. He didn't sign the Declaration of Independence because he was off saving Boston."

Mount Vernon -- after the White House, the most visited presidential home in the country -- typically attracts about a million visitors a year.

Tours of the mansion have traditionally emphasized Washington's simple life and the workings of a plantation. Now the curators will have room for thousands of objects that haven't been displayed because the house was kept as it was in Washington's time. The lack of climate control and other museum standards also restricted exhibits.

Mount Vernon doesn't receive federal funding, but $53 million has already been raised for the project. The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation gave $15 million, the largest gift ever to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, which has owned the property for 150 years.

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