The clock tower over the Trump hotel in Washington has quietly reopened for tours after a three-year renovation.
The tower offers an unparalleled bird's eye view of the city from 285 feet up that includes the Washington Monument, the Capitol dome, the green lawn of the National Mall and more.
Part of the Old Post Office, the landmarked 1899 building had fallen into disrepair when the Trump Organization won a bid in 2014 to turn it into a luxury hotel. The Trump International Hotel opened last September shortly before Donald Trump was elected president.
The tower and tours are operated by the National Park Service. NPS spokesman Michael Litterst said the General Services Administration, which owns the property, wanted a "soft opening" for the February 9 relaunch.
For now, the tower is only open Thursday to Sunday but it's expected to resume daily tours in mid-June after additional staff is hired, Litterst said.
Despite the lack of publicity and four-day-a-week schedule, the tower hosted more than 10,000 people through the end of March. Capacity for the observation deck is limited to 24 people, so it's not unusual for visitors to wait.
The clock tower currently offers the highest public vantage point for viewing Washington. The Washington Monument is taller, but its observation area is closed while that building undergoes renovations that won't be complete until 2019.
The glass elevator that takes clock tower visitors up also offers a view of the hotel's elegant lobby with its chandeliers, marble floors and glass atrium.
The tower entrance is next to a Starbucks around the block from the hotel entrance with no direct access between the tower and the lobby. But it's not unusual to see confused tourists wander into the lobby looking for the clock tower. Hotel spokeswoman Patricia Tang said clock tower visitors also often come in for a bite to eat or something to drink at the lobby bar or restaurant. "There have been a number of guests requesting information on the hotel for future stays as well," she said.
Trump's son Donald Jr., an executive with the Trump Organization, told The Associated Press during a tour of the hotel last fall that he welcomed the tower reopening and the additional business it might bring.
A ground-floor exhibit of maps and old photos on the way to the observation room describes the history of the neighbourhood and the building, which was designed as headquarters for the US Post Office but later housed other government offices and a food court.
One panel notes that the enormous flag that hangs in the lobby is tied to a tradition begun by postal workers on June 14, 1908, when they sang the Star-Spangled Banner in front of a flag. The tradition, the display says, evolved into the annual June 14th observance of Flag Day. "Coincidentally, June 14th is also the birthday of the hotel's developer, Donald J. Trump," the panel says.
Opposite the wall where the historic information is offered, several text panels describe the hotel, including one titled, "Where history meets luxury."
The Old Post Office occupies an entire city block on the north side of the Federal Triangle between the Capitol and the White House. Its address, 1201 Pennsylvania Ave., is just blocks from the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Its grand stone exterior is festooned with arches and carvings. Metalwork that was part of the original mail-sorting equipment crisscrosses the hotel lobby ceiling beneath the massive skylight.
The clock tower also houses 10 bells that were added in 1983, a gift from a British foundation marking 200 years of friendship between America and England.
The Washington Ringing Society recently resumed Thursday evening rehearsals, and the bell-ringing is audible from streets around the hotel. The bells are formally rung to mark national holidays and at the opening and closing of Congress. Tower visitors can see the colourful ropes the bell-ringers pull to sound the bells but not the bells themselves, though plans are in the works to open a viewing area for the bells as well.
After the election, the legality of the Trump Organization's lease on the Old Post Office was questioned because the lease expressly barred federal officials from participating in the project. But Trump says he has transferred control of his business empire to his adult children, and in March the General Services Administration ruled that the hotel was in "full compliance" with the rules.
If You Go...
CLOCK TOWER AT THE OLD POST OFFICE: 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC. Entrance near the Starbucks around the corner from the Trump International Hotel. Free admission, no tickets required but visitors may have to wait due to limited capacity in the observation area. Open Thursday to Sunday, 9am-5pm, last entry at 4:30pm.