Washington Monument to remain closed until 2019 for repairs

Dec 2 (Reuters) - The Washington Monument, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Washington, D.C., will likely remain closed to visitors until 2019, despite a pledge on Friday from the financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein to pay for the necessary repairs.

The 555-foot obelisk has been closed since August because of elevator problems. The National Park Service said the monument is expected to reopen to visitors in 2-1/2 years.

Rubenstein's gift will fund the $2 million to $3 million needed to modernize the elevator system, the service said. The agency is also seeking money in the federal budget to pay for a permanent security screening facility at the monument, which attracts about 600,000 visitors per year.

Various mechanical problems have shut the world's tallest stone structure about two dozen times since May 2014, when it reopened after repairs to fix damage caused by an earthquake in 2012.

It was erected on the National Mall in the U.S. capital in the 19th century in honor of George Washington, the first U.S. president.

Rubenstein donated $7.5 million to restore the monument after the earthquake. He has also given more than $40 million to the park service since 2014 to pay for other projects.

"The monument has become a symbol of our country, and reminds everyone of the towering strengths of our first president," Rubenstein said in a statement. (Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Grant McCool)