Description of the historic California State Capitol building and some of its history. The State Capitol Building is located in Sacramento, CA.
The California State Capitol building, the seat of the state’s government, is located in Sacramento. The State Capitol is situated on the west end of Capitol Park in Downtown Sacramento. Capitol Park is located between L and N Streets and 10th and 15th Streets. Both the State Capitol and Capitol Park were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
The State Capitol houses the Governor, Lt. Governor, and the chambers of the 40-members of the State Senate and the 80-members of the State Assembly. Like the British House of Lords, the Senate chamber is decorated in red. The State Assembly is decorated in green, similar to the British House of Commons.
The State Capitol building was listed as a California Historical Landmark in 1974, and re-dedicated on January 9, 1982 to commemorate the completion of the bicentennial restoration project.
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The Original California State Capitol Building
The original State Capitol building was constructed between 1861 and 1874. There were a variety of reasons for the 14 year construction time period. The commission appointed to supervise the building of the State Capitol was required to stay within limits of legislative appropriations and special taxes that had been levied to fund the project. Until the roof was built in 1868, work stopped in the winter. This was both because of the weather and because funds derived from annual taxes were exhausted by the fall.
Supplies needed for construction were also an issue. During the Civil War items that might have previously been ordered from East Coast suppliers were made instead in San Francisco, where facilities were limited. There were labor issues as well, including a brick production strike.
The original plan to face the entire structure in granite fell by the wayside due to the slowness of prisoners quarrying the granite at the new prison near Folsom. In 1867, after the first story was finished, the decision was made to have the rest of the building completed with brick and covered with mastic, a plaster-like substance.
The State Capitol was based upon the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The “Federal” style was very popular in the U.S. in the 1800’s. The structure faces west, toward the Sacramento River.
The building was shaped like an “E”. The bars at the top and bottom of the “E” contained the second floor chambers and the offices of the Legislature. The first floor contained the offices of the Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and Treasurer. When completed, all state government would be in the building.
A notable feature of the building is the striking large central rotunda located beneath a skylight set in a 125-foot dome.
Renovation of the California State Capitol Building
The State Capitol building has undergone a series of remodeling and structural changes over the years. The need for more room led to the Great Remodeling in 1906. Over two years major structural changes were made to add additional office space and make the building more modern and efficient.
To this end, the grand staircases were torn out to make 12 offices for the Secretary of State and State Treasurer. In order to add a fourth floor, the ceilings of the Senate and Assembly chambers were lowered. Additionally, coal-burning fireplaces were replaced with steam-heated radiators, fire-safe stairs were added, and elevators installed.
In 1928 a pair of newly constructed buildings across the street on the west side of the State Capitol became home to the State Library and various other state offices.
To meet a continued demand for more room a six-floor East Annex was added to the State Capitol. To accommodate the annex the East Apse, a significant architectural feature of the original building, was demolished. In 1951 the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, members of the Senate and Assembly, and other state officials moved into the new building which featured, among other things, acoustical ceilings and fluorescent lighting.
In the following years additional renovations were made and the end result was a building that had lost its original grandeur.
Restoration of the California State Capitol Building (1976-1982)
After a 1973 study that warned that the unreinforced brick building was unlikely to withstand a heavy 30-second earthquake jolt various proposals surfaced – including the demolition of the State Capitol building and replacing it with twin 17-story towers at the opposite end of Capitol Park.
In July 1975, the Legislature and Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. agreed to preserve the State Capitol. This meant making the building structurally sound and restoring it to its turn of the century appearance while modernizing the building so it could function as the seat of government.
Restoration began in March 1976. In August of that year the State Capitol, except for the East Annex, was closed to the public. During the restoration the Legislature moved into temporary wooden framed chambers erected on the lawn outside the State Capitol’s East Annex.
The $68 million State Capitol restoration project was a massive undertaking – utilizing the services of archaeologists, historians, artisans and craftsmen, among others. The end result is a building that is both beautiful and functional.
Source: California Blue Book (1850-2000) Sesquicentennial Edition
California State Capitol Building Today
Today, the “restored” State Capitol building continues to function as intended. It contains both the Senate and Assembly chambers, as well as a limited number of committee hearing rooms and offices. The State Capitol is also a museum, open on weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on weekends from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tours on the hour from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. are available.
The current topic of discussion is now the fate of the East Annex. Members of the Senate and Assembly Rules Committees have been authorized to decide whether to renovate or tear down the structure. The East Annex houses the offices of most of the 120 lawmakers in Sacramento.
Note: The statue of Queen Isabella (above) has since been removed from the 1st Floor Rotunda of the State Capitol building.
See related post: State Capitol Park World Peace Rose Garden
I hate to admit it – but I remember well when the Senate and Assembly chambers were temporarily located outside the East Annex. For lobbyists, the temporary location was a mixed blessing.
The restored State Capitol building is really beautiful. The workmanship and the attention to detail was well worth the cost of the restoration. We can all be thankful that the proposal put forward by then-Assembly Member Willie Brown to replace the building with twin towers did not come to pass. Instead, we have a State Capitol Building we can all be proud of, and a Sacramento Landmark worth seeing!
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