Sunday, February 10, 2013

Our Capitol we prize, our murals we will maintain

First and foremost, these extraordinary photographs of one of the most glorious public buildings in the Americas, the Iowa Capitol, are the work of Jason Mrachina, who shares them through flickr creative commons. You can access his entire Iowa Capitol set here and the cover page to his flickr site here.

I started down the path that led here last week when I found an article about the Capitol, then nearing completion, in The Chariton Patriot of Oct. 24, 1883 --- lifted by the local editor from The Des Moines Register. I'm going to reprint it here, with Jason's photos inserted in appropriate places.

The Rotunda, not actually mentioned in the article, is probably the most memorable feature of the Capitol. A glass floor separates the basement level from the first flloor, so it is possible to look staight from bottom to top.

The insignia at the top of the rotunda's dome is that of the Grand Army of the Republic, at the height of its influence when the Capitol was completed. Battle flags once filled sealed cases around the rotunda, intended to be left there until they disintegrated. Minds have changed, however, and they have been removed to the historical building for conservation and storage.

As any student of Iowa's history is supposted to know, Burlington was our first territorial capital, followed by Iowa City, which transitioned into the state capital in 1846. In 1854, it was decided to move to the capital to the more centrally located Des Moines and that task was accomplshed in 1857. Construction of the current Capitol commenced in 1871 and finally was completed in 1886.

I've been in and out of the Capitol all my life, most recently a year ago January when Chariton was named a Main Street Iowa community. Now, it's necessary to pass through security and the grand front doors are ceremonial. That was much different in the 1950s when all the doors were open and anyone could wander in and out at will. The special treat back then was a trip up a series of somewhat rickety stairways between the inner and outer skins of the dome to the very top for a spectacular view of Des Moines. That can still be done, but only by special arrangement.

Anyhow, here's the article. Remember that the editor was a staunch Republican, which accounts for a dig toward the end at Democrats; and also at least as interested in technology as he was in marble, woodwork and tile.

How the Desks and Seats for the Next
Legislature Will be Drawn --- New
Conveniences and an Elegant Place
The Chariton Patriot, Oct. 24, 1883.

We learn by the Des Moines Register that the work of arranging the halls of the house of representatives in the new capitol building is progressing rapidly and satisfactorily. The desks and seats for members of the house and senate are all completed and ready for placing in position. Each desk in the house and senate will be provided with a connection with an electric bell system for summoning pages, which will obviate the necessity of resorting to the distracting noises heretofore employed for this purpose. There will also be a call bell connection between the speaker's desk and his private room and between the lieutenant governor's desk and room.

The Senate chamber.

There will be no assignment of seats to the members of the legislature until they meet in January. The two bodies will meet and organize in the old capitol and draw their seats in the new halls by lot.

The House chamber.

The carpeting for the legislative halls and all the rooms and offices connected therewith were purchased in Boston. Harbach's men are now busy making them up for the several rooms.

The grand staircase.

The marble work of the grand stairway is rapidly approaching completion. The steps are all laid to the first landing, and nearly all to the second or main landing. The steps of this stairway are of Moriah marble, closely resembling granite. The balusters are seven inches in diameter and are made of Knoxville (Tennessee) marble, with Tennessee marble base and white Italian caps. The hand rail is very massive and is made of Lisbon marble, with a capping of French rouge griotte.The wall in the east end of the corridor above the main landing is cased with solid imported marbles suited to the place with a large base work for a historical painting to be executed in the future, the whole to be lighted in the day time from the skylight above and bracket chandeliers at night.

The Law Library

The cases in the new library are being rapidly put in place. Whe library will be ready for occupancy by the middle of December.

A Law Library staircase.

The tile work is all done on the second sory, or senate and house floor, except that surrounding the landing of the grand stairway.

The floors are being laid in the governor's and secretary of state's rooms preparatory to receiving the elegant marble wainscoting which is now in the basement. These rooms will not be ready for occupancy during the coming session as was anticipated.

An installment of staircase leading to the top of the main dome.

There will be drinking fountains in each of the smoking rooms. There also will be drinking foutains for more public use, one at the head of the grand stairs, in the second story corridor, and one at the entrance to the library; also two in the first story corridor, one at the east and the other at the west side of the rotunda. It is understood that the request of a prominent democrat to have a secret spring connected with these fountains communicating with a reservoir containing the favorite democratic beverage has not been complied with.

And the view west from the dome-top lantern.

There are about 49,000 feet, or nearly nine and one-third miles of steam, gas and water pipes in the new capitol building, divided as follows: Steam, 40,000; gas, 6,000 feet; water, 3,000 feet.

The concreting of the floor of the entire cellar has just been completed, which renders it clean and in a condition to use as fresh air ducts for the approaching session.

For non-Iowans, our state motto is, "Our liberties we prize, our rights we will maintain," which explains the title here.

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