Pioneering a New Kind of Capitol

Thursday, December 06, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Westward Ho, Day 33:  Salem, OR, to Medford, OR

Since the sun sets on the west coast by 4:30 or earlier this time of year, we have been making a concerted effort to get on our way before 9 a.m.  This morning we arrived at the Oregon Capitol building just after it opened at 8:00.

Oregon State Capitol
This is Oregon's third capitol building.  The first, a territorial capitol, was constructed in 1855 and burned 12 days after it was occupied.  After Oregon attained statehood in 1859, its legislators continued meeting in rented facilities until 1876, when the first state Capitol was finished, complete with a traditional dome.  Unfortunately, fire also took that structure, but it lasted almost 60 years before the conflagration.

Government officials decided to hold a competition for the next design, and the proposal by a New York firm was accepted unanimously.  Rather than a traditional dome, the current Oregon statehouse is dominated by a tower, a vertical column symbolic of Oregon's stately fir trees.  Atop the tower stands a 23-ft gold leaf statue of an Oregon pioneer.  In good weather, visitors can climb a spiral staircase to the top of the tower and meet the pioneer in person, but due to the potential for icy conditions access is closed during the winter.

Capitol Rotunda
The holidays have arrived at the Oregon Capitol, and the Rotunda was awash in Christmas trees.  A variety of themed trees decorated the perimeter of the area, each sponsored by a local business.  During December, as many as five or more choral groups per day, mostly from area schools, are scheduled to perform holiday music in the rotunda.  Because of this schedule, guided tours of the Capitol are suspended during the month, but self-serve tours are still encouraged.

No security guards impeded our progress when we entered the Oregon Capitol, and this relaxed atmosphere was the theme of our visit.  At the information desk, we were provided an excellent brochure for the self-guided tour, and Ken was assured that it was fine for him to carry his cup of coffee around as we toured; just don't spill it.

State Seal centers Rotunda floor
In keeping with the welcoming mood, the House and Senate chambers were open for visitors to wander into at will.  While we were in the House chamber, a friendly maintenance employee saw us taking photos, and offered a tip.  Go up to the gallery on the third floor for a better shot.

House of Representative Chamber featuring Douglas Fir themed carpet
Areas set aside in public corridors provided comfortable seating areas where visitors could kick back and chat, while nearby tables offered work areas for anyone to enjoy free wi-fi access.  Even the governor's ceremonial office was open for visitors to walk in and have their photo made at the desk or podium where Oregon's chief executive makes important announcements.

"Governor" Ken ready to address the press
We surprised ourselves by finishing our tour of the Oregon seat of government by 9:30, ready to head south to Medford, our destination for tonight.  As we drove, we saw numerous hitchhikers walking north along I-5, trying to make their way north and wondered whether they're all headed for Washington to enjoy some now legal marijuana.

Oregon Capitol Stats:
  • Exterior:  Vermont white marble
  • Architectural style:  Modern Greek
  • Height:  168 ft. to top of tower
  • Constructed:  1936-38
  • Cost:  $2.5 million
  • Little known fact:  In 1849, President Zachary Taylor asked Abraham Lincoln to serve as governor of the Oregon Territory.  However, Mrs. Lincoln did not want to move to the backwoods of the frontier, so Lincoln declined.   
More Photos from Oregon Capitol
Interior of tower above the Rotunda
Comfortable seating area for the public
Senate Chamber with carpet featuring wheat and salmon, two important Oregon products
Wi-fi work area for public
Exhibit in capitol
Along with New Jersey, Oregon remains one of two states today where self-service gas pumps are prohibited by law.  As the exhibit pictured above indicates, Oregon legislators enacted this measure in 1951 in an effort to ensure equal access to fuel for the elderly and disabled, protect citizens from exposure to toxic fumes and the risk of dangerous accidents, and foster jobs.  New Jersey lawmakers cite similar reasons, and neither state is inclined to change their laws.