There's No Place Like Dome

Wednesday, December 26, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Westward Ho, Day 53:  Oklahoma City, OK, to Fort Smith, AR

Prior to the construction of the U.S. Capitol, domes had most often been seen as a feature of great churches and other religious buildings, rarely in government or civic structures.  The designer of the American Capitol, however, included a dome as a symbolic and physical way to bring together the two houses of the legislative branch from their separate wings of the building.

As the United States grew and added more states, the trend of building centers of government topped with a dome like the U.S. Capitol reached a fever pitch.  Of all the statehouses currently in use, about four-fifths incorporate a dome of some type.  Until quite recently, Oklahoma was in the domeless group, but not by design.

Oklahoma Capitol, 1999 (photo by Steven Martin)
When construction of Oklahoma's capitol began in 1914, the design called for a dome.  As the building progressed, costs were exceeding the budget, and by 1917, World War I had triggered a shortage of steel.  The Oklahoma legislature decided it would be prudent to defer construction of the dome.  Instead, the rotunda was capped with a shallow saucer-shaped dome-like structure.

For the next 20 years, the public believed that construction of the dome was imminent.  Postcards and state publications featured an artist's rendering of the capitol with the dome until 1930.  After that time, with the state and nation in the throes of the Great Depression, costs for adding the dome had escalated out of reach.

Oklahoma Capitol, 2012
Since the structural engineering to support a dome had been included when the Capitol was built, adding this popular feature remained a possibility, and discussions cropped up in the legislature from time to time.  It was almost 90 years after the first phase of the building was completed that the dome was finally added in 2001-02.  Imbued with a mission to erect the dome in time for Oklahoma's statehood centennial in 2007, then Governor Frank Keating raised more than $20 million in private donations for the project, supplemented by $1.5 million in state funds—the same as the original cost of the main building.

Dome interior
When the dome was completed, thousands turned out for the festive dedication ceremonies, hosted by some of Oklahoma's most noted celebrities and capped off by the largest fireworks show in state history.  The color scheme for the dome's interior was inspired by the Indian blanketflower, the state's official wildflower.

Topping the dome is a 17-foot bronze statue of a Native American warrior, named 'The Guardian' by sculptor Enoch Kelly Haney.  A nine-foot replica of the statue stands in the building's rotunda, giving visitors an unusual opportunity for a close look at a crowning statue.

The Guardian
Symbolically, the warrior's lance is held point down, in a peaceful attitude.  The point of the lance pierces his legging, planting it in the ground to indicate his steadfast commitment to remain in place and stand guard over the Capitol and the state.

Art gallery in the Capitol
Each floor of the Capitol building is decorated with artwork depicting persons and events from state history.  Most of these works were painted by Oklahoma artists.  In addition, art galleries within the building exhibit works from the State Art Collection, established in 1971 to collect and preserve the works of notable Oklahoma artists.

Oil derrick in front of Capitol
In addition to its unique extended construction period, Oklahoma's Capitol is the only statehouse sitting in an active oil field.  Beginning in 1928, the Oklahoma City Oil Field has produced more than 735 million barrels of oil.  At the peak of production, derricks dotted the landscape in front of the capitol and throughout the city.  Today a directionally drilled pumping well continues to produce oil from directly below the capitol building.

Our tour guide Jack, a retired Army veteran, shared lots of interesting information about the Oklahoma capitol building.  Not surprising in a city where innocence was lost in the 1995 bombing of the federal building, security was required before entering the Oklahoma Capitol.  A walk-through screener and bag x-ray machine were manned by three security guards.  Parking close to the building is restricted to legislators and government staff, but we found free parking within easy walking distance and enjoyed our visit to this most unusual state capitol. 

Oklahoma Capitol Stats:
  • Architectural style:  Greco-Roman
  • Rooms:  650
  • Size:  400,000 sq. ft.
  • Building height:  243 ft.
  • Dome surface:  pre-cast concrete
  • Construction:  1914-17
  • Original cost:  $1.5 million
  • Dome added:  2001-02
  • Dome cost:  $21.5 million
More Oklahoma Capitol Photos

Capitol Art Gallery
Old Man (Arapaho) by Brent Learned
Blue Room, formal area for governor's receptions, bill signings and other ceremonies
House of Representatives Chamber
Hall of Governors
Rotunda
Rotunda