A Capital Design

Tuesday, November 12, 2013 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Colorado State Capitol

As our 17th state capitol building to visit, the Colorado statehouse took the prize for the most surprising appearance when we approached its location in downtown Denver.  Scheduled for completion in 2014, a major restoration project is underway on the capitol dome, which had suffered significant damage from water infiltration and Colorado's intense freeze-thaw weather cycles.  Once scaffolding was erected around the dome, that skeleton was covered with an impermeable white fabric that adheres to the scaffolding, providing an all-weather work environment and protecting the dome while work is underway.

It's not every day you see a center of government with its dome shrink-wrapped (pictured above).  Considering the first impression when one catches a glimpse of this unusual sight, we were glad to see the "Share in the Care" fundraising slogan posted on the cover (rather than something else that came to mind—"Practice Safe Government").  With all the construction underway, the grounds have suffered neglect and looked a bit dismal.  No doubt that will change when the dome has been restored and regilded.

A beautiful view wherever you look
Inside, the story was very different.  Designed by Elijah Myers, the Colorado State Capitol was built in the 1890s in what he called a Corinthian style.  Inspired by classical architecture of Greece and Rome, the interior is a graceful and symmetrical procession of columns and arches, balconies and open courts. The building encompasses 647,000 square feet, but only 35% is dedicated to actual working space.  Yet no one seems to mind.  From any angle, on any floor, a glance in most any direction presents a splendid vignette.

Colorado Rose Onyx
Clad in Colorado granite on the exterior, the capitol boasts distinctive native materials on the interior as well.  Of particular interest is a unique stone called rose onyx.  Resembling marble, this rare stone was found in a small deposit near Beulah, Colorado.  Its extensive use for wainscoting and columns in the capitol exhausted the limited supply, and it has never been found anywhere else.  Some of the 200 stonecutters employed in construction of the capitol carefully matched color and pattern as they installed this unique material, which varies in color from pale pink to deep maroons and is said to mimic the hues of a Colorado sunset.

One of twin atriums in the building wings
The other color featured in the interior relates to Colorado's historical gold rush of 1859 as does the gold exterior of the dome.  Copious use of polished brass railings and balusters, which are kept sparkling by building maintenance, and the pale yellow paint applied to corridor walls give the interior a warm golden glow, enhanced by the brilliantly conceived lighting as well as natural light from several large skylights.

Round stained glass portraits currently darkened to black by shrink-wrap cover on dome exterior
An observation gallery at the top of the inner dome overlooks round stained glass Hall of Fame portraits of 16 pioneers who helped shape state history.  Reached by 99 narrow, winding stairs from the third floor, the gallery has been closed since 2007 due to falling iron from the deteriorating dome.

Senate Chamber
The Hall of Fame tributes proved so popular that the legislature has continued to honor other distinguished citizens with additional stained glass portraits in the legislative chambers, old supreme court chamber and other parts of the building.

One blemish on the Colorado Capital lies in the legislative chambers.  In a well-meaning but misguided "modernization" in the 1950s, officials decided to lower the ceilings in both legislative chambers, covering an elegant dome and skylight in each.  The new ceiling was covered with acoustic tile to improve sound absorption and reduce echo.  When that proved effective, it was thought to be a sound decision, so tiles were also used to cover the walls in both chambers.  Fast forward 60 years, and now a project is underway to remove the tiles and restore the chambers to their historic grand style.  Architects were relieved when recent spot testing of tile removal in both chambers uncovered ornate gold filigree stenciling that was layered over paint on the walls when the chambers were built in 1894.   

The Colorado State Capitol ranks high on our list of the 17 statehouse we've visited to date.  In addition to its eye candy appeal, the building is distinctively Coloradan, a quality we have found lacking in some otherwise outstanding capitols.

Even in this large city and with a major construction project underway, we found a street-side parking space easily about 30 yards from the building.  Security was efficient, and employees we encountered were courteous if not friendly.

Colorado State Capitol Stats:
  • Architectural style:  Corinthian
  • Exterior:  Colorado granite
  • Dome:  24 carat gold leaf
  • Height:  272 ft
  • Construction:  1886-1908
  • Original cost:  $2,704,875

Eye candy everywhere
Inner dome
Grand staircase and rotunda murals depicting Colorado history
House Chamber
Gallery of (U.S.) Presidents