SPRINGFIELD, Illinois -- With the state legislature on spring break, we had no difficulty finding a parking space along the curb on the street running along the side of the Illinois State Capitol about 250 feet from the building. After feeding the meter a very reasonable $1.00 in quarters for two hours, we entered the building around 10 a.m. Security screening was competently conducted by two friendly Illinois state troopers, who directed us into a walk-through metal detector after we deposited our bags and pocket contents into plastic trays for x-ray screening.
“What’s up with all the tools?” the x-ray operator asked me. After my befuddled response, he realized that the machine had repeated the image of the previous visitor’s bag before showing mine.
Then he related a story about a grandmother from Minnesota who came in with her young grandson. Screeners noticed what looked like a brass knuckle in her bag. That turned out to be a Caribou Coffee carabiner shaped like a moose, but that was only the beginning of their discoveries. The lad was carrying a small stick and asked if he could take it in. No. Ultimately, the troopers found that sweet granny was carrying a switchblade knife and a long pipe wrench in her coat. Both, of course, were confiscated, and in the pair walked, leaving security to wonder what contingencies the Minnesotans had been preparing themselves for.
|Front of the capitol building, facing east|
Begun in 1868, the Illinois State Capitol was designed by a Chicago architectural firm in a style variously described as Second Empire or French Renaissance. By the time of its completion, twenty years later, costs had accumulated to $4.5 million dollars, well over the original budget.
In 2011-13, the west wing of the Illinois capitol underwent a major renovation and restoration, updating infrastructure systems, moving utilities underground, and bringing the building into compliance with ADA requirements. At the same time, that wing was restored to the original Victorian splendor envisioned by the building architect and subsequently covered over in the interest of changing tastes in décor. Completed during a period when the state was suffering serious pension fund shortfalls, the much-maligned $50 million project has won awards for its authenticity and attention to detail.
|Restored former Supreme Court room, now used for meetings|
|Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in front of Illinois statehouse|
|The Grand Staircase|
|Clark in Kaskaskia|
|Governors' portraits line this 2nd floor corridor.|
With all that good-natured needling of their next-door neighbor, we decided we should detour a bit and drive to Des Moines tomorrow to check out the similarities for ourselves. Even with only one wing restored and renovated, we found the Illinois State Capitol to be an impressive and monumental building—a model of Gilded Age splendor from its vivid color palette to the ornately stenciled walls highlighted with silver and gold leaf. The bar for Iowa is set pretty high.
Illinois Capitol Stats:
- Construction period: 1868-1888
- Capitol grounds: 9 acres
- Dome surface: zinc (painted silver)
- Building height (to tip of dome): 361 ft. (tallest non-skyscraper statehouse)
- Original cost: $4.5 million ($1.5 million over budget)
- 2013 renovation cost: $50 million ($6.7 million over budget)
- Capitol wings still needing restoration: 3
More Illinois Capitol Photos
|One of the three infamous sets of $670,000 doors (photo by Associated Press)|
|House of Representatives Chamber|
|Rotunda with statuary of famous Illinoisans|