Capitol Improvement

Friday, October 26, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Topeka, KS
Every time we take one of these long road trips, we vow to build in some down time on the next one, a promise we've yet to keep.  Since we're making a concerted effort to travel smarter on this trip, we exercised such a break this morning, lounging in our hotel room until we went out to lunch in the early afternoon.  OK, I can't lie.  We really weren't lounging; we were catching up on blogging and e-mailing and planning, but it's still an improvement for us to actually set aside a few hours for such activities rather than trying to squeeze them all in between dinner and bedtime.

High on our list of Topeka sites was the Kansas State Capitol building (pictured above).  After our excellent experience at the Missouri State Capitol last month, we decided to try exploring more of these seats of government as we travel west.  As our first capitol visit in quite some time, Missouri set the bar high—very high.  Could Kansas possibly live up to such a standard?
Kansas Capitol's stunning copper dome
In a word, yes.  Even though Kansas was more in line with most of America in their x-ray security screenings at the building entrance, we were quite impressed with the friendliness of the kind-hearted Kansans we found working at the building housing the heart of their state government. Soon after we entered, while we were walking around agape at the beauty of the building, an off-duty security employee approached us and began enthusing about the ongoing restoration project before pointing the way to the guided tour desk, where we hooked up with Norm, our source of knowledge about the Kansas Capitol.  Here's what we learned from Norm.

Kansas State Capitol Stats:
  • Built:  1866-1903 (yep, that's 37 years)
  • Cost to build:  $3.2 million (mostly paid by railroads, who also donated the 20-acre site)
  • Restoration project:  2001 to ??? ("We're in the 12th year of a 10-year project.")
  • Restoration cost:  $500 million   (funded by government bond issues, not the railroads)
  • Architectural style:  French Renaissance
  • Mural artist:  John Steuart Curry
  • Politicians' criticisms of murals:  people too stiff, prairie at night looks like ocean, pig's tail curled in wrong direction, bull's back not swayed enough, etc.
  • Curry's response to criticism:  refused to sign murals and enhanced one mural with a line of skunks, each labeled with the name of one of his most vocal critics
  • Feature not restored to original condition:  paintings in dome (Nudes in original paintings have been clothed.)
  • Interesting details:
    • Significant use of copper and bronze
    • Columns incorporating all three Greek styles (Doric, Ionic & Corinthian)
    • Columns in senate chamber used for ventilation
    • Extensive use of marble from various states and countries
  • Chambers:  Senate and House (Pecking order obvious in decor.)
Before restoration, all the copper finishes inside were black with grime from years of gas heat and cigarette smoke.

An example of one Kansas Column style:  elements of all the Greek capitals but no fluting
Allegorical ladies of the dome, now nicely clothed

The House Chamber.  Quite nice but lacks the opulence of the Senate quarters.

Senate Chamber (Note how bases of columns are used for ventilation.)

Details from the Senate chamber in golden glow of afternoon light give new meaning to ornate.
We're perfecting our rating system for state capitol buildings as we go, so we don't have a number yet, but the Kansas capitol is top-rate.  We really liked the use of non-traditional materials and the way the building reflects the values and character of the state.  The next capitol on our agenda is South Dakota next week.  We'll be too far west to catch Lincoln as we go through Nebraska.

Before visiting the capitol, we went to check out the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.  Housed in the former Monroe Elementary School, one of the four segregated schools for black children in Topeka, the Brown site commemorates the struggle of African Americans to attain equal rights in education.  In 1954, Thurgood Marshall, then general counsel for the NAACP and representing a black Topeka student, Oliver L. Brown, argued before the Supreme Court that racial classifications were inherently unconstitutional, as were separate educational facilities.  The court's unanimous decision in favor of the plaintiff and in support of the 14th Amendment was one of the most significant in U.S. history.  
The shocking greeting in the entrance hall at Brown v. Board historic site

Entering the building, we faced large signs designating WHITE on one side and COLORED on the other.  Since we are both old enough to remember when such signs were actually in use, it was a jarring experience to be reminded of the days when this practice was all too common.  After that initial greeting, we were expecting the museum to be a compelling experience.  Sadly, the drama stopped there.  
After squeezing your heart in a vise, the museum's curators lost the momentum and presented a jumbled mix of exhibits that were distracting in their excesstoo many things to look at, too much competing audio in the same room.  This is a story that needs to be told, but sadly it isn't told very memorably here.
Tomorrow we'll continue west, heading to Dodge City.  Hard to get more "Western" than the home of Marshal Matt Dillon! 


  • Miles driven: 14
  • Letterboxes: F 0, P 0
  • Weather: Sunny, 28° to 47° 
  • States: 1 (KS) 
  • Topeka population:  128,188 
  • Miles driven: 1,635
  • Letterboxes: F 10, P 3
  • States: 8 (GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, IL, MO, KS)
  • Temperature range: 28° to 80° 
  • Gas prices (premium): $3.49 to $3.95 
  • National battlefields: 3 
  • National historic sites:  2 
  • State capitols:  1
  • State parks: 1 
  • State historic sites:  1