Utah with a Capitol U

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Ultimate Utah, Day 19:  Salt Lake City, UT

Our visit to Utah would not be complete without a pilgrimage to the state capitol building.  Even without the GPS, we would have easily found the stately neoclassical seat of Utah government sitting majestically on Capitol Hill overlooking Salt Lake City.
When Utah achieved statehood in 1896, the government operated out of the newly built Salt Lake City and County Building.  After the state's governor finally convinced the legislature to fund the erection of a proper statehouse in 1911, the project still was in doubt after lawmakers axed more than a quarter of the construction budget.  New life was breathed into the capitol by the death of a wealthy railroad magnate, whose widow boosted the budget with an $800,000 estate tax payment (5% of her inheritance).
Statue of Massasoit in front of east entrance because it was created by famous Utah artist
Parking was plentiful, close by and free—the perfect combination.  When we approached the building and saw four state trooper vehicles conspicuously parked near the east entrance, we assumed that security inside would be pretty strict.   We were wrong.

The only reference to any security concerns was a sign just inside the door informing visitors that unattended backpacks or briefcases would be removed from the building.  There were two state troopers seated just inside near the visitor information desk, but they were chatting with each other and didn't interact with us until we asked a question.
Twin atriums flank the rotunda.
Utah's was the 34th state capitol building we have visited.  Having seen some stunningly beautiful statehouses filled with historical symbolism (yes, we're talking about you, South Dakota and Colorado), our capitol wow threshold is pretty lofty.  Utah floated to the top of our capitol ratings list like a helium balloon with a broken string.
State brochures available in Italian, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese.
The convenient parking was only the first indication that the Utah capitol was operated with a user-friendly focus.  Tourism is a major force in the state economy, and Utah attracts visitors from around the world.  Brochures about the state in a variety of languages are prominently displayed inside the capitol's entrance.  Nearby is podium/flag arrangement, where visitors can pose for a photo op as a Utah "official."
Though its welcoming atmosphere is appealing, what really sets the Utah capitol apart is the vision and talent of its local architect, Richard K. A. Kletting.  Kletting's neoclassical Corinthian plan was selected over other entries in a design contest and was constructed from 1912 to 1916.  Built mostly of native granite quarried nearby, the edifice was designed with light in mind—long open window-lit hallways, massive skylights, and a glass rotunda floor to allow light to the first floor below.
Like the Colorado and Indiana statehouses, Kletting's capitol design is replete with exquisite vignettes created by his devoted attention to interior sight lines.  As you round each corner, another enchanting image is presented to you.

Even with the infusion of the railroad money, the budget was inadequate to complete Kletting's vision at the time it was constructed.  It wasn't until the New Deal period in the 1930s that a Public Works Administration project decorated the rotunda, as Kletting had conceived, with murals of 19th century events in Utah history.
The visionary Kletting even made plans for what to do when the state outgrew its house of government, designing twin 80,000-sq.ft. office buildings compatible with but subservient to the 320,000-sq.ft. capitol and designating space for them on the building site.  These long-forgotten documents were discovered after the state began contemplating how to house its growing government in 1998.
The buildings were completed in time to house state offices and functions which vacated the capitol building for a comprehensive renovation project from 2004 to 2008.  With Salt Lake City's location near a significant fault line, seismic protection was a major part of the $212 million restoration.  The seismic retrofit involved the careful removal of the building's old foundation and replacement with 265 new flexible footings called base isolators.  During an earthquake, the capitol can gently sway from side to side as the ground moves because the isolators can stretch up to two feet horizontally in any direction, reducing the seismic impact on the building by 80 percent.
Colors used in the House chamber mimic the Utah landscape.
Another goal of the capitol renovation project was the restoration of original architectural and artistic details of Kletting's design.  Like so many other public and private historic buildings in the U.S., the Utah statehouse had been the victim of mid-century "improvements" such as the installation of aluminum-framed windows, which were replaced with period appropriate mahogany ones.  In addition to the seismic retrofit and the restoration, the capitol was fitted with all new electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems.
Rotunda chandelier and dome interior
Clearly the state of Utah is justifiably proud of its house of government and its investment to restore the statehouse to its original architectural and artistic glory.  We found it to be a worthy monument to Utah's interesting history and its glorious natural beauty.


    •  Original construction:  1912-1916
    •  Original cost:  $2.7 million
    •  Restoration:   2004-2008
    •  Restoration cost:  $212 million
    •  Size:  320,000 sq.ft.
    •  Dome height from ground:  250 ft.
    •  Dome surface:  Utah copper
    •  Interior dome height:  163 ft. from rotunda floor
    •  Grounds:  40 acres
    •  Windows replaced in restoration:   539
    •  Light fixtures restored or replaced:  1,400 in 46 styles
    •  Corinthian columns on exterior:  52
    •  Weight of rotunda chandelier:  6,000 pounds

More Photos of Utah State Capitol
Another view of House chamber
Decorative details in the Senate chamber 
A model of a base isolator
Governors Hall of Fame on first floor
Professionally curated exhibits on first floor tell about aspects of the state's history, economy, and environment.
Original color treatments were restored to decorative details.  
Another of Kletting's captivating interior sight line vignettes
The formal state reception room 
Symmetry helps to create dramatic views.
Even with a prominent "do not touch" sign, people cannot resist rubbing Abe's nose. 
The Senate chamber
Senate gallery and ceiling
Sight lines were also considered in outdoor spaces.
Shaded walkway around the entire Capitol was Kletting's idea, implemented during restoration.
Towering monument honors the Mormon Battalion, a military unit in the mid-1800s.
A couple of Utah officials issuing statements about the state's impressive capitol.