- Architecture: Symbols of a Changing Democracy
- Collections: California's Art Collection
- Capitol History: A Legacy of California's Growth
- Capitol Park
- Historic Rooms: The West Wing
- Glossary of Terms: A Capital Vocabulary
The California State Capitol Museum’s virtual tours provide you with a unique opportunity to visit California's Capitol from any location in the world. View the Capitol’s blended architectural styles from neo-classical and Renaissance Revival to California’s own architectural elements. Via the virtual tour, roam the Capitol’s halls, taking in the original works of art, furnishings, historic artifacts, and restored governmental rooms and offices that offer a window into the past, as well as detailed cutaways of the building and unique design features. A glossary of terms is also available to provide a better understanding of the Capitol’s architecture.
A virtual tour of the 40-acre Capitol Park focuses on monuments, memorials, points of interest, historic personages and events, trees and plantings from around the world, and a World Peace Rose Garden.
The State Capitol contains not only the legislative and executive offices of government and a museum dedicated to telling the political history of the state, there is also an art museum. Since the humble beginning of California’s statehood, its legislatures have assembled and commissioned an astonishing collection of priceless historic paintings, artifacts, artwork, and antique furnishings, most of which relate to California and the Capitol. From the oldest artifact in the Capitol, the portrait of George Washington which hangs in the Senate chamber, to contemporary art exhibits, to recent drawings and paintings composed by California’s school children, the Capitol holds and displays a variety of art, whether one considers subject matter, era, or medium. Even the building itself includes sculpture as part of its own structure.
The history section details more than 150 years of the trials and tribulations of California’s early statehood, a growing democracy searching for a foothold, and the ongoing battle for space to accommodate the state’s growing need for leadership. Sacramento was not always the capital of California. Even when that city became the permanent capital, it was temporarily moved to San Francisco due to extensive flooding in Sacramento, causing one legislator to fear the Legislature would be known as “the changing, mudscow, steamboat moving, forever uncertain legislature of California.”
With the completion of the Capitol in 1874, California was given a permanent home for its fledgling democracy. But as California grew larger, the Capitol seemed to shrink, and several expansions and renovations were necessary to keep up with the growth of government. By the 1970s, the building had been redecorated so many times it was hardly recognizable, and was in such bad shape, it was feared an earthquake would destroy it. So the decision had to be made: To demolish the seismically unfit Capitol and replace it with a modern, spacious building, or to retrofit the building against earthquakes and preserve an important part of California’s history.
A Living Testament to California
In 1863, California Governor Leland Stanford envisioned a Victorian garden “with a beauty and luxuriousness that no other capitol can boast” surrounding the California State Capitol. Well over a century and a half later, California’s Capitol Park has a luxuriousness and beauty that few capitols can compete with. Trees, shrubs, and other plants have been gathered from around the world and planted in Capitol Park, which has grown over the years to encompass twelve city blocks or forty acres. Walkways crisscross the park, enabling visitors more opportunities to view its bounty.
Special points of interest, memorials, and monuments are tastefully incorporated into Capitol Park to remind us of our history and natural beauty. Visitors can sit under trees that were thought to be extinct, enjoy a pond surrounded by draping foliage while viewing living and static memorials, or relax during lunch under the shade of trees which are the largest of their kind in the state.
Restoration and preservation have allowed for the accurate recreation of various architectural and Legislative eras representing the evolution of California’s history and philosophies through the legacy of its leadership. Some historic rooms that served former governors, secretaries of state, and treasurers are now preserved to show visitors what the offices looked like at the turn of the twentieth century. These can be seen on the first floor of the west wing.
Others, although they retain their historic look, are still used today by the leaders of the Legislature. Both the Senate President pro Tempore’s and the Speaker of the Assembly’s offices are decorated with historic furniture and artwork. The architecture of the Senate and Assembly galleries, open to the public whenever the houses are in floor session, reflect an open form of government, inviting visitors to sit and observe the Legislature in action. The red of the Senate and green of the Assembly are borrowed from our centuries-old British parliamentary heritage.
Understanding the terminology used for architecture, art, history, and legislation can be the fundamental key to understanding their unique relationship and significance to California, the Capitol Building, and citizens today and in the decades to come. So is it the abacus that’s found between the triglyphs in the frieze section of the entablature of classical Greek Doric temples, or is that the metope? Answers to this type of question can be found within this handy glossary of architectural terms associated with the State Capitol. (Answer: It’s the metope. The abacus is found between the architrave and the aechinus in the capital of a column.)