A series of seismic reports in the 1970s condemned the Capitol’s structural integrity. Faced with the building’s inevitable condemnation, California and its leaders confronted the stark choice to either replace the Capitol with new structures or restore the original building.
After much discussion, the Legislature decided to restore the original West Wing of the building and retain the newer East Annex. The processes of undoing a century of renovations and restoring original designs meant that the building faced even greater challenges than when the Capitol was first constructed.
Between 1976 and 1982, California completed one the nation’s largest restoration projects. Thousands of workers and artisans dedicated their talents to this monumental effort. The stunning result successfully combined the majesty of the original building with modern structural innovations.
It may seem hard to believe, but saving a historic landmark like the original Capitol building was not always considered important. In the years following World War II, many historic structures were demolished to build the interstate highway system and modernize areas in major cities.
However, the movement to preserve historic landmarks made major progress with the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966. This act established laws that made preserving places of historic significance part of public policy, planning, and development. A building or site could now be saved based on its historical significance. It was at about this same time that plans for a more modern legislative building were developed and it appeared the Capitol building might be abandoned or destroyed.
Deciding to Restore the Capitol
In light of the recession of the 1970s, changes in leadership, and an increasing desire to preserve this remarkable California landmark, the argument to save the building finally won out. By 1975, Assemblyman Leon Ralph authored Assembly Bill 2071 calling for the restoration of the Capitol building, estimated at the time to cost $42 million. By 1976, the state appropriated the funds for the restoration, officials signed the contracts, and restoration was underway.
The restoration of California’s State Capitol began in 1976 and lasted six years, about half the time it took to construct the original building a century earlier. The massive six-year project cost $67 million in total. That computes to about $3 per Californian in 1982, the year the restoration was completed.