California State Capitol History Part Four
Part IV: Restoration
The decision to restore the historic Capitol created one of the largest restoration projects in California's history, artisans relearned arts long forgotten, the Senate and Assembly Chambers would regain their glory and the building was incorporated with modern technology while maintaining the splendor of the Capitol's original appearance.
- Restoring a Legacy
- Lost Arts
- Fine Details
- Legislative Chambers
California's Monolithic Project
Demolishing the Capitol and rebuilding it may have been a more economical route. The project began in 1975 and took a total of six years to complete. The final cost of the restoration was over $68 million.
At the time, the project was the largest restoration ever completed in North America. The unprecedented restoration project returned the Capitol to its 1906 grandeur employed master artisans, architects, structural engineers, and historians.
In January 1982, the newly restored building was completely re-opened to the public. After the ribbon cutting the legislation hosted a “Restoration Gala” complete with a dazzling fireworks and laser light display.
Many artisan techniques, long thought lost to the hands of time, were revived for the restoration of the Capitol.
During the Capitol’s restoration, efforts were undertaken to recreate the original parget plasterwork. This effort was stifled by the lack of an accurate example to use as a guide. Since original photographs were black and white, artisans were unsure of the techniques and color palette used by the original artists.
Fortunately, during the restoration project, workers found a full-color segment of an original California poppy design hidden behind a heating duct. This revelation gave artisans clues on how to re-create this lost art form.
The original tile laid in the Capitol's rotunda is a geometric mosaic of earth-toned shapes, creating a "marquetry" effect similar to the inlaid woodwork in Renaissance Revival furniture. Maw & Company manufactured the original tile in Shropshire, England.
Unfortunately, the tile did not withstand the 100 years' worth of wear and tear on the rotunda floor. During the restoration, the original tile was removed and replaced with reproductions made from standard United States quarry tile.
Restoration artisans painstakingly recreated the intricate geometric designs with the updated tiles in the rotunda and in nearby halls and stairwells. The original tile that they were able to salvage can now be found on the grand staircase landing on the second floor.
Strolling through the imposing halls of the Capitol, amid all the action, visitors might not notice the fine details artists and craftspeople included in their work that compose the overall splendor of this historic building.
In 1978, the workers and craftspeople responsible for the seemingly insurmountable job of restoring the Capitol posed for a group photo. This picture was signed by all and enclosed in a time capsule in the building's cornerstone.
The Grand Staircases
The original grand staircases were removed from the Capitol in 1906 to make way for additional office space and elevators.
The original marble mosaic on the second floor had withstood the test of time. During the restoration, each of its approximately 600,000 pieces was cleaned, polished, glued and grouted on craft paper to be reinstalled in sheets. The restored 1906 mosaic features swirling patterns of golden poppies, California's state flower.
The Great Seal of California
For more information, see the The Great Seal of California virtual tour.
The restoration rediscovered the State Capitol that was completed in 1874 beneath over 100 years of well-meaning and misguided "modernizations." With their removal and the help of today's technology, the building has been allowed to face the end of this century, and the beginning of the next, as it did the last — the home of California's legislature.
— Robert M. Wood
Legislative chambers, the most important rooms of any Capitol, are usually designed and furnished in grand style. California's Capitol chambers were definitive examples of this for many years, until a gradual series of modernizations slowly chipped way at the grandeur they once exhibited.
The décor of the chambers also reflected precedents set in British Parliament. The color red, featured in the Senate Chambers, was historically associated with the House of Lords. In the Assembly Chambers, green was the predominant color, a tradition borrowed from Parliament's House of Commons.
When the restoration of the Capitol began in 1977, what remained of the original legislative chambers was restored while other elements were recreated based on historical photographs and physical evidence. For example, the original plaster pendants that hung from the ceilings were recreated from a photograph and pieces of an original found under a floor. Bronze and crystal wall sconces were reconstructed, and original furniture was restored and in some cases, reproduced. The elaborate Wilton carpet's intricate design was also reproduced based on the original pattern visible in an 1870 photograph.