Metal Dome and Fixtures
The Capitol’s original outer dome was sheathed in copper in the early 1870s, and it continually leaked. At the start of the restoration, craftsmen finally solved this 100-year-old problem by coming up with a new way of uniformly folding each overlapping layer of copper so that it prevented water from seeping into the dome’s interior.
Very little of the original historic doors’ hardware remained at the start of the restoration. After researching the metal patterns, the restoration team was able to obtain the patents to reproduce the replicas of the doorknobs, plates, and hinges that were used throughout the newly restored Capitol.
In 1975, when the Capitol restoration project began, the building’s exterior iron decorative elements had deteriorated to the point that they posed a serious threat to public safety. The extensive metalwork used to make the original building, composed primarily of heavy cast iron, posed serious problems in both cost and in meeting the weight requirements of modern seismic code.
Their replacement required making individual molds of the original sections so they could then make accurate sandcast replicas. This meant that tons of new iron building fixtures had to be reproduced. The historic Knight’s Foundry in nearby Sutter Creek completed this work and expertly cast new iron using 19th century methods and equipment.
The massive iron columns of the exterior were still strong and useful for supporting the load of the building. Most of the exterior iron decorations, such as the ornate capitals on top of our Corinthian columns, needed only to be cleaned and repainted.
Decorative iron ornaments originally placed throughout the building’s interior, on the other hand, added unnecessary weight to the frame and posed a significant injury and fall risk in the event of an earthquake. To reduce weight and the risk of falling objects, talented sculptors capable of producing a perfect replica of original metal fixtures reconstructed many of the iron ornaments in the building with lightweight plaster.
In addition to replacing some of the ornamental iron with plaster decor, sculptors were needed to reproduce much of the molding and other decorative elements throughout the building, like the decorative elements in the Archives room’s ceiling. This required numerous molds crafted by the hands of skilled artisans, and an attention to detail. Led by sculptor-in-residence Michael Casey, artisans recreated numerous decorative elements utilizing careful study of historic photographs and renderings with a masterful eye for detail.
Originally, the State Capitol had numerous statues and decorative elements along its roofline. Pietro Mezzara, the San Francisco sculptor, meant them to be symbolic of the state of California. This is why the statues included a state seal (left) and the federal shield (right), which represents the rejoining of the Union after the Civil War.
The statues also included a bison (right), an iconic symbol of the West, and a grizzly bear (left), California’s state animal. Some say that these statues symbolized the romanticized ideal of the settlement of the western territories.
When the Restoration began, none of the original statuary remained except for the five statues over the Capitol’s front entrance. All of the other original statues were removed due to safety concerns between 1906 and 1948. To recreate groups of sculptures at the corners of front entrance, sculptor Speros Anargyros made these plaster sculptures to use as models for the new concrete replicas.
The passage of time destroyed many of the original wood elements throughout the building, which suffered from usage, roof leaks, and changes to the layout. The massive stairwells that once graced the west portico were reconstructed from a few photographs and a portion of the original. The firm that constructed the original staircase in 1870, Burnett and Sons Lumber, is still run by the same local family; to remain consistent, they were rehired to recreate the staircases that their ancestors built a century prior.
The Capitol’s rotunda has been renowned for its elaborate decorative style, particularly for the ornate and decorative wallpaper not only in the rotunda but also throughout the building. However, none of the original wallpaper remained when the restoration began. The wallpaper you see today is as near to the original as research allowed; restorationists replicated the wallpaper using photographs and original remnants.
A lincrusta is a deeply embossed wall covering. The Capitol’s original lincrustas were made from linseed oil and sawdust. At the time of restoration, no manufacturer knew how to create lincrustas using historic materials. However, Bradbury & Bradbury Wallpapers, of Benicia, California developed a solution. They reproduced the original lincrusta patterns into plaster panels using dental tools, and then reinforced them with fiberglass. They applied the panels to the wall, caulked the seams between the panels, and then painted the entire wall to replicate the original finish.
Parget refers to the plaster decorative design on the walls and ceiling in the Archives room. During the restoration, the parget designs were recreated using photographs and castings of original designs. To create a pattern of the design, artisans taped cartoons to the walls and ceilings. They then used charcoal to transfer the dotted design onto the surfaces. Artisans then removed the cartoons and traced the charcoal design by squeezing plaster out of a cake-decorating bag.
A lengthy history of heavy use wore down most of the Capitol’s original flooring, so restoring the floors was a monumental and tedious task. The Mosaic Tile Company created the original floor tiles for the Capitol over 100 years ago, using a process that no longer existed by the 1970s.
Located on the second floor and installed during the Capitol’s 1906 to 1908 remodeling, the mosaic tiles present today are mostly original pieces. The restoration of the mosaic required individual stones to be cleaned, polished, and placed by hand back into their original positions to ensure the preservation of the original design and floor surface. During the restoration, artisans followed a grid coordinate system to remove sections of mosaic tile, and then fixed damaged and replaced missing pieces. Once artisans replicated and replaced the marble mosaic pieces, they reinstalled the floor section by section.
You can see this in the second floor hallways, which feature mosaic floors constructed in 1907 to honor the state flower, the California golden poppy.
Ceramic and marble tiles, on the other hand, had to be remanufactured in most instances. To accomplish this, contracted businesses produced tiles that had to meet or exceed historic standards set by the Legislature, with guidance from restoration experts. Restorationists figured out how to recreate historic processes for imprinting designs onto tiles.
Restoration workers, in an attempt to recreate the original tiles of the first floor, figured out how to reproduce the tiles by hand. Reproducing the floor tiles for the restoration required several steps. The production process of dry-pressed tiles began with hardened steel molds filled with a powdered clay base. Next, artisans filled the mold with layers of plain clay and colored clay powders, separating each layer with metal dividers. After removing the metal dividers, artisans compacted the tile together by applying pressure. To complete the design, artisans used a wire mesh stencil to create patterns on the surface of the clay. Lastly, the compacted tile was burned to harden the tile.
Some original elements were preserved, however; ceramic tiles ordered from the prestigious Maw and Co. in England in 1866, are still present on the second floor at the grand staircase landing.
California State Capitol Museum — Building a Legacy: 150 Years of the California State Capitol
This was a website specifically for the “Building a Legacy: 150 Years of the California State Capitol” Exhibit which ran May 20, 2019 – March 22, 2020 at the California State Capitol Museum.
For Museum-related information such as contacts, hours and location: Visit capitolmuseum.ca.gov.