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Washington

Washington State Capitol Legislative Building

Olympia has been the capital of Washington from the beginning, even though Tacoma, Ellensburg, Vancouver, and Yakima all tried to get it at various times. The present capitol building is the only capitol Washington has ever built; earlier buildings were rented or purchased.

The dome.

The building was constructed between 1912 and 1928. It is unique among state capitols in that instead of one large building, it consists of four separate buildings; the domed structure is the Legislative Building.

The 287-foot high dome is the fourth tallest all-masonry dome in the world. The pieces were formed in the east someplace and shipped here. When assembled, every one of the pieces fit perfectly! In the 1940's one of Washington's frequent earthquakes created a crack in the dome, which has of course been repaired. The dome weighs 30,800,000 lbs. (that's a lot of kilos!).

February 28, 2001: CAPITOL DOME CRACKED

    In Olympia, about 10 miles from today's quake epicenter, a crack was visible in the Capitol dome. Legislators, government workers and visiting school children flooded out of the Capitol and other buildings. The state Senate was in session.
    “The chandelier started going and the floor started shaking. Someone yelled, ‘Get under the table,’ and so we did,” Sen. Bob Morton said. “The sudden violence let us know that this was a bad one.”
    Cracked plaster, gilt and even paintings fell from the walls, but Morton said he saw no sign of major structural damage.

Tiffany Chandelier inside the Dome

I began visiting state capitols in 1946 or 1947 when I attended a church young people's conference in Olympia. The minister of the church there was a man of unbounded enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity; he was also the type of person who could walk into the governor's office and start chatting with the governor (or anybody else) without hesitation. Somehow he had obtained keys to various parts of the building which were not ordinarily open to the public. He took about a dozen of us kids on a tour of the capitol, which he knew all about. It was a very interesting tour indeed. I have never lost my interest in capitols, and have visited all of them except Juneau and Honolulu over the years.

The Tiffany chandelier.

The Tiffany chandelier is suspended 50 feet above the floor. It is 25 feet long and eight feet in diameter; it weighs five tons. The chain which supports it is 101 feet long and weighs one and one-half tons. There are 202 lights in the chandelier.
Rotunda with Great Seal embedded in floor
The gold Great Seal of the State of Washington, a likeness of George himself, is embedded in the floor of the rotunda.
The Senate Chamber
Nearing completion of the renovation, the Senate Chamber will be ready for occupancy when the Legislative Session begins in January 2005.
George Washington
This large bust of George Washington graces one of the balconies overlooking the rotunda. George's nose has become very shiny due to people not being able to resist touching it.
The Governor's Mansion
The Governor's Mansion is located on the Capitol grounds. It is now (February 2006) open for visitors on Wednesdays, with reservations; I hear it is beautiful inside, so I will have to schedule a visit. The building was built before the Capitol, and was the temporary capitol while the Legislative Building was being built.
Oly fountain.

The "Oly" fountain (my name for it) was donated by a bigwig in the Olympia Brewing Company as a "gift" to the state. For many years, Oly (Olympia) beer was the best in the west. I know it was my preference. Oly's slogan is "It's the water." Alas, the Oly company is now owned by Pabst, and their beer doesn't seem as good as it used to be (or maybe I'm just getting old). [June 25, 2003: The old Olympia brewery is closing permanently. It could be sold to a small local brewery, but there aren't many of those left. Sad day for the hundreds of workers losing their jobs, and the city of Olympia losing its most famous landmark. (Actually, the brewery is outside the city.) My kids and I toured the brewery when my kids were in their early teens. It was a very interesting tour. I got a free beer, but my kids were unhappy that they had to settle for soft drinks.]

The Old Captiol
Washington's old capitol building still stands in downtown Olympia.

Back to the Capitol Index
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This E-mail from Patrick McDonald has further information (and some corrections):

Interesting Web Site. Need to clarify some issues on the Washington State Capitol.

1. The building was constructed between 1921 and 1929. The plans were accepted in 1912 but WWI and a shortage of materials held it back.

2. The stone for the dome was carved at the docks in Tacoma and shipped down Puget Sound to Olympia. A rail line brought them up to the capitol during construction. The sandstone is from Mt. Rainier (Wilkinson Sandstone from Wilkinson, WA). It was placed unfinished on the building and the final ornamental carving was done in place by Scottish stone masons. The grandfather of our Secretary of State, Ralph Munro, was one of the Masons. He liked Washington so much, he brought his family over.

3. It is not necessarily the only one the state built, but it is the only one which was totally built by the state. The territorial capitol was constructed near the present site. Before that they did rent buildings for 3 years. When the state was hit hard by the 1893 depression, Thurston County went bankrupt and sold their new ornate courthouse to the state. The state then added a whole new wing more than doubling the size of the building. That building currently stands in downtown Olympia.

4. Whoever took the pictures did an excellent job. I have taken about a thousand of the building in my 17 years of working there and these were excellent shots by your photographer.

5. Five buildings make up the capitol design (originally there were to be six, but the governor’s mansion won out to another office building).

6. The 1949 earthquake did create a crack, but it also badly damaged the cupola. That was removed and rebuilt of sturdier material. The original 15 ton stone top was replaced with a 800 pound aluminum cap.

7. By the way, you can fit a VW inside the chandelier.

8. It should also be pointed out that this state capitol has the largest collection of Tiffany bronze in the world that bears the mark of Louis Comfort Tiffany. It was his last big commission prior to his death. The building also has more marble than any other state capitol (Idaho’s is painted by the way) which is imported from Italy, Germany, Belgium, France and Alaska.

I didn’t mean to be critical in any way, but I thought you may be interested in this information. If I can be of any help, please let me know, I am a historian and have worked in and around the building for 17 years. I’ve been to Hawaii’s capitol -– although very Hawaiian, it looks more like an office building than a Capitol.

Patrick J. McDonald
E-mail.