Always heard about Denver’s Mile High Capitol Building whose second step was exactly 5280′ above sea level. With sea level rising and this capitol building sinking, I got curious on my current PLA conference (nope–not a terrorist organization–it’s a National Park trade show) about where things stood, so decided to take a tour of the building.
Well, here we are at the west entrance and sure enough there is the mark engraved into the second step, but three steps higher is an actual bench mark noting the mile mark. The initial engraving was where the benchmark stood, but folks kept stealing it so they engraved it into the step…..but sure enough, either the land sank or the oceans rose and now it’s on the 5th step which is actually the 18th step with a new flight of stairs below. Well, I’m confused already, so let’s step inside.
The capitol dome is simply magnificent both inside and out. This building was built on an old homestead property donated by Henry C. Brown after several considerations for location. The capitol was never built in Henry’s lifetime so he sued all the way to the State and US Supreme court and lost both times. He vowed to never set foot in the building but just for spite, the state hauled his dead carcass up into the rotunda’s upper levels after his death to honor him. It’s still called Brown’s Attic.
Governor Ralph Carr stands out in my opinion and many agree with me because there is this brass plaque in his honor. I’ll not waste words here, but would add that this was during the last administration of FDR (who incarcerated the Japanese in WWII). It turns out that Carr, a strict Republican, opposed FDR’s New Deal policies and likely thus, his policies towards the Japanese. Carr invited the Japanese into Colorado as citizens equal. Look at where we are today. For a glimpse of these times read this letter from Harold Ickes to FDR:
And FDR’s response:
In spite of sympathy at the highest levels of our government, this was one of the blackest days of US history.
The lower rotunda has eight murals painted there by Allen Tupper True and the poet Thomas Ferril. This was WPA era but was contracted by the State of Colorado. True was one of the great muralists of the last century and a simple internet search will fill hours of your time. He is also credited with designing the Wyoming buckaroo license plate.
These eight murals all centered on water–a precious resource in Colorado. Here two farmers tend to the dirt and the sky for the success of their crops.
Framed by broad brass rails to the second level is another mural resembling airliners of San Francisco. Most of the materials for the building were derived from Colorado including the floor marble (from the town of Marble) and the interior cladding is rose onyx discovered near Beulah Colorado and was mined to extinction for this project. It exists only in the walls of this building today. The columns are not stone but cast iron. The brass is from the mid-west and the woodwork doors are from Missouri I want to say. Light fixtures were both gas and electric because electricity was still in it’s infancy when the capitol was built and Edison and Westinghouse were still battling over AC vs. DC. Today they make music, I’m told.
This is the Senate chambers and they serve only two, four year terms and then retire (term limits is built into the Colorado State laws). The coloration is red, while the House of Representatives is green. Non-the-less, each chamber was acoustically muffled in the 1950s with tons of glue at 3″ centers which ruined the interior design.
The (green) House kept one small corner panel to illustrate this fiasco. The plastic protective (of what!) shield reminds us of what was going on in our heads architecturally in the ’50s. Left to Right–restored panel, plastic over old panel with glue spots, the acoustical tiles still in place and the original column. What were they thinking?
This one photo wants to make me move to Colorado. There are three things that are telling: 1.)
There are three buttons on each desk (red, green, white). Red is a negative vote, green is a positive vote and the white is not an abstention… as all elected officials must vote or white shows. 2.) The marquee tells all. Senators are elected for two four terms and House members are elected for four two year terms. Term limits are built in. and 3.) There is a piano!
My tour-guide, Frank, leads us up to the third level of the rotunda. (The first level is executive (Governor), the second level is the Legislative who can look down on the Executive) and the third is decorated with paintings from a Coloradan portrait artist. The State bought the entire collection of all the US Presidents; all but one are signed….. We begin here with Washington. and migrate around to Lincoln….
By the time we get to Lincoln, there is no signature from the artist. The original was stolen! Here is a photo of the copy but the artist didn’t want to sign a second as it would legitimize the original. Ranger Doug is offering a $5000 reward for the original’s return (along with the remaining two WPA national park posters–Wind Cave and Great Smoky Mountain). What drives people to steal from the public?
OK–here is the last 50 years ending with Obama. Imagine who will be placed next beside him?
We plod up another several stair cases to the rotunda. It was originally clad in copper but it turned an ugly brown so the powers that be had it gilded over and over using this gold foil which is Colorado gold but sent to Italy to thin out to a micron or so thickness. As a dentist, I was one of the last classes to learn gold foil technique with this very type of gold leaf, and honed my skills on grateful Navajos before my state boards. I hope the dome and the Navajos are still happy……
Denver view to the mountains this afternoon and below in 1889. On to Berkeley California……