Oregon State Capitol History
Oregon's present Capitol has its origins in two fires. On December 30, 1855, fire swept through a newly occupied Statehouse, completely destroying the structure. The Holman Building, in the business section of Salem, served as a temporary Capitol from 1859 until another one was completed in 1876. On April 25, 1935, fire again destroyed the elegant Statehouse patterned after the U.S. Capitol.
Francis Keally with the New York firm of Trowbridge & Livingston designed the current building, which was dedicated October 1, 1938.
A four-story structure of Modern Greek architecture, it was completed at a cost of $2.5 million and is the fourth newest Capitol in the United States. The exterior is faced with white Danby Vermont marble. The rotunda, the halls, and all of the lobby areas are lined with a warm, delicately polished Rose Travertine from Montana. The floor and stair- cases of the rotunda utilize large squares of Phoenix Napoleon grey marble from Missouri with borders of Radio Black marble from Vermont.
A Capitol "Wings" project, completed in 1977, at a cost of $12.5 million, added further space for legislative offices, hearing rooms, support services, a first floor galleria, and underground parking.
Surrounded by the State Capitol State Park, the beauty of the Capitol is enhanced by its utility. The building houses several elected state officials - the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the State Treasurer - in addition to the entire Legislative Branch of state government. Spacious hearing rooms provide Oregonians an opportunity to participate in legislative decision making and to view state government at work.
In the late 1990's a series of health and safety issues were identified in the Capitol wings. After an initial plan for replacing only the defective pipes, wiring and ceiling was developed, it was determined that it would be most cost effective to address additional areas of concern in a single project. The 74th Legislature approved the "Capitol Restoration Project" in June 2007. Work in the Capitol wings took place between July 2007 and November 2008. The project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget.
Early in the morning of August 30, 2008, fire broke out on the terrace outside the governor's office complex on the second floor of the Capitol. The fire resulted in water and/or smoke damage to areas in the basement, first floor galleria, second floor governor's complex, Committee Services in Rooms 350 and 453, and the Legislative Counsel library. The fire began in construction materials being used on a terrace project outside the governor's ceremonial office. Though the exact cause of the fire remains undetermined, investigators ruled out arson. Due to the professional response of Salem Fire Department, the rest of the Capitol was spared further damage.
The massive Vermont marble sculptures flanking the main entrance, by Leo
Friedlander, depict The Covered Wagon (west) and Lewis and Clark led by
Sacajawea (east). Intaglio maps outlining the Old Oregon Trail and the routes of Lewis
and Clark appear on the backsides of these sculptures.
Ulric Ellerhusen sculpted five relief marble works for the exterior of the building. Above the south entrance is a work by Oregon sculptor Tom Morandi. A wheelchair ramp is outside the east entrance. A Liberty Bell replica distinguishes the west entrance.
In the center of the rotunda, embedded in the floor, is a large bronze replica of the Oregon State Seal. The state seal was sculpted by Ulric Ellerhusen, who also created the six cast bronze sculptures over the main entrance doors - three outside and three inside. Eight medallions painted near the top of the walls of the rotunda represent the eight objects in the state seal.The Capitol dome rises 106 feet above the state seal in the floor of the spacious rotunda. The ceiling, painted by Frank H. Schwarz, features a design of thirty-three stars symbolizing Oregon as the thirty-third state in the union. Surrounding the rotunda are four large, colorful murals illustrating events in Oregon history: Captain Robert Gray at the mouth of the Columbia River in 1792; Lewis and Clark on their way to the Pacific in 1805; the first women to cross the continent by covered wagon, welcomed by Dr. John McLoughlin in 1836; and the first wagon train migration in 1843. Outstanding examples of Depression period art, the murals were painted by Barry Faulkner and Frank H. Schwarz. The seal of the provisional government (1843-1848) is above the grand staircase leading to the Senate Chamber. The territorial seal (1848-1859) is above the opposite staircase leading to the House of Representatives. The four smaller murals alongside the stairways are symbolic of Oregon industries.
Display cases containing exhibits relating to Oregon history, hearing rooms, traveling art exhibits and the visitor's information center highlight the galleria. The visitor's information center provides information about the Capitol, the Legislative Assembly and Oregon to the public. Historical building tours and videos are available. The Tower is open for tours seasonally.
Oregon's 30 state Senators use the Senate Chamber that features paneling and furniture of matched black walnut. Alternating designs of wheat and salmon, symbolizing Oregon's agricultural and fishing industries are woven into the carpeting. The mural behind the Senate President's desk is by Frank H. Schwarz and shows a street scene in Salem when news of Oregon's admission to the Union was received in 1859.
The paneling and furniture in Oregon's 60-member House of Representatives is fashioned entirely of golden oak. Symbolic of Oregon's important wood products industry is the specially designed carpet featuring the Douglas Fir, Oregon's state tree. Behind the desk of the Speaker of the House, is a Barry Faulkner mural showing the historic meeting of Oregon pioneers at Champoeg in 1843, when the provisional government was established.
Above the galleries in both the House and Senate Chambers are friezes inscribed with the names of 158 people prominent in the history and development of Oregon.
Between the two legislative chambers on the second floor is the Governor's Suite with a reception room, a public ceremonial office, and private staff offices. The paneling is matched black walnut. The map of Oregon's geography above the fireplace in the ceremonial office is a work of Barry Faulkner. The ornate table in the reception area is made of 40 different types of wood and depicts the previous Capitol. It was created and given to the citizens of Oregon by the architectural firm employing Francis Keally. The reception area and ceremonial office are used frequently for art exhibits. Early in the morning of August 30, 2008, a fire broke out on the terrace outside the governor's office complex on the second floor of the Capitol. The fire resulted in water and smoke damage throughout the central part of the building. The fire began in construction materials being used on a terrace project outside the governor's ceremonial office.
Tower and Oregon
The Oregon Pioneer statue that tops the building is another work by Ulric Ellerhusen. This heroic figure represents the spirit of Oregon's early settlers.Cast in bronze and finished in gold leaf, it weighs 8.5 tons and is hollow inside. The base of the 23-foot high statue is 140 feet above the ground. The statue is reached by 121 steps spiraling up into the tower from the fourth floor of the building out onto a deck providing a spectacular view of Salem.
Designated as the State Capitol State Park in 2007, the grounds surrounding the Capitol feature ornamental and native trees and shrubs. The east side of the Capitol is the setting of three statues representing major forces in Oregon history: The Circuit Rider by A. Phimister Proctor is symbolic of the many missionaries who came to Oregon; Gifford Proctor sculpted both Reverend Jason Lee, and Dr. John McLoughlin. Lee, a minister, played a major role in the American colonization of Oregon. Lee was also the founder of Oregon's oldest university, Willamette University located south of the Capitol. McLoughlin was the chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company and was the first man to govern the Oregon territory, although he held no official title. Also located in the Capitol Park are fragments of Corinthian columns salvaged from the Capitol destroyed by fire in 1935. Willson Park, to the west, was a city park from 1853 until 1965 when it officially became part of the Capitol grounds. It is the setting for the Walk of the Flags, Waite Fountain, Parade of Animals sculpture, a Liberty Bell replica, and a gazebo constructed in 1982. Dedicated in 2005, the Walk of the Flags features state flags for all 50 of the United States.
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