In 1899, after 32 years and three teams of architects, construction of the most expensive government building of its time, the New York State Capitol, was finally complete. In 1867, British architect Thomas Fuller initiated the design of the Capitol building. Eight years and three stories later, Fuller was replaced by two prominent American architects, Leopold Eidlitz and Henry Hobson Richardson.
The decision to change architects midstream led to an unusual blend of Italian Renaissance and Romanesque architecture that many historians refer to as "The Battle of the Styles." Today, it is considered one of the most architecturally interesting government buildings in the United States.
Over the past 100 years, the Capitol Building has been plagued by a string of catastrophic events. In 1911, a fire devoured 450,000 books and 270,000 manuscripts in the State Library. It was one of the greatest library disasters of modern times. In 1887, a seven-pound chunk of stone dropped from the arched Assembly chamber ceiling, missing an assemblyman by inches. Years later, water seeped through the ceiling and discolored two murals on the upper walls. A new, flat wooden ceiling was built 20 feet below the previous one, forever sealing the original murals from public view. Even today, the Capitol Building suffers from a stubborn roof leak.Fast Facts:
It's quite the adventure working in this setting. Four years ago, when Lt. Gov. Betsy McCoy Ross did not run for re-election, the historians swooped down on her 2nd floor offices with the intent of restoring them. Over the years, they had been refashioned with drop ceilings and phony wood wallboard. The rooms were sealed off as they dismounted the 20th century additions. Underneath, they discovered a magnificent carved wood staircase, bookcases and a beautiful stone fireplace, all of which had been painted over the years. The paint was removed, the asbestos tossed and the original rooms restored to their magnificent glory. Adjacent to these rooms is another with carved wood ceilings. It had originally served as the state's Court of Appeals, until it outgrew its space. It turns out the the current Lt. Governor's office space was once the library that served the original Court of Appeals. The offices are 2 stories in height, filled with bookcases that once housed the reference material for the court.
The restoration of the NYS Capitol is an ongoing work. Just last month, the office where I work discovered a door that had been sealed up for more thatn 25 years. Over the weekend, workers took down the cement and stucco wall that once closed this door, revealing a new entrance to existing office space. Geraldo Rivera was not present nor were the bones of Jimmy Hoffa found in the concrete. There are no records to indicate just why that entrance had been covered up.
This Spring, historians will concentrate their efforts on the two stairwells that lead to the NYS Senate and Assembly. They have discovered that concealed skylights that once illuminated those spaces.
It is a fascinating building that includes one ghost and the carving of a devil, attributed to a carver fired from his job.
Should any of you decide to visit Albany NY, let me know and I will give you a personally guided tour of the State Capitol.