tv The Presidency CSPAN September 21, 2014 7:50pm-8:01pm EDT
>> you're watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span 3. >> this minnesota state capitol building is the third built in st. paul. the third one was built in downtown st. paul in the 1850's even when we were still a territory. over the years they expanded that space and by 1881, it was kind of a brick and wood building that probably no longer was serving the purpose of minnesota very well and in 1881, a fire burned it to the ground so there was a second capitol built on that same location and it was, once again, a functional space but not really meeting the needs of the expanding state government of minnesota and the ventilation wasn't very good. so even a few years after that had been built and occupied, there was discussion among the legislature to say we need to find a building that's permanent and that's going to accommodate the needs of the public as well as our growing state government. so there's a commission that
put together a board of commissioners in the 1890's and they chose an architect, cass gilbert, to build this third and present day state capitol. the building construction took place and they had the groundbreaking in 1896 and opened to the public in 1905, kind of the first week of january of 1905. it was open for that legislative session. and if you were to walk into the building at that time, this was really a state-of-the-art building. it had its own electrical power plant built next door so it was wired with electricity and you had working elevators and you had all the convenience of indoor plumbing as well. so this was really a spectacular public building for the people of minnesota. cass gilbert was born in zanesville, ohio but as a youngster moved out with his family to st. paul. he basically claimed st. paul as his home and in 1895 was selected as the architect for this state capitol building. and there's a lot of kind of
interesting stories behind him. he was a qualified architect for one thing. he -- his plans were kind of what they were looking for so every architect in the competition had to submit a drawing of what they wanted the building to be and some of the requirements, the board of capitol commissioners wanted was to have a building with a big dome, similar to what you'd see in washington, d.c., kind of emblematic center of a state capitol would be that dome and then also some of the features he was able to add to that was appealing to them. there also was some questions, people questioned his connection to the vice president of that capitol board of commissioners who was channing seabury, he lived next door to his mother, cass gilbert's mother and they were friends and there was a good relationship between cass gilbert and the vice president of the commission so there were some people questioning, did he get it because he was already well known by one of the commissionerss? but by his own merit he
qualified as probably the best architect for this project. as you walk around or walk into the state capitol, it really is a magnificent piece of architecture and decoration. everything fits together so well and kind of like his first masterpiece, one of his great buildings of his career is the minnesota capitol. when you walk up to the front of the building or drive by the building, you'll see the white marble. and this is a georgia marble. minnesota doesn't have marble and it was a controversy over what stone i wanted to use. but he wanted to emulate the italian renaissance, italy's white marshall building and he had a couple options and one was a vermont marble and he was looking at a new marble in georgia and some say there is animosity after the civil war, 40 years removed from the civil war so why are you buying marble from georgia. but i don't know if that's necessarily the case. what he was looking at was trying to re-create that
italian renaissance building. and the other option he could have pursued was to have a granite, a very prolific stone and was an up-and-coming industry in the state so there was a lot of kind of desire for him to use that as the stone because you're going to hire the people from the quarries to quarry this and you'll hire the people from minnesota to shape the stone as you put it on as a cladding of your building. and he fought pretty hard to keep that white marble as part of the equation for the exterior and won out eventually. the board of capitol commissioners had a vote and after several votes were persuaded to use the white georgia marble. there was a compromise. they have the ground floor and the steps are all made of st. cloud granite and there's a lot of minnesota stone, the interior stone is all a kasota limestone from southern minnesota and pipe stone and other stone that's a part of minnesota's identity that are incorporated in the decoration. the other part of using that
white georgia marble, the butler ryan company >> the general contractors to build this building and they went down to georgia and leased the quarry that the stone was located at so they caught out the middleman so they could cut the stone, shape it down there and move it up to workshops built behind the capitol construction area and craftsmen, stone cutters could shape the stone as needed. so you were still hiring those waiver workers and special skilled craftsmen to build this building. so that was i think a good remedy to a solution where there might have been some controversy over what stone he would use as the cladding for the exterior. but one thing you'll see, too, is the dome. and that's based on st. peters in the vatican, so that was -- if you look at that dome and this dome, you'll see the same columns, you'll see some of the same architectural detail that's captured into this space here. you'll see large columns inside he building of big granite
columns or these italian marble columns and symmetry, too, which is important to keeping the architectural, that kind of tradition together in these spaces. and so along with that you'll ee stenciling, beautiful ara besk stencils and painting incorporated as part of the architecture as well. part is in the basement. cass gilbert wanted a europe influence and you'll see the stone brought over for deck reags. he wanted it to be a space where it would be emblematic of what a german public hall would be. they would have their political discussions upstairs and in the basement they'd have a restaurant which was called a vaskellar and they could come there after their work was done and have fellowship and friendship and talk and discuss
things in a more informal situation and also is a german saying that are mostly drinking slogans. so that was fine until world war i came in and of course we were fighting germany so there was a lot of anti-german sentiment in the state and also there was people trying to prohibit the sell of alcohol. so because you have the german influence and also the drinking slogans, the entire stenciled ceilings were painted over so it was all white washed and then over time there was some effort to bring back some of the original stencil and that might be up for a few years and then that got covered over as well. so that was restored in 1999 and open to the public again in 2000. and as part of that process, the art conservators did the initial investigation and discovered there are 22 layers of white paint over the original ceiling, so that was a big part of revealing that once lost, important space in the state capitol.
we had a governor in the 1980's, governor rudy perpachu who was seeing the investment of this building to start looking back to what it would have been originally and that kind of started just a slow process of restoring the house and the senate chambers and also we did the raskellar and part of the supreme court chamber were brought back with the original colors and carpet and the walls. d this next phase of work is complete, an entire restoration project and like these other projects were leading up to the bigger project but is one of those that evolved over time from small projects to the bigger project today. when this building opened to the public, i think people were amazed. that's when word that you often read about, they were -- lost their breath walking to the rotunda because it's a 142-foot inner ceiling and you look up and see the six-foot wide chandelier and there were oohs
and ahhs and people were amazed by the beauty of the architecture. they'd been seeing the outside built for nine years and then when you actually walk in, you know, the color schemes were perfect and it's a nice, warm building. it's a space where people can feel welcomed because you have access to the different chambers and you're a part of this building, part of the government and that was the intent. so i think critics all over the united states marveled at it as well. one thing the st. paul people were living with was this idea we've restored the frontier. we're at the turn of the century of the 19th century and people were still thinking we lived in log cabins and didn't have much of the modern conveniences and so for the people out east who were making those judgments to see favorable reports and architects commenting about the greatness of this building it kind of made st. paul come up a notch culturally.
it was a center of culture for the city of st. paul and the state of minnesota. so i think people were proud to say hey, we've arrived. you can't call us the backwoods frontier state anymore. our building livals anything can you build in new york or philadelphia or chicago. that was kind of a nice statement for the people of the state to say hey, we have a >> throughout the weekend, "american history tv" is featuring st. paul, minnesota. about st. paul and other stops on c-span poshard city to her, at www.c-span.org, and local content. you are watching5 -- watching "american history tv" which is on all weekend, every weekend. >>