Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Old Postcard Wednesday--Old Capitol Building, Salem, Oregon

The capitol building pictured in this old postcard replica (one of a packet of Salem historical postcard reprints I recently bought) is the second of three Oregon State Capitol buildings.

Salem Online History provides interesting information about all three Oregon State Capitol buildings and the Capitol Mall in a one-page fact sheet with photos, some of it reproduced for this post.

Oregon's first capitol building, shown in this painting below, was built in 1854 and . . . "On the night of December 29, 1855, after having been in use scarcely a month, the frame building burned to ruins. . .

. . . For the next twenty years, which included the transition to Statehood in 1859, the Oregon Legislature convened in rented rooms in commercial buildings near the Salem riverfront."

Construction for the second capitol building -- the one shown in this week's old postcard -- began in 1873 and was substantially completed by 1876.
During 1887 to1888, when the grand staircases and covered porticoes supported by colossal Corinthian columns were added to the east and west entrances, it made the approach to the west front very visible. It was not until 1893, however, that the new statehouse was crowned with the dome . .

The copper-clad dome echoed, as did those of so many statehouses across the country, including the dome which Thomas U. Walter added to the nation’s capitol in the 1850’s. There being no other superstructure like it in Oregon, the statehouse dome became a symbol of state government.

Although symbolic, the dome's primary purpose was to admit light to the rotunda. Owing to the structural support system required for its addition, the dome was at once the feature which most distinguished the statehouse and the principal means by which the building was destroyed after nearly sixty years of service.

Yup. Another fire...

Capitol fire 1935
On April 25, 1935, a fire started in the basement of the east wing and quickly spread to piles of old records in wooden storage boxes. As the strong updraft in the hollow columns enclosing the dome’s eight supporting steel lattice girders pulled the flames through the rotunda to upper stories, the core of the building was rapidly engulfed in flames. The dome inverted and collapsed into its well. Despite the efforts of the Salem Fire Department, the building could not be saved. Volunteers succeeded in removing a miscellany of furniture and records. Among the rescuers of records and furniture was the young Mark O. Hatfield, who would later become Governor of Oregon and a United States Senator.

The third Capitol was constructed between December 4, 1936, and June 18, 1938. It was enlarged in 1977 and is the capitol building Oregonians know and love to this day. It is where union members and sympathizers gathered last weekend in solidarity with the public employees in Wisconsin....which was my roundabout reason for selecting this old postcard today, because of various scenes from state capitol buildings (and other public sites) around the U.S. shown on television last weekend. I looked beyond the crowds to view the capitol buildings because the architecture interests me.

I am not sure how many state capitols I have seen in person, perhaps ten or so, and they were all beautiful - yet similar in that solidly-stirring, inspiring-solid, grand-statehouse sort of manner....... Then I saw a report on the rally last weekend outside the New York State Capitol building in Albany. I was gobsmacked and not even sure I heard the reporter correctly because the building had such grandeur and looked unlike any other statehouse I had seen in person or in photos. I love this building and absolutely want to learn about its history and want to see it some day.

This one thing is sure: you New Yorkers have the grand-daddy of State Capitol buildings. I wonder if those of you who are unfamiliar with it will find it similarly breathtaking. Look at this!

Two images above via Capitol Opera Albany

Image by Pete Dzintars, who features an amazing time-lapse video of Albany, NY, that includes views of the beautiful capitol building - view here.



Kristen Haskell said...

Wow you are right about New York that state Capitol building is an American palace! I really loved this post it was fascinating. I learned so much.

Debbie Smith said...

I just love these old State Buildings. A very european flair, I'd say.
Thank you for stopping by my blog!
Have a fabulous day!
Debbie's Travels

Stickup Artist said...

Seems like a great idea for a book! Photos and histories of state capitols.

kj said...

what a beautiful state capitol.

and that's the new york capitol?! i had no idea. it is european opulence, that's for sure. reminds me of versailles. (did i spell that correctly?)

hello lydia! i hope you are having fun


Looking to the Stars said...

Wow, I loved this post. It blew me away when I saw NY's building. I would LOVE to see it in person. I agree with you, its the best one in the U.S. :)

mythopolis said...

I loved the painting of the original building. It is like Noah's ark, without the boat beneath it.

I have a number of images in my head of the rotundas of such buildings as capitols and cathedrals. In most cases, they had to do with the passing of a head of state, a pope, or other notables, and parades of mourners passing by.

Kathe W. said...

thanks for the look at Salem's old capitol- much nicer than the one we have today. Helena Montana has a gorgeous capitol building.

susan said...

The wonder of capital building architecture is that they present in form the transcendent hopes of the people they were built to serve.

Another extraordinary one I was lucky enough to live close to was the RI State House. It's dome is the largest in the country outside of Washington, DC.

Lydia said...

Kristen~ So glad you enjoyed this. Your description "American palace" is perfect. :)

Debbie~ If a widely-traveled woman like you says they have European flair I trust it is true! Good day to you too. :)

Stickup Artist~ It sure would be! Could it be possible that it has not yet been done? Let's go on a sabbatical and do it. :)

kj~ Spellcheck loves your spelling. ;)
You are the second to mention the European essence of the NY State Capitol. It sure is a standout!

Looking to the Stars~ Those of us who will be working on the state capitols book will swing by Colorado and pick you up on the way. (wouldn't that be a kick?)

mythopolis~ What an interesting take you had on the painting of that first OR capitol building! It amazed me, actually.
Interesting you would bring up mourners in a rotunda because I paid my respects to former Oregon Governor Tom McCall when his open casket laid in state inside the Oregon Capitol rotunda. I arrived just after 7:00 a.m. before work and, amazingly, was the only person there besides the two guards. It was a really special moment full of silence and light.

Kathe~ I agree with you. Our capitol is all about solid function....and no small wonder after losing the previous two to fires!
I googled for an image of the Montana capitol and realized that it is one of those that I have seen myself. Was on a cross-country drive so did not go inside, which is too bad...

Lydia said...

susan~ I just followed your link to the image of the RI State House, and oh my, there is another one I would love to see in person! Never knew about it until you pointed it out. That huge dome is so impressive and the smaller dome-type structures to either side of it interest me. Thank you so much for opening my eyes to this beautiful structure.

Freda said...

They're all beautiful and so unlike the portacabins that served as a Head Office in one Local Authority area that we lived in. I love the lighting scheme for Albany.

La Belette Rouge said...

I have been to Salem many times and yet somehow never managed to see the capital. This is a capital post, pun intended.;-) The history of the many capitol buildings is so very interesting. Our architecture tells us so much about ourselves. And as you know, I am VERY interested in the history of Oregon architecture.

Hattie said...

San Francisco City Hall is a domed structure and has some history to it, such as the demos around HUAC in 1960.
The second Oregon Capitol Building was lovely and graceful. What a pity it burned down.
I'm not sure about the NY State Capitol. But I wouldn't mind seeing it in person.
One large building I think is very attractive, inside and out, is Iolani Palace in Honolulu, the only palace in the U.S.

Lydia said...

Freda~ How interesting to read your comparison and this makes me all the more curious about the structures that house governments around the world.

Belette Rouge~ I absolutely thought of you when I did this post! If you look at the fact sheet I linked to it lists the architecture firms responsible for both #2 and the present Oregon capitols.
You may not have seen the building driving through Salem, but if you looked to see up beyond five stories or so (the town is sans high-rises, as you know) you will see the Methodist Church steeple and, across the street, the gold pioneer statue gleaming against the sky. The statue is on top of the capitol building, and the Methodist Church is a vintage building there since the downtown was platted for the first capitol building (again, on fact sheet).

Hattie~ I will google map SF City Hall to see exactly where it is. I have not seen it when visiting the city (too long since did). Thank you for the fascinating insight into our only true palace in the U.S. The images I saw of Iolani Palace show a stately building that, outside, looks more like a seat of government than the NY State Capitol!

bfk said...

I've never been to Albany, Lydia. It is a pretty building.

Oftentimes, at least for the City of New York, much political mischief occurs there.

Still, now that you mention it, it wouldn't hurt to see what the train schedules are.

Lydia said...

bfk~ Do it! I hope to see a pic of you in front of that beautiful building on your Facebook page in the future.
(Your second sentence is intriguing...)

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

wow - those are what i call houses

ooh - what would you do??

A room for art, a room for music, a room for writing - turn a few rooms into indoor pools and all the others just for running naked through yelling "oh good grief, i can't believe i live here!!!"

That would surprise the tourists anyway - maybe thats what the Queen should do with Buckingham Palace???

Maybe that IS what she does??!!!

Muhammad Israr said...

ah...thats such a fascinating place...its so sad that we lost it forever... i think such wonderful places are part of history and these belong to all human beings as historical and architectural assets... these are timeless and without belonging to any particular region or nation... thanks for directing me here :)

Lydia said...

Pixies~ Not that you will find this, but I just came back to this post to reply to Muhammad's comment and found yours. Maybe that is what the Queen does with all her space. I cannot imagine filling all those rooms, so some would def be left empty just to run in as you said.:)

Muhammad~ I agree with you 100%. Architecture the world over is timeless, glorious, and belongs to us all (at least in our hearts).
Isn't that New York State Capitol building splendid? I would LOVE to visit it. A wonderful trip would be to start there and then take the train into New York City! :)

Janet said...

I am glad you loved the painting if the original Oregon Territorial Capital. My grandfather painted it.

Lydia said...

@Janet ~ It thrilled me to read your comment and to learn that your grandfather was the artist who painted that painting! Thank you so much for letting us know. If you have information about him you would like to share please feel free to comment again!



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