I am proud to Chair the Minnesota Senate Capitol Investment Committee, which among other things oversees the Minnesota State Capitol building renovations. Our state capitol building is more than a century old. And while the building looks magnificent in the St. Paul skyline, there are a number of improvements that have to be made to both the interior and exterior to make sure the building is sound for future generations.
The U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Supreme Court and the White House together represent the three branches of government on which our country was founded. In Minnesota, we have all three branches of state government in one magnificent building, the Minnesota State Capitol. While the capitol building still represents the same unwavering democracy as it did more than 100 years ago, the harsh winters of Minnesota and the natural distresses that affect all buildings have deteriorated the physical structure of the building.
The Capitol was finished in 1905, becoming the third building used for the purpose of the Minnesota State Government. The second building used for this purpose was built in 1883, after a fire two years prior destroyed the first building. Very quickly after this second building was completed, a common complaint arose: it was too small. In 1893, the work for the new Capitol building began. The State of Minnesota held a competition to decide an architect. The winning design was by a young architect, born in Ohio raised in St. Paul, named Cass Gilbert. Under the oversight of the Board of State Capitol Commissioners, he began his journey in creating the State Capitol that we see in St. Paul today.
Gilbert was given a significant amount of freedom with his design, and only once ran into trouble when he insisted on using Georgia marble for the walls and the dome. Many people didn’t want to use material from a state that had opposed them in the Civil War, but Gilbert said the alternative marble was too dark and would make the Capitol look “gloomy and forbidding” on top of the hill. After being allowed to use the Georgia marble, he ran into little to no troubles for the rest of the construction.
As for the dome of the Capitol, there are many influences, the most obvious being the U.S. Capitol building. The second major influence on the Minnesota State Capitol dome is St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. St. Peter’s dome is the largest marble, freestanding dome in the world, and the Minnesota State Capitol dome is second. The original plans were to make the Capitol dome the largest in the world. However, Gilbert discovered St. Peter’s dome was nearly unstable and needed reinforcement. To avoid future problems, Gilbert decided on the smaller dome.
The Capitol has many different symbolic features about it, from the twelve stone eagles standing guard around the dome, to the North Star at the center of the building. The most noticeable symbol of the State Capitol is the Progress of the State, also known as the Quadriga. The golden statue of a horse-drawn chariot is located above the main entrance to the Capitol, right at the base of the dome. Each horse represents one of the elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Two women lead the horses. One represents agriculture, the other industry. Together they represent civilization. The man in the chariot represents prosperity, and holds a variation of the Roman Legion standard that is inscribed with the name “Minnesota.”
Now, 108 years later, the Minnesota State Capitol still represents the same unyielding democracy it did when it was first constructed. While the representation of the building hasn’t changed, the structure has. It is our job as citizens of this great state to maintain the structure of this brilliant building so it will last for another century.
While the renovations have already begun on the building, there is much more to do. As the Capitol Investment Committee Chair, I want you to understand the importance of investing state dollars into maintaining the upkeep of our Capitol, so that it can visually reflect what it represents: liberty.
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