State Houses:
America's 50 State Houses
Susan Thrane
Tom Patterson,

(Boston Mills Press)
The most traditional looking state capitols are in Texas, Vermont and Virginia (Jefferson was responsible for the one in Richmond, over there to the right). The best ceiling mosaic can be found in Nebraska.

Pennsylvania has a fine Renaissance Revival dome. The capitol that took the longest to build was in dilatory South Carolina. The worst cupola (blue!) is in South Dakota. Gaudy but nice gold-plated doors can be found in Arkansas. The purest dome we found points skyward in Wisconsin, but it is Vermont --- white Vermont granite, that is.

The lunkiest turn-of-the-century edifice was constructed in Idaho --- looks like a train-station. The drabbest rotunda is in Hawaii: a parking garage with a hole in the ceiling. The classiest staircase is in Vermont [see below].

The funniest statue is in Salt Lake City, that of Philo T. Fransworth, the putative inventor of television. The weirdest mix of architecture (International Style + Zuni) is to be found in New Mexico.

The Senate chambers in Alabama look like Mission Control, Florida's capitol looks like Stonehenge mixed up with a high-rise office building. The prettiest lighting --- bronze standards and graceful insets --- can be found in Olympia, Washington.

The most tediously square cheese-block building is in Alaska. The most sensible of them all is in Nebraska, because they got rid of the crapulous, needless, wasteful, cancerous, bilious, unnecessary second house in 1934. (The word is "unicameral" and should be the operating system in all fifty states, not one.) One of the tallest capitols can be found in Baton Rouge, a project of the indefatigable Huey Long.

One of the weirdest is in Oregon: "classical," they call it, but it is a flat-top "ribbed lantern" with a ridiculous scale topped off by a gawky "pioneer" statue.

North Dakota's capitol looks like a grain silo from outside, but the moderne insides are a delight. One of the worst --- inside and out --- is in Arizona. They took the dome of the old capitol and slapped it atop a Holiday Inn and called it "The State House." New York's is an awful mix of Victorian styles. It took four architects to complete it, all muddled up with Tammany financing. One of our favorite domes is in Texas.

Connecticut's they tell us is "secular gothic," but it's lopsided and funny-looking, as are Charles Bulfinch's various constructs in New Hampshire and Maine and Massachusetts (he didn't know how to shape a dome). The research in State Houses is impressive. The author tells us that the oldest capitol is in Maryland, the second oldest Jefferson's in Virginia. I remember the very proper looking capitol in Austin, but what the photographs don't show is that it is an island: a building with acres and acres of asphalt shimmering and sweating around it. The most oppressive and doughty is in Montana.

There are 400 color photographs here and god knows how Tom Patterson got to shoot them. There isn't a legislative assistant, representative, lobbyist or con-man in sight. What the hell did he do: disguise his camera as a shotgun?

It's virgin stuff; and the pompous grandiosity of it! This lovely volume makes you know, if you didn't know already that the major task of state legislatures is to be sure they have all the creature comforts that they may ever want, along with structures to buffalo the lumpen into thinking that with all this beauty and space and those domes towering over all of us that they certainly must know what they are doing, there in Tallahassee, Charleston, Salem, Jefferson City, Denver, Topeka. Quick, what's the capital of South Dakota?

In Kansas, Ms. Thrane tells us that the representatives had problems with John Steuart Curry's murals, "emphasizing the freaks in its history," like John Brown, the anti-slavery nut, "who did not follow legal procedure." The dome featured sixteen of his panels, busty Grecian women in the altogether; when the Republicans took over the ladies were replaced by "four allegorical murals --- Knowledge, Power, Peace and Plenty.

It's Pierre. The capital of South Dakota, that is. And North Dakota?

--- Carlos Amantea
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