Idaho Capitol Building's Striking History

Posted by on Friday, July 19th, 2013 at 3:21pm.

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On January 1, 1992 in the empty State Attorney General's office, a single spark from a cigarette butt caused $3.2 million dollars worth of damage to the Idaho State Capitol Building. It's confounding to think about how such a small thing can cause so much damage – and it serves as a shocking reminder how easily things can go wrong and how valuable city and state treasures are to citizens and politicians.

A security guard noticed the fire in late afternoon, and shortly thereafter 50 firefighters were dispatched to the scene to put out the flames. After a rough 45 minutes, the flames were doused, but not before fire, smoke, and water damage scoured the second floor offices and destroyed computers and documents in the State Attorney General's office and the Legislative Budget Office, as well as other parts of the building. The 1992 fire was the first and only to hit the capitol, likely in part due to the sandstone, marble, and brick used in the building's design.

The masterminds behind the building belong to J.E. Tourtellotte and Charles Hummel. Mr. Hummel was partners with Tourtellotte, and by the time competition arose for the capitol building's design, Tourtellotte's firm had already designed dozens of buildings across southern Idaho and into southeast Oregon. It was in 1905 when the Idaho legislature finally authorized construction to begin, and after the two architects were granted the job, Roman-based aspirations fueled the gorgeous architectural designs we enjoy today.

The dome and central portion of the Capitol Building were erected first, between the summer of 1906 to 1912. The dome is definitely the most distinguishable feature of the building, and as you stand looking up, you can see 13 large stars which represent the 13 original colonies, as well as 43 smaller stars, which represent Idaho as the forty third state to enter the union. At your feet is a sundial peppered with minerals found in Idaho. Outside on top of the dome is a bronze eagle, standing 5 feet 7 inches high.

The interior of the building is remarkable – there is over 50,000 square feet of intricately carved marble. In fact, Tourtellotte and Hummel used four different types of marble to complete the interior: red marble from Georgia, gray marble from Alaska, green marble from Vermont, and black marble from Italy. On the outside, there are 219 pillars constructed out of marble dust, plaster and a mixture of granite, gypsum and glue which is dyed to look like marble.
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Most Boiseans are familiar with Table Rock, which is located above downtown Boise in the foothills that rise around the city. It's a prominent local landmark where an illuminated 60 foot cross stands at its summit, but it is also the site where those in the old Idaho penitentiary unearthed 10 ton sandstone blocks that make up most of the Capitol Building's superstructure. The inmates cut and moved the stone, providing the necessary labor.

Funds were secured in 1919 for building expansion, and so began the construction of the east and west wings. Flanking either side of the central portion, the wings provide ample office space for the many agencies that work in the building, agencies which enjoyed years and years of unfettered service to the state of Idaho – until the State Attorney General's office went up in flames the first day of 1992.

Part of the repair costs included the installation of a sprinkler system for the Attorney General's office, and by 2009, a new sprinkler system was installed throughout the rest of the building. However, it was back in 1998 when talks of restoring the Capitol Building began to take sprout. Idaho officials wanted to restore and refinish several degraded aspects of the magnificent building, including the windows, marble flooring, decorative plaster, wooden floors, wooden doors, hardware, the electrical system, an overhaul of the smoke and fire detection system, exterior lighting, and the installation of an elevator.

Restoration of the Capitol Building has experienced a bumpy ride since the 9 member Idaho State Capitol Commission convened to come up with a plan. But in spite of the many changes made to the original plan, by 2010, both interior and exterior renovations were finished. You can check out more information on the restoration and addition project at capitolcommission.idaho.gov/restoration, or when you stop by the Capitol Building to take it all in for yourself, watch the video that details the completed restoration and expansion.

The Idaho State Capitol building celebrated 100 years in 2005, and it is as magnificent today as it was back then. Whether you're checking out Boise for the first time or if you've been a fixture in the city for years, it might be time to spend an hour or two or three enjoying a self guided tour and walking around Capitol Park – the trees that surround the building have as much history as the structure itself. President Benjamin Harrison, Teddy Roosevelt, and William Taft all planted trees on the property. Inside, you can get more information on these historic trees, and you can enjoy the Golden Statue of George Washington, carved in 1869 out of the state tree of Idaho – white pine.

And, did you know – Idaho's capitol building is the only one in the U.S. that is heated by geothermal water, tapped and pumped from a source that lies 3,000 feet beneath the ground?

Don't miss out on the Idaho State Capitol Building this summer in Boise, Idaho!

Give Hughes Real Estate Group a call anytime to discuss Idaho living at (208) 571-7145.

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