Friday, March 3, 2017

Commission Created to Oversee Idaho Capitol Construction [otd 03/03]

On March 3, 1905 Governor Frank Gooding signed an Act to create a "Capitol Building Board." For some years prior to this, state officers and citizens had begun to find the old Territorial capitol building inadequate to the needs of a new and growing state.
Old Territorial/State capitol building, ca 1898.
Illustrated History of the State of Idaho.

Before 1884, the Territorial legislature apparently met in various hotels where they could find enough rooms, and Territorial offices were at scattered locations. That year, legislators reviewed Territorial finances and concluded they could finally build “suitable quarters for the territorial government.” The legislature met in its new capitol building in 1886.

However, after nearly twenty years of use, the old structure was showing its age and simply not big enough. The 1905 board, which met as the Capitol Building Commission about two weeks after the signing, consisted of the Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, and "two competent citizens." One of the citizen representatives selected was former Boise Mayor Walter E. Pierce, a prominent real estate developer. The other was Judge James H. Beatty, of the Federal Court for the District of Idaho.

The Act allowed the board to plan for an expansion of the existing building or to purchase land for a totally new structure. After considering various options, the Commission decided to build a new, larger structure, but basically retain the old location.

The bought the old school next door – it had been built before the Territorial capitol itself – and closed the street between the two to create a larger continuous tract. The Commission then accepted a “Neoclassical” architectural design submitted by J. E. Tourtellotte and Company.
Idaho capitol, ca 1915 – Note the lack of wings. [Hawley]
To control costs, planners selected a design that kept the “standard” capitol dome, but provided a rather minimal base. The immediate impression presented by the 1915 image is that the structure is “all dome” – the stubby side blocks seem dwarfed.

However, even that concept outran the immediately available funds and contractors took six years to complete the structure. Writing in an “editorial” voice, James H. Hawley's History said, "in the summer of 1912 the building was so far completed that Governor Hawley removed his offices from the old building to the new quarters provided for the chief executive."

Even as Hawley moved to his new offices, the Commission awarded Tourtellotte and Hummel the contract to design larger wings for the structure. Again, the state’s resources failed to match its ambitions. Construction of the additions did not start until 1919. They did, however, go much faster than the original project; the capitol had its new wings by the end of 1920.
Capitol with wings, artist’s concept, ca 1913.
City of Boise.

Over its many years of use, the capitol building underwent numerous modifications, sometimes with unfortunate results. A modernization project in the 1960s, while necessary, has since been particularly criticized for its lack of sensitivity to historic preservation.

Fortunately, a recent substantial renovation and face-lift corrected some of those earlier “sins.” To preserve the outside appearance, designers gained new space by adding wings underground. The structure re-opened to the public in January 2010.
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Restoration – Preserving the People’s House, Idaho Capitol Commission, Boise.
"Idaho State Capital," Reference Series No. 133, Idaho State Historical Society (December 1964).
"Moments in Idaho History," Idaho State Historical Society web site.

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