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It rises up off one of the highest of the Seven Hills of St. Paul, making it seem even taller and matched, if not surpassed, only by St. Paul’s Cathedral, built between 20 and 30 years later. And it was originally designed to be the geographical focal point of the entire city – literally. All roads were to lead to the Minnesota State Capitol (our 3rd). This was master Architect Cass Gilbert’s vision for the city and the Capitol, which was only made flesh about halfway. Other municipal fathers and developers had different ideas for platting the city.
And, yet, there it sits. A work of art as well as the seat of Minnesota State Government. The Capitol is the one unifying edifice in the life of our highly divided body politic. As one of our guests, labor media specialist employee and documentarian, Randy Croce, put it to me:
The Capitol is essentially a hand-built work of art. Every stone had to be moved by horse-drawn, teamster-guided wagon from railroad cars 90 vertical feet through downtown up to the Capitol site. Every single stone was worked by hand…every external marble piece subtly sloped to shed water, so to keep the relatively weather-prone stone lasting as long as it has (though time- and weather-inflicted damage to much of it requires repair and restoration.) (Editor: this critical renovation will be discussed as well.)
Any state resident who has not visited this amazing place has all but a legal obligation to visit the place where their business, the people’s business, is conducted daily near a cathedral-like dome, topped by the gold-leaf Quadriga – a quartet of horses pulling a chariot, described here by the MN Historical Society: the gold-leafed copper and steel statuary group, "Progress of the State," was sculpted by Daniel Chester French and Edward Potter and placed on the Capitol in 1906. The four horses represent the power of nature: earth, wind, fire and water. The women symbolize civilization and the man standing on the chariot represents prosperity. From 1994 -1995 the group, also known as the Quadriga, was removed from the capitol building for complete restoration and gilding.
So many stories of the building’s design, the company (Butler-Ryan-cum-Butler Brothers Construction) it’s construction helped make wealthy, the anecdotes of conflict among architect, cutters and setter, the role of women, of African-Americans and Europeans imported to cut stone and perform other artisan miracles, and so on.
It’s truly a fascinating history and it’s a history entirely separate from the governance issues and legislation passed inside its walls over the decades. But its maintenance, renovation and survival is the work of the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board – a little known state agency once tucked away in the lower level of the Capitol itself until removed to the State Administration Building on Sherburne several years ago, probably to make room for additional legislative offices coming into the 21st Century.
TTT’s ANDY DRISCOLL talks with a descendant of a key worker, a Capitol steward and labor historians to talk about the amazing history of Minnesota’s Capitol Building. (MORE PHOTOS)
RANDY CROCE - Labor Media Specialist/Video, Labor Information Services (UofM) and Video Documentarian on Capitol History
PAUL MANDELL – Principal Planner and Zoning Administrator, Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board (CAAPB) office
DAN GANLEY – Retired Labor Leader, Star Tribune; Researcher, Women’s Role in Capitol Labor History
ELAINE ECKSTEDT – Great granddaughter of Zebulon Olson, Crane Operator in Capitol construction