Texas State Capitol

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Texas State Capitol
At the time of its construction, the capitol building was billed as "The Seventh Largest Building in the World."
USA Texas location map.svg
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Texas State Capitol
LocationCongress and 11th Sts
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Coordinates 30°16′29″N97°44′26″W / 30.27472°N 97.74056°W / 30.27472; -97.74056 Coordinates: 30°16′29″N97°44′26″W / 30.27472°N 97.74056°W / 30.27472; -97.74056
Area51.4 acres (20.8 ha)
Architect Elijah E. Myers
Architectural style Italian Renaissance Revival
NRHP reference # 70000770
RTHL # 14150
TSAL # 641
Significant dates
Added to NRHPJune 22, 1970 [1]
Designated NHLJune 23, 1986 [2]
Designated RTHL1964
Designated TSALMay 28, 1981

The Texas State Capitol is the capitol building and seat of government of the American state of Texas. Located in downtown Austin, Texas, the structure houses the offices and chambers of the Texas Legislature and of the Governor of Texas. Designed in 1881 by architect Elijah E. Myers, it was constructed from 1882 to 1888 under the direction of civil engineer Reuben Lindsay Walker. A $75 million underground extension was completed in 1993. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1986. [2] [3]

The seat of government is "the building, complex of buildings or the city from which a government exercises its authority".

Texas State of the United States of America

Texas is the second largest state in the United States by both area and population. Geographically located in the South Central region of the country, Texas shares borders with the U.S. states of Louisiana to the east, Arkansas to the northeast, Oklahoma to the north, New Mexico to the west, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas to the southwest, and has a coastline with the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast.

Downtown Austin human settlement in Austin, Texas, United States of America

Downtown Austin is the central business district of Austin, Texas. Downtown is located on the north bank of the Colorado River. The approximate borders of Downtown include Lamar Boulevard to the west, Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and the University of Texas at Austin to the north, Interstate 35 to the east, and Lady Bird Lake to the south.


The Texas State Capitol is 302.64 feet (92.24 m) tall, making it the sixth tallest state capitol and one of several taller than the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. [4] The capitol was ranked ninety-second in the 2007 "America's Favorite Architecture" poll commissioned by the American Institute of Architects. [5]

United States Capitol seat of the United States Congress

The United States Capitol, often called the Capitol Building, is the home of the United States Congress and the seat of the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government. It is located on Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Though no longer at the geographic center of the Federal District, the Capitol forms the origin point for the District's street-numbering system and the District's four quadrants.

Washington, D.C. Capital of the United States

Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington or D.C., is the capital of the United States. Founded after the American Revolution as the seat of government of the newly independent country, Washington was named after George Washington, the first President of the United States and a Founding Father. As the seat of the United States federal government and several international organizations, Washington is an important world political capital. The city is also one of the most visited cities in the world, with more than 20 million tourists annually.

"America's Favorite Architecture" is a list of buildings and other structures identified as the most popular works of architecture in the United States.


The first (top) and second (bottom) capitol buildings

The current Texas State Capitol is the third building to serve that purpose. The second Texas capitol was built in 1853, on the same site as the present capitol in Austin; it was destroyed in the great capitol fire of 1881, but plans had already been made to replace it with a new, much larger structure. [6]


Construction of the Italian Renaissance Revival–style capitol was funded by an article of the state constitution, adopted on February 15, 1876, which authorized the sale of public lands for the purpose. In one of the largest barter transactions of recorded history, the builders of the capitol (John V. Farwell and Charles B. Farwell), known as the Capitol Syndicate, were paid with more than three million acres (12,000 km²) of public land in the "Panhandle" region of Texas; this tract later became the largest cattle ranch in the world, the XIT Ranch. The value of the land, combined with expenses, added to a total cost of $3.7 million for the original building. It was constructed largely by convicts or migrant workers, as many as a thousand at a time. [7] The building has been renovated several times, with central air conditioning installed in 1955 and the most recent refurbishments completed in 1997.

Renaissance Revival architecture many 19th-century architectural revival styles

Renaissance Revival architecture is a group of 19th century architectural revival styles which were neither Greek Revival nor Gothic Revival but which instead drew inspiration from a wide range of classicizing Italian modes. Under the broad designation "Renaissance architecture" nineteenth-century architects and critics went beyond the architectural style which began in Florence and central Italy in the early 15th century as an expression of Humanism; they also included styles we would identify as Mannerist or Baroque. Self-applied style designations were rife in the mid- and later nineteenth century: "Neo-Renaissance" might be applied by contemporaries to structures that others called "Italianate", or when many French Baroque features are present.

Barter Exchange of goods

In trade, barter is a system of exchange where participants in a transaction directly exchange goods or services for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money. Economists distinguish barter from gift economies in many ways; barter, for example, features immediate reciprocal exchange, not delayed in time. Barter usually takes place on a bilateral basis, but may be multilateral. In most developed countries, barter usually only exists parallel to monetary systems to a very limited extent. Market actors use barter as a replacement for money as the method of exchange in times of monetary crisis, such as when currency becomes unstable or simply unavailable for conducting commerce.

John V. Farwell American businessman

John Villiers Farwell Sr. was an American merchant and philanthropist from New York City. Moving to Chicago, Illinois at a young age, he joined Wadsworth & Phelps, eventually rising to be senior partner as John V. Farwell & Co.. He was also a mentor and brief joint partner with Marshall Field, (1834-1906), in the firm Farwell, Field & Co. from 1862-1865, before Field moved on with other partners to eventually establish his own famous prototype of the modern department store at Marshall Field and Company. Farwell was a leader in several Christian philanthropic efforts including the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), the United States Christian Commission during the American Civil War, and was a believer and supporter of the evangelical works of Dwight L. Moody. Later, he served as an Indian agent and had large land holdings in Texas. He and his brother, Senator Charles B. Farwell, of Illinois, are the namesake of Farwell, Texas.

The designers originally planned for the building to be clad entirely with hill country limestone quarried in Oatmanville (present-day Oak Hill), about 10 miles (16 km) to the southwest. However, the high iron content of the limestone led it to discolor rapidly with rust stains when exposed to the elements. Learning of the problem, the owners of Granite Mountain near Marble Falls offered to donate to the state, free of charge, the necessary amount of sunset red granite as an alternative. To transport the red granite, the Austin and Northwestern Railroad was extended 2.3 miles (3.7 km) to accommodate the transportation from Granite Mountain. [8] Due to a bend in the tracks, trains would occasionally derail, accidentally dumping some of the pink granite. [9] Many of the fallen rocks remain in place and are a local point of interest. While the building is mostly built of the Oak Hill limestone, most of this is hidden behind the walls and on the foundations. Red granite was subsequently used for many state government buildings in the Austin area. [10] The project's 900 workers included 86 granite cutters brought from Scotland. [11]

Stone cladding thin layer of real or simulated stone applied to a building facade

Stone cladding is a thin layer of real or simulated stone applied to a building or other structure made of a material other than stone. Stone cladding is sometimes applied to concrete and steel buildings as part of their original architectural design.

Texas Hill Country region of Texas

The Texas Hill Country is a geographic region located in the Edwards Plateau at the crossroads of West Texas, Central Texas, and South Texas. Given its location, climate, terrain, and vegetation, the Hill Country can be considered the border between the American Southwest and Southeast.

Limestone Sedimentary rocks made of calcium carbonate

Limestone is a carbonate sedimentary rock that is often composed of the skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral, foraminifera, and molluscs. Its major materials are the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). A closely related rock is dolomite, which contains a high percentage of the mineral dolomite, CaMg(CO3)2. In fact, in old USGS publications, dolomite was referred to as magnesian limestone, a term now reserved for magnesium-deficient dolomites or magnesium-rich limestones.

The cornerstone for the building was laid on March 2, 1885, Texas Independence Day, and the building was opened to the public on April 21, 1888, San Jacinto Day, before its completion. The building was officially dedicated by Texas State Senator Temple Houston on May 18, 1888. [11] The dedication ceremony was marked by a weeklong celebration from May 14–19, 1888, that attracted nearly 20,000 visitors and included events such as military drill demonstrations, cattle roping, baseball games, German choral singing, and fireworks. Guests were able to purchase souvenirs such as pieces of red granite and copies of a song written by composer and pianist Leonora Rives-Diaz called the "State Capitol Grand Waltz". [12]

Texas Independence Day

Texas Independence Day is the celebration of the adoption of the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836. With this document signed by 59 delegates, settlers in Mexican Texas officially declared independence from Mexico and created the Republic of Texas.

Battle of San Jacinto decisive battle of the Texas Revolution

The Battle of San Jacinto, fought on April 21, 1836, in present-day Harris County, Texas, was the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. Led by General Sam Houston, the Texian Army engaged and defeated General Antonio López de Santa Anna's Mexican army in a fight that lasted just 18 minutes. A detailed, first-hand account of the battle was written by General Houston from Headquarters of the Texian Army, San Jacinto, on April 25, 1836. Numerous secondary analyses and interpretations have followed, several of which are cited and discussed throughout this entry.

Pianist musician who plays the piano

A pianist is an individual musician who plays the piano. Since most forms of Western music can make use of the piano, pianists have a wide repertoire and a wide variety of styles to choose from, among them traditional classical music, jazz, blues, and all sorts of popular music, including rock and roll. Most pianists can, to an extent, easily play other keyboard-related instruments such as the synthesizer, harpsichord, celesta, and the organ.

Capitol View Corridors

Statue of the Goddess of Liberty on the capitol grounds prior to installation on top of the rotunda as construction is completed, 1888 Texas capitol goddess 1888.jpg
Statue of the Goddess of Liberty on the capitol grounds prior to installation on top of the rotunda as construction is completed, 1888

In 1931, the City of Austin enacted a local ordinance limiting the height of new buildings to a maximum of 200 feet (61 m), aiming to preserve the visual preeminence of the capitol. From that time until the early 1960s, only the University of Texas Main Building Tower was built higher than the limit, but in 1962 developers announced a new 261-foot (80 m) high-rise residential building to be built adjacent to the capitol, called the Westgate Tower. Governor Price Daniel voiced his opposition to the proposed tower, and State Representative Henry Grover of Houston introducing a bill to condemn the property, which was defeated in the Texas House of Representatives by only two votes. The Westgate was eventually completed in 1966, but the controversy over the preservation of the capitol's visual presence that dogged its construction continued to grow. [13]

The Westgate was followed by even taller structures: first the Dobie Center (designed in 1968), and then a series of ever larger downtown bank towers, culminating in the 395-foot (120 m) One American Center (designed in 1982). [13] In early 1983, inspired by the Westgate and these other structures, State Senator Lloyd Doggett and State Representative Gerald Hill advanced a bill proposing a list of protected "Capitol View Corridors" along which construction would not be permitted, so as to protect the capitol's visibility from a series of points around Austin. [14] The bill was signed into law on May 3, 1983, [15] defining thirty state-protected viewing corridors and prohibiting any construction that would intersect one of them. [16] The City of Austin has adopted similar rules, so that the majority of the corridors are also protected under municipal zoning code, as well as under state law. [17]

Capitol extension and restorations

Skylights for the underground capitol extension Texas capitol skylights.jpg
Skylights for the underground capitol extension

On February 6, 1983, a fire began in the apartment of William P. Hobby Jr., then the state lieutenant governor. A guest of Hobby's was killed, and four firemen and a policeman were injured by the subsequent blaze. The capitol was crowded with accumulated archives, and the fire was intense and came dangerously close to destroying the structure. It caused severe damage to the east wing and compromised much of the framing, which was largely composed of exposed cast iron posts and beams.

Following the fire, the state took advantage of the extensive rebuilding to update the mechanical and structural systems to modern standards. In November 1985, the original Goddess of Liberty statue on top of the dome was removed by helicopter. A new statue, cast of aluminum in molds made from the original zinc statue, was placed on the dome in June 1986. The original statue was restored and displayed on the Capitol grounds in a special structure built for it in 1995; it was later moved to the Bullock Texas State History Museum in 2001. [18]

The Old Texas Land Office, on the Capitol grounds, was rebuilt and updated between 1988 and 1990, after which the Capitol Visitors Center was moved there, freeing space in the Capitol. Previously, the building had housed the Texas Confederate Museum, which began in a ground floor room of the Capitol (1903–1920), before moving to the Land Office building.

Additionally, the state sought to address the intensifying shortage of space in the old building, deciding that a new office wing should be added. The logical place for an addition was the plaza immediately to the north; however, a large building there would have eliminated the historic north façade and covered what had traditionally been seen as an important public space. Instead, an expansion to the capitol was built beneath the north plaza, connecting to the existing capitol underground.

In 1993, the $75 million, four-story, underground capitol extension was completed to the north, doubling the square footage available to capitol occupants and providing much-improved functionality. Though the extension encompasses 667,000 square feet (62,000 m2) (nearly twice the floor space of the original building), there is little evidence of such a large structure at ground level, except for extensive skylights camouflaged as planter rows, and the four-story open-air inverted rotunda. [19]

In 1995, a comprehensive interior and exterior restoration of the original building was completed at a cost of approximately $98 million. In 1997, the park-like grounds surrounding the capitol received an $8 million renovation and restoration.

Design and features

Downtown Austin and the capitol as seen from Congress Avenue. CongressAveJul2010.JPG
Downtown Austin and the capitol as seen from Congress Avenue.

The Texas State Capitol and grounds are located on a hilltop overlooking downtown Austin, with the main entrance facing onto the Congress Avenue Historic District to the south, for which it forms a terminating vista. The northern edge of the capitol grounds lies four blocks south of the University of Texas at Austin.


The capitol is a roughly rectangular building with a four-story central block, symmetrical three-story wings extending to the east and west, and a dome rising from the center. It is built in an Italian Renaissance Revival style and modeled on the design of the United States Capitol, but with its exterior clad with local red granite. [3] It contains 360,000 square feet (33,000 m2) of floor space (not including the Capitol Extension), more than any other state capitol building, and rests on a 2.25-acre (0.91 ha) footprint. The building has nearly four hundred rooms and more than nine hundred windows.

The interior of the central portion forms an open rotunda beneath the dome. Massive cast-iron staircases flanking the rotunda connect the various levels of the building. The two chambers of the Texas Legislature (the Texas Senate and Texas House of Representatives) meet in large double-height spaces in the centers of the two wings on the second floor, overlooked by public galleries on the third floor. The remainder of the building is filled with office space, courts, and archives; additional offices fill the underground extension. [3]

Public art and museums

The central rotunda is hung with portraits of all the past presidents of the Republic of Texas and governors of the State of Texas; the rotunda is also a whispering gallery. The south foyer features a large portrait of David Crockett, a painting depicting the surrender of General Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto, and sculptures of Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin made by Elisabet Ney. The Texas Confederate Museum was held in a room on the first floor from its opening in 1903 until 1920, when it was moved into the General Land Office Building (today the Capitol Visitors Center).


The Capitol building is surrounded by 22 acres (8.9 ha) of grounds scattered with statues and monuments. William Munro Johnson, civil engineer, was hired in 1888 to improve the appearance of the grounds. By the time the first monument, commemorating the Heroes of the Alamo, was installed in 1891, the major components of Johnson's plan were in place. These included a "Great Walk" of black and white diamond-patterned pavement shaded by trees. The four oldest monuments are the Heroes of the Alamo Monument (1891), Volunteer Firemen Monument (1896), Confederate Soldiers Monument (1903) and Terry's Texas Rangers Monument (1907), and these flank the tree-lined Great Walk. [20] In the spring of 2013, ground was broken for the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument; dedication took place on March 29, 2014.

A granite monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol was the topic of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case, Van Orden v. Perry, in which the display was challenged as unconstitutional. In late June 2005, the Court ruled that the display was not unconstitutional. [21]




See also

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  13. 1 2 "Zoning Change Review Sheet". City of Austin. Retrieved October 31, 2017.
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  15. "SB 176, 68th Regular Session". Legislative Reference Library. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
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  17. "APPENDIX A. - BOUNDARIES OF THE CAPITOL VIEW CORRIDORS". Municode Library. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
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  20. "Grounds and Monuments". Texas State Preservation Board. Retrieved November 21, 2011.
  21. Broadway, Bill (October 23, 2004). "A New Judgment Day For Decalogue Displays". Washington Post . Retrieved November 21, 2011.
Preceded by
Tallest Building in Austin
95 m
Succeeded by
Dobie Center