Volume 4, Number 1, Feb. 1982, p.1,3

California State Capitol Restoration Project


The California State Capitol in Sacramento has been undergoing restoration for six years and opened to the public view in January of 1982. Press coverage of this project has been extensive, but little has been said about the conservation of works of art and the conservators involved. A number of the conservators in the WAAC Membership have been an integral part of the ongoing project and the following will represent, in part, some of the treatment which has taken place.

First, a brief history of the construction of the Sacramento Capitol building, as abstracted from a two-part article appearing in the Sacramento Bee.

Construction began in 1860--just 12 years after the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill--on a four square block site which had been occupied by several private homes. The property was purchased with tax money raised by the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. Over the next four years, architect Reuben Clark managed to get the walls up nine feet above the foundation. Floods in 1861 and 1862 slowed construction, forcing construction crews to haul wheelbarrows of dirt to raise the structure 15 feet.

Funding for the project was piecemeal, but Clark signed a statement May 18, 1862 stating it could be built to his specifications for $500,000. Funds were provided by a legislature which met only two months every two years--so building progressed until funds ran out, then stopped until the next legislative session. That undoubtedly added to the frustration which drove Clark into a Stockton mental institution where he died in 1866. According to records uncovered in the hospital's files, the cause of insanity was diagnosed as 'continued and close attention to the building of the State Capitol in Sacramento'.

Gordon P. Cummings took over as supervising architect, and was in charge of the project until he finished the job in 1874. Total cost of the project was $2.5 million.

The first major alteration took place from 1906 through 1908. A fourth floor was added to the remainder of the building by gutting the chambers, taking the roof off the building, installing new steel trusses, and redesigning the senate and assembly chambers. The building remained much that way until the Depression years of the 1930's, when people began making more demands on government. Then, a mezzanine floor was added. World War II, with its population boom, brought about the most major alteration of the Capitol: the addition of the East Wing, around 1952.

The phenomenal growth and complexity of state government soon crowded those quarters and, by 1970, many legislators were convinced an entirely new Capitol was needed at a separate location. That idea went forward to the point of working drawings until leadership in the legislature changed hands, and Speaker Leo McCarthy proclaimed in July of 1974 there would be no new Capitol. The original would be restored.

(The total cost of the State restoration project was approximately $67 million.)

A Brief Note on Original Safes and Vault Doors for the State Capitol Restoration Project

The State Capitol Restoration Project retrieved several of the original safes and vault doors to reinstall in the restored Capitol Building. Artwork on the safes included badly discolored oil paintings of landscapes, as well as numerous gilded and painted decorations and lettering. The condition of the safes was extremely poor due to many years of neglect and deterioration. Working with paintings on heavy, immobile objects of metal (in situ) posed many interesting problems.

For more detailed information regarding condition and treatment of these unusual pieces, contact: James Alkons, Philip Vardara and James Ingraham, conservators who worked on the safes.

(photo of a safe "Manufactured by Hall's Safe & Lock Co./State Treasury of California, 1876/Hall's Patents July 23rd and Oct. 29 1867")

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