150 Boise icons: Idaho Statehouse, the 'Capitol of Light'

awebb@idahostatesman.comJuly 4, 2013 

Though it's an icon that belongs to the entire state, the Capitol is the heart of Boise. City residents get to enjoy a singular pleasure whenever they feel like it - walking into the building through unlocked, unguarded doors. They frequently find they have the massive space to themselves. Despite its volume and its purpose, the Capitol has always seemed more light and warm than somber and hallowed.

This might have something to do with the intentions of the building's architect, John Tourtellotte, who said, "The great white light of conscience must be allowed to shine and by its interior illumination make clear the path of duty."

Tourtellotte and partner Charles Hummel integrated light shafts, skylights and reflective marble inside the building to take advantage of Boise's copious natural light.

The white-domed building had a predecessor, a gabled, brick territorial statehouse built in 1885. It stood between Jefferson and State streets and 6th and 7th streets.

By 1905, Idaho had outgrown the territorial building. The Legislature approved construction of a new building. Tourtellotte and Hummel got the contract (around the same time they were building St. John's Cathedral on 8th Street). Crews built the dome and central parts of the Capitol first, between 1905 and 1912.

They finished the wings on the east and west sides in 1920. Demolition of the territorial building made way for the east wing.

The building underwent renovations in the 1950s and 1970s. A massive and fastidious two-year renovation between 2007 and 2009 added new subterranean wings and restored the building to its 1920 grandeur.

The renovation spared no detail. Craftspeople even replicated furniture and light fixtures in the styles of the originals. Builders removed dropped ceilings and reopened spaces as Tourtellotte and Hummel intended.

Among the most notable is Statuary Hall, a barrel-vaulted room that is among the most wonderful public spaces in the city. Have something on your mind? You won't find a better spot to sit and think things over.

Two statues stand nearby on the fourth floor: George Washington on horseback and the replica of "Winged Victory." Both are icons in their own right, included in this series.

The Capitol grounds offer up more special objects: statues of Gov. Frank Steunenberg and Abraham Lincoln, an Oregon Trail monument, and an 1840 cannon used by the Confederacy in the Civil War. A model of the Liberty Bell, given to the state by the U.S. Department of Treasury in 1950, adorns the Capitol's front plaza.

A monument to the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans of the Civil War, stands on the west lawn. The Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic donated it in 1935 - a time when the Civil War was as close to them as World War II is to current Boise residents.

Reader Ted Channel said that his father, Charles M. Wilson, engraved the words on the stone. Wilson worked for the Jellison Monuments company.

"He only had one eye and attended school only to the fourth grade. The wording on the monument is very long and he must have done the engraving very carefully to spell everything correctly," said Channel.

700 W. Jefferson St.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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