The Texas State Capitol, completed in 1888 in Downtown Austin, contains the offices and chambers of the Texas Legislature and the Office of the Governor. 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 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 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.[5]


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.[6] The building has been renovated several times, with central air conditioning installed in 1955 and the most recent refurbishments completed in 1997.

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 rapidly discolor 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.[7] Due to a bend in the tracks, trains would occasionally derail, accidentally dumping some of the pink granite.[8] 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.[9] The project's 900 workers included 86 granite cutters brought from Scotland.[10]

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.[10] 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".[11]

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

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.[12]

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).[12] 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.[13] The bill was signed into law on May 3, 1983,[14] defining thirty state-protected viewing corridors and prohibiting any construction that would intersect one of them.[15] 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.[16]

Capitol extension and restorations

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.[17]

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.[18]

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.


Downtown Austin and the capitol as seen from Congress Avenue.

The capitol building and grounds are located in downtown Austin, with the main entrance facing onto the Congress Avenue Historic District to the south. The northern edge of the grounds lies four blocks south of the University of Texas at Austin.


The capitol has 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 2.25 acres (0.91 ha) of land. The building has nearly four hundred rooms and more than nine hundred windows. The interior of the central rotunda features portraits of every person who has served as president of the Republic of Texas or governor 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 top of the TX state capitol.

The Texas State Capitol was ranked ninety-second in the "America's Favorite Architecture" poll commissioned by the American Institute of Architects, that ranked the top 150 favorite architectural projects in America as of 2007. In a 2008 poll by the AIA, it was also ranked the number-one state capitol.[19]


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 (1891), Volunteer Firemen (1896), Confederate Soldiers (1903) and Terry's Texas Rangers (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


  1. ^ National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b "Texas State Capitol". National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2009-11-13. Retrieved 2009-09-05. 
  3. ^ John C. Ferguson (December 1985). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Texas State Capitol" (pdf). National Park Service.  and Accompanying 11 photos, exterior and interior, from 1980 and 1985 (32 KB)
  4. ^ http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1999-01-14/news/9901140152_1_texas-capitol-capitol-in-austin-taller
  5. ^ "The Evolution of a Great State's Capitol". The Illustrated American. New York City. 21 (362): 108–9. January 16, 1897. Retrieved March 6, 2015. 
  6. ^ Cotner, Robert C. (1968). The Texas State Capitol. Austin: Pemberton Press. pp. 15–17. ISBN 0-292-73703-3. 
  7. ^ Clark, John. "Waters Park, TX". Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 15 June 2015. 
  8. ^ Butler, Wayne. "Milwood History". Milwood Neighborhood Association. Retrieved 15 June 2015. 
  9. ^ Green, Walter Elton. "Capitol". Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  10. ^ a b "Texas State Capitol Building - Historical Marker Text". Texas Escapes. Retrieved January 1, 2018. 
  11. ^ Barnes, Michael (May 4, 2013). "State Capitol dedication the party of a lifetime". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved January 1, 2018. 
  12. ^ a b "Zoning Change Review Sheet". City of Austin. Retrieved October 31, 2017. 
  13. ^ "Background on the Capitol View Corridors Issue" (PDF). Preservation Austin. Retrieved November 8, 2017. 
  14. ^ "SB 176, 68th Regular Session". Legislative Reference Library. Retrieved November 14, 2017. 
  15. ^ "Government Code Chapter 3151. Preservation of View of State Capitol". Texas Constitution and Statutes. Retrieved November 14, 2017. 
  16. ^ "APPENDIX A. - BOUNDARIES OF THE CAPITOL VIEW CORRIDORS". Municode Library. Retrieved November 14, 2017. 
  17. ^ Green, William Elton (June 12, 2010). "Handbook of Texas]]". Retrieved January 1, 2018. 
  18. ^ "Restoration and Expansion". Texas State Preservation Board. Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  19. ^ Smith, Andy (February 7, 2007). "Texas State Capitol (1888)". American Institute of Architects. Archived from the original on November 28, 2011. Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  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. 

External links

Preceded by
Tallest Building in Austin
95 m
Succeeded by
Dobie Center