Nebraska State Capitol

The Nebraska State Capitol, located in Lincoln, Nebraska, is the capitol and seat of the Nebraska Legislature and houses other offices of the government of the U.S. state of Nebraska. It is one of the most distinctive statehouses in the United States. Its height is 400 feet (121 m) tall. There is an observation deck at 250 feet (76 m). There are 22 floors. It is the 3rd tallest building in the state, and the tallest in Lincoln, NE. This capitol building's height is surpassed only by the Louisiana State Capitol. The Louisiana State Capitol is 34 stories but was influenced by the Nebraska State Capitol's design. The Nebraska State Capitol is the heaviest building in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the heaviest state capitol building in North America. The building was designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue and constructed between 1922 and 1932. The Indiana limestone structure draws on both Classical and Gothic architectural traditions, but represents major innovations in state capitol design. Contents

History. The building is Nebraska's third state capitol building. Both the first and second, completed in 1869 and 1889 respectively, had structural problems. The 1889 building was a classical design by the architect William H. Willcox. Preceding the Lincoln state capitol buildings were two capitols of the Nebraska Territory in Omaha, both built in the 1850s, before Nebraska was admitted to the Union in 1867. The legislature authorized the Capitol Commission to be responsible for the construction of the building. The commission included the governor, the state engineer, and three members appointed by the governor. The appointed members were W. E. Hardy of Lincoln, W. H. Thompson of Grand Island, and Walter W. Head of Omaha. Samuel R. McKelvie, Charles W. Bryan, Adam McMullen and Arthur J. Weaver each chaired the commission as governor.

The architectural competition program was written by Omaha architect Thomas R. Kimball, who was then president of the AIA. The competition guidelines were innovative and progressive because they did not define plan, style, or material for the building. The program did specify, however, that they wanted an architect who would assemble a team (including sculpture, painter, and landscapist) to create a unified vision. The Commission chose three judges that would make the ultimate selection of an architect. Within the competition, well-known architects were chosen by the Commission to enter the competition anonymously before the judging panel. Firms competing included McKim, Mead, and White, H. Van Buren Magonigle, John Russell Pope, Paul Cret and Zantzinger, Borie and Medary, and Bertram G. Goodhue, who was not originally considered for the competition. After he was allowed to enter the competition, however, Goodhue was selected as the winner. His design drew on the Classical principles of austerity, abstract geometrical form, and hierarchical arrangements of parts, but broke away from the columns, pediment, and dome formula.

The capitol is often seen as a turning point in Goodhue’s career and the first major expression of what has been called his "freely interpreted classical style." The cross-axial plan is similar to a traditional Catholic church or cathedral. The building's four wings radiate from a central domed rotunda, architecturally separating the branches of government. The unarticulated windows and crisp flat surfaces anticipate the modern skyscraper. It is also the first U.S. state capitol with usable tower space. On April 15, 1922 Governor Samuel R. McKelvie broke ground and construction began. The cost for the 122 m (400 ft) Indiana limestone structure amounted to $9,800,449.07. The funds were secured through a special capitol levy tax. The five-phase construction was completed in 10 years under the supervision of William Lefevre Younkin. The structure is most commonly nicknamed as The Tower of the Plains The Capitol is often nicknamed to reference frequent interpretations of the tower posing as a phallic symbol. Historically, however, this title of a phallic symbol attached to a Plains object is more appropriately associated with Chimney Rock in the Nebraska Panhandle.

Integrated Art Program
. The sculptural elements of the building were designed by sculptor Lee Lawrie. Hartley Burr Alexander, a Lincoln native and professor of philosophy, served as "thematic consultant." It was Alexander's influence that led to the strong American Indian symbology, despite the wishes of Goodhue. Being from the East Coast, Goodhue was not the most sensitive or understanding of American Indians. He felt that the incorporation of Indian designs into the Capitol would make the building look like a tipi and would therefore be "ruinous to the architectural design." However, in April 1924, two years after groundbreaking, Goodhue died. The sudden death of the architect allowed Alexander to exert greater influence over the artistic designs. Thereafter the Indian images were incorporated to Alexander's liking, despite the stance taken by the late architect.

The building has an elaborate iconographic program. The large square base is emblematic of the quarters of the Earth and the historic course of human experience. The vertical tower symbolizes the heavens and more abstract conceptions of life derived from historic experience. The massive balustrade flanking the main stairway is ornamented with bison inscribed with American Indian poems artistically translated by Alexander. Over the entrance is a gilded frieze showing the "Spirit of the Pioneers." Other exterior sculptural ornaments include a series of friezes depicting the history of law from the Ten Commandments to a celebration of Nebraska's statehood. Ten great lawgivers, Minos, Hammurabi, Moses, Akhnaton, Solon, Solomon, Julius Caesar, Justinian I, Charlemagne, and Napoleon are depicted emerging from pylonic masses. The eight ideals of culture represented by Pentaour (dawn of history), Ezekial (cosmic tradition), Socrates (birth of reason), Marcus Aurelius (reign of law), St. John the Apostle (glorification of faith), Louis IX (age of chivalry), Isaac Newton (discovery of nature), and Abraham Lincoln (liberation of peoples) are also represented.

The tower is crowned by a golden dome with a 5.94 m (19.5 ft) sculpture of "The Sower," by Lawrie, which faces northwest (most of Nebraska is north and west of Lincoln). The dome is symbolic of the sun, and its reflective surface changes color with the weather. The frieze around the drum depicts thunderbirds, an American Indian symbol of thunder. Altogether, the golden dome, Sower, and drum represent weather and agriculture. On a more symbolic level, they are an homage to the civilizations of yesteryear like the American Indians, Egyptians (The Sower is modeled after an Egyptian), and European settlers who created productive farmlands and propagated life around the world.

Hildreth Meiere, a New York-based tile and mosaic designer, working with Alexander, was responsible for much of the original interior design. She collaborated closely with the Guastavino Company of New York to create the elaborate tile vaulting, which is both structural and decorative. Buffaloes, corn, wheat, sunflowers, and wild native animals motifs are repeated throughout the building’s ornament. The theme of Meiere's work is nature and the cultivation of the prairie. Alongside Meiere's work, some portions of the tile work was designed and hand-crafted by Mary Chase Perry Stratton and the Pewabic Pottery.

For the decoration of the east chamber (the original senate chamber) Alexander sent Meiere numerous samples of Native American designs, primarily those of plains nations. Specifically, Alexander sent Meiere photographs of the work of Amos Bad Heart Bull, known to Alexander as Amos Bad Heart Buffalo. Alexander was in possession of these works until they were interred with the artist's sister at her death, and had the work photographed and published. Meiere used these images as inspiration for her designs, especially with the large tapestry that graces the east Chamber.

The doors to the East Chamber, designed by Lee Lawrie and executed by Keats Lorenz of Lincoln, are a product of master craftsmanship. The doors weigh over 340 kg (750 lb.) each, and took Lorenz more than six months to carve. They commemorate the cultural contributions of Native Americans. Augustus Tack completed the building's earliest fresco-style murals. Ernst Herminghaus was responsible for the landscape architecture.

The majority of the sculpture's program was created by Lee Lawrie, and executed by Eddie Ardolino's stone carvers in situ in Lincoln. Alesandro Beretta, employed by Ardolino's firm, was the actual craftsman that carved all of the 18 History of Law panels, using up to 70 various tools. He would often take up to ten weeks per panel. The carving was completed in November 1934. The Nebraska Capitol job was Lawrie's largest commission in his nearly seventy year-long career as an architectural sculptor.


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Building Activity

  • Warren Wooledge
    Warren Wooledge commented
    This building is an absolute pleasure and a marvel to be sure. The observation deck allows a complete visual of the city from all four directions. The architecture and design are on equals in this United States.
    about 4 years ago via Mobile
  • updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via Annotator