The original Louisiana State Capitol was designed by architect James Dakin, and building began in late 1847. Rather than imitate the United States Capital, as many other states had done, he planned a Neo-Gothic capitol complete with turrets and crenellations and stained glass. The dome was to be made of copper covered with gold leaf, but the cost exceeded expectations and it was replaced with iron in 1851 before it was completed. In 1852, after the death of Governor Richard Rush Lee, the capitol was renamed in his honor. It was destroyed by fire on February 7, 1889.
The current Louisiana Capitol was built between 1890 and 1893 at a cost of $700,000. It was designed by New York City architectural firm Patton & Fisher and is an impressive structure with Ionic columns supporting the entablature and pediment. The dome is also made of bronze, like the old one, but it is much smaller at only 30 feet across. Also unlike the old one, this one has no interior floorboards; instead, there are carpets laid out for visitors to walk on. The art gallery has been restored and is now used as a museum that displays paintings by Louisiana artists from the 19th century. There are also exhibits that focus on state history.
The Virginia State Capitol was inspired by the Maison Carree, an old Roman temple in Nimes, France. Photographer: Public Domain. Jefferson requested that a 1:60 scale model be sent back to Richmond. The original plaster model is still on display at the Virginia State Capitol.
Why do we call the Capitol "Old?"
"Old" was originally used as a term of approval. Thomas Jefferson described the Capitol as "old and great," and said it was "a credit to its age and its country." Later, when speaking about improvements to be made to the building, he said, "the old stuff should be kept old-fashioned."
Because the Capitol was meant to be seen from far away, so it had to be big! Architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe said the same thing about the Washington Monument: "If it were not big enough to be seen from afar, it would be no better than any other brick house."
The design of the Capitol creates a very harmonious appearance from a distance. This is especially true when you see it surrounded by gardens and trees. If you look close up, however, you will see there are some unusual shapes (such as square towers) that break this harmony.
When President Thomas Jefferson selected Latrobe as "Surveyor of Public Buildings," he promptly redesigned the Capitol structure and went on to provide Washington, D.C. a House of Representatives, Senate chambers, and the Supreme Court. The new design by Latrobe's assistant William Thornton eliminated the previous two floors under the House chamber and replaced them with an attic space for storage. It also increased the size of the Senate chamber by one-third and provided more private meeting rooms.
Latrobe was born in 1757 in Pennsylvania. He attended the University of Edinburgh and then worked as an architect for several years before moving to Wales to take charge of a project to improve the navigation of the Severn River. While in Britain, he became interested in architecture again and published several books on the subject. In 1800, Jefferson hired him to redesign the federal capital city, which at that time consisted only of a small district surrounded by farmland. Latrobe's plans called for a city of grand public buildings with wide streets and open spaces. They were to be the envy of other nations' capitals.
The first federal government office building was completed in 1814, just four years after the start of Latrobe's work. The Land Office Building was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe Jr., who had become his father's apprentice while studying art in Scotland.