The Texas State Capitol building is an iconic monument of Texas and is located in the heart of downtown Austin. In 1875 the state legislature paved the way for a new and improved capitol building to be constructed. A nation-wide design competition was launched, attracting eleven designs from eight architects, including that of architect Elijah E. Myers. In 1880 it was announced that Mr. Myers won the contest and $1,700 in prize money (the equivalent of $42,000 today) and construction was started a few years later.
The Capitol’s exterior is clad entirely in a unique pink granite, known as “Texas pink.” Texas Pink comes from a mineral called orthoclase feldspar, KAlSi3O8, which not only endows this granite with its distinct pink hue, but also gives it an extremely durable and hard surface. This makes Texas Pink ideal as a building material for high-use, weather exposed, and long life surfaces such as granite kitchen countertops and public buildings.
The “Texas pink” is known as “sunset red” and is sourced locally still to this day.
A Change Of Plans
The original plans for the building called for limestone to be used on the exterior, but that was put into question after the local source was found to have a high iron content, which would create rusty streaks in the stone when exposed to the elements. Granite became the material of choice when the owners of nearby “Granite Mountain”, George W. Lacy and W.H. Westfall, donated the entire lot of Texas pink granite to the project. After 2.3 miles of new track was laid between Austin and the quarry in Burnet, TX, some 15,700 train cars worth of granite, 188,518 cubic feet in all, were transported to the site.
It took more than a thousand workers over six years to complete the Capitol building. It featured 392 rooms, 924 windows, 404 doors, and was topped by a zinc “Goddess of Liberty” perched on a painted wrought-iron dome constructed in Belgium. It was opened to the public in May 1888 with 20,000 attending the week-long festivities that featured drill team competitions, military displays, numerous bands, and even fireworks.
Here and Now
The Texas State Capitol is now 130 years old and continues to be a popular attraction for tourists and locals alike. The building is defined in the Historic American Buildings Survey as “a fine pink granite building with Renaissance detailing. Design chosen by Napoleon Le Brun in a competition.” It features a “cross plan with wide flanking end pavilions”, topped by a “dome with colonnaded drum” and a “three-story entrance arch”. It is maintained by the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service within the US Department of the Interior and thanks to its durable granite, we bet it’ll be around for a lot longer!
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