After a four-year renovation project, the State Capitol is open for locals and visitors from all over the world

By Lianna Matt; All photos by Natalie Hall

When the Minnesota State Capitol reopened on Aug. 11, 2017, State Chaplain Colonel Timothy Martensen compared it to Nehemiah reopening the city of Jerusalem around 400 B.C., and the famous trumpet chords of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” rang through the air courtesy of the Minnesota Orchestra. Grandiose words were said, and the red ribbon was cut to mark the end of the four-year, $310 million restoration project.

Architect Cass Gilbert finished the capitol in 1905, but as the years passed, the building lost some of its shine. Call it persuasive fate, but on the day the first draft of restoration plans were presented, part of the building’s tunnel system had caved in. To restore the capitol to its former glory, more than 4,000 gallons of paint and more than 5,000 individually placed stones (some weighing 2,000 pounds) were used. Additional public space was added, room designations were tweaked, and the electrical, air and plumbing systems received much needed updates.

Overall, some things were aesthetic and some were functional, but everything mattered.

“It is much more than just a building,” Senator Thomas Bakk said during the ceremony. “What happens in there really sets the table for Minnesota to pick up the ball and make our state even greater.”

Ribbon cutting ceremony during the capitol reopening.

Governor Dayton cuts the ceremonial ribbon. To his right stands Hope Anderson, one of the essay contest winners who presented during the ceremony.

After the ribbon cutting ceremony, people streamed into the capitol to see its restoration—the first tour had more than 70 people, and several others were running nearly simultaneously. The tours themselves did not focus on the remodeling; rather they highlighted the original design details and symbolism.

House of Chambers

The House of Chambers

For instance, in the House of Chambers, where the 134 state representatives meet, a painting of Abraham Lincoln hangs above the speaker of the house’s desk because that was the first president that the state of Minnesota voted on. The words “Vox populorum est vox dei,” or, “The voice of the people is the voice of God,” are emblazoned on the golden background where Lady Minnesota stands flanked by Native Americans and pioneers. Each wooden desk is outfitted with one of the first electronic voting systems in the country.

Even if you eschew the guided tour, a self-guided visit to the capitol is well worth it just to go to the roof and see the quadriga. Up on a balcony, you can stand behind the four gilded horses and take in the view from the second largest unsupported marble dome in the world.

The Minnesota capitol was always supposed to be a place for the people, and with its remodel, it will be able to stand tall for at least a century more.

As third grader and essay winner Hope Anderson said, “When people come here from different countries or states, they see the Capitol building, and it looks like a safe place to be, and it makes them feel good about Minnesota.”


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