When Spanish governors ruled the California territory, its capitol was moved from town to town between San Diego and Monterey.
San Jose had already been designated the capitol by the time California was granted statehood in 1850. In the next four years, Vallejo and Benicia took turns at that honor. In 1854 Sacramento became the home of the legislature.
Though several cities were vying to become the permanent capitol, Sacramento's claim was made secure in 1860 when the legislature accepted an offer of four city blocks for the Capitol site.
By the year's end, ground had been broken for a magnificent Capitol building, 320 feet long, 164 feet wide, and 120 feet high. Designed by architect M.F. Butler, the building was in the popular classical revival style that reflected the young nation's idealistic admiration of Greek democracy and Roman republicanism.
In 1869 the new Capitol was ready for the legislature's first meeting, although construction continued until 1874. Throughout the years, the interior was often remodeled to meet the legislatures' needs for even more space. At last the structure could no longer accommodate the lawmakers of the rapidly growing state. Between 1918 and 1951, the East Wing was added to house the governor's suite and other legislative offices, and the original building became known as the "Old Capitol."
An edifice should be constructedatisfactory of the grandeur of the coming timeurrounded by grounds?with a beauty and luxuriousness that no other capitol can boast."
Governor Leland Stanford, 1863
The architects of the Capitol designed an interior in harmony with its exterior. Both the Roman-Corinthian fa?ade and the Renaissance-Revival chambers were intended to remind legislators and visitors of the lofty political ideals of earlier centuries.
In 1906, the interior underwent its first remodeling, approved by legislators desperate for space and more concerned with function than symbolism. By the 1930s, after successive remodeling projects, the Capitol interior had become a hive of small undistinguished offices.
Then in 1972 the Old Capitol was found structurally unsafe and, rather than approve construction of a new structure, legislators voted for a complete restoration. Between 1976 and 1982, the Capitol was rebuilt from the walls in. For six years, researchers, architects, artisans, and skilled workers rehabilitated the exterior and reconstructed the interior as it had been between 1900 and 1910. Painstakingly, they revived old crafts of mural painting, plaster decoration, mosaic tile setting, and metal work.
In addition to restored legislative chambers and offices, the project produced an exhibit documenting Capitol history and a 9-room museum where visitors can view executive offices as they appeared around the turn of the century.
Two free tours, one of historic offices and one of the Capitol building, are available every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.
Capitol Park is considered one of the most beautiful state capitol grounds in the nation. Covering 40 acres, it contains species of plant life from nearly every part of the globe.
Park beautification began in 1869. During the following years, land was graded, and enriched with silt from the Sacramento River. Eight hundred trees and flowering shrubs were planted, representing over two hundred native, and exotic varieties. The park was laid out in typical Victorian style, with long lanes leading between beds of vivid annuals. Over time, the face of the park has been changed by both historic events and horticultural inspiration. Thus, the Civil War left its imprint in the peaceful Memorial Grove where saplings were transplanted from different battle sites, and enthusiasm of California schoolchildren produced the section containing the cactus garden.
The names of many plants had been forgotten by 1905 when horticulturalists began the task of identifying and labeling the varieties, thereby establishing a practice which continues today. These labels provide information about the more than 450 varieties of trees, shrubs, and flowers that thrive in Sacramento rich soil and warm climate.
Tickets for free park tours are offered from Mother's Day to Labor Day and may be obtained in the tour office of the State Capitol Museum.