Friday, March 12, 2010

Texas State Capitol

Among the various "themes" we have to direct our explorations are the State Capitol Buildings and the Presidential Libraries and Museums. But, despite having wintered in Texas the past three years, we never quite managed to get to Austin, which has both the Texas State Capitol and the LBJ Library and Museum.

We took care of that omission yesterday, Thursday. It's literally 4 lane highway all the way from Miller Creek RV Resort to Austin so the 45 mile drive was accomplished in less than an hour by the time we parked in the visitors parking area near the Capitol.

The Capitol grounds are comprised of more than 20 acres right in the middle of Austin. Like so many other states, Texas lost it's first Capitol to fire -- in 1881. The replacement, this building, was started in 1882 and finished 6 years later. It was designed by Elijah E. Myers, a famous Detroit architect who also did the Capitol buildings of Michigan and Colorado.

The building is large... 566 by 288 feet and 308 feet tall. It's the largest, but not the tallest, State Capitol in the Nation. The exterior, clad in locally quarried pink granite, is truly impressive. Built in the traditional 19th century style with the two legislative branches occupying the two long wings of the building, and the executive and judicial  branches occupying the two shorter wings.

But the appointments and detail on the interior disappointed both of us. The interior walls are limestone and everything is painted off-white... very stark and utilitarian. Where other Capitols have marble floors, this building had terrazo; where other capitols have grand marble staircases, this one has metal stairs with rubber treads. At least there are a few important (to Texas) monuments, statues, and paintings -- but no historic murals or mosaics that we liked in other Capitols around the USA.

We toured the Governor's Reception Room, where many important bills are signed into law. Quite by accident Dar heard that the Lt. Governor's Reception Room was even better... but you've go to find it... and it's quite hidden behind the Senate Chambers. So off we went, up these stairs, down those, through some doors, and then up more stairs... and before I knew it we were barging in on the Lt. Governor's staff of chefs and waiters who had just gotten done with serving lunch to some committee meeting. We met this energetic and quite knowledgeable fellow named Tim, who was part of the action. He must have taken a liking to Dar as the next thing I knew we were getting a personal tour of the room, the artifacts and historic pieces, and then, a run-down of everything we "must" do in Austin and the surrounding territory. It was a steady and unending stream of information, facts, and stories. Almost an hour later we said "good-bye" to Tim and found a place down the street (recommended by Tim, of course) for lunch -- an enjoyable, if quirky, coffee and sandwich shop that was perfect. I needed to catch my breath anyway.

Check out more of the day's photos in our online photo collection