State Capitol Buildings for $1,000!

Most of these structures are amazingly similar save for these few standouts

While I might think I’m cool, deep inside, I’m a big geek. There are several areas in which I geek out — aviation, reptiles, gardening, and US geography. I knew all my state capitals before the first grade. I’m pretty good at talking about the news of the day, but speak of geography and do not cross me.

It’s a lonely place.

They don’t teach geography in school anymore. Even our so-called President doesn’t know where shit is. He’s probably the most provincial President we’ve ever had. He knows New York, Florida, and Washington, D.C. (Well, he doesn’t really know Washington, but that’s another story.)

However if there were a degree in Pop Culture, I just might be writing this to you from my mansion in (pick a cool city). Pop culture sells. Geography? Not so much. But if you want to know more about Prince, for instance, you might want to know that he’s from Minneapolis, which is the largest city in? (Blank stares.) I’ve given you the first two syllables!

I wanna be on Jeopardy!

But on Alex Trebek’s Jeopardy. What a loss.

Let’s get back to state capitals, and state capitols. Most of the latter are modeled after our national capitol building in Washington, D.C. Whenever I am in a capital city, I have to at least do a drive by and take a picture of their state capitol building. As mentioned above, most of them look strikingly similar.

The 11 capitol buildings without domes are in Honolulu, Juneau, Salem (debatable), Santa Fe, Bismarck, Baton Rouge, Nashville, Albany, Columbus, Tallahassee, and Richmond.

Nebraska State Capitol Building, Lincoln. Image by Leonardo Marchini from Pixaby.

Why is Salem, Oregon’s capitol debatable in style? Because it’s not really a dome, but a cupola that sits atop the building. I never thought this story would become so specific. It is decidedly art deco in nature, and is mainly constructed with marble. Thrillist.com says “the monumentalism is impressive, in a Soviet sort of way”.

Bismarck, Lincoln, and Baton Rouge are all somewhat similar in that they are towers rather than domes. Lincoln’s tower is fondly referred to as “The Penis of the Plains”. Because of it’s rounded top, it can be seen from miles around, thrusting its gold-tiled crown above the unrelenting horizon. While this does constitute a dome, you have to be a ways from it to see it.

Not to be outdone by Nebraska, North Dakota’s capitol building is known as the “Skyscraper on the Prairie” as, at 21 stories, it is the state’s tallest building. Bigger than any in Fargo!

But why does North Dakota need 21 stories to do anything?

Louisiana’s capitol building looks much like Nebraska’s except it does not have a rounded dome. At 34 stories, it is the country’s tallest state capitol building, Nebraska’s being second. The architect must not have been well-endowed, as he said “his” building needed to be taller than Nebraska’s.

Hawaii’s capitol building is an adaptation of the Bauhaus-style, and its features contain many items symbolic of the islands (for instance it is totally surrounded by water to represent its island location).

Hawaii State Capitol building, Honolulu. Photo: Pinterest.

Tennessee’s capitol just feels confederate, though its physical address is on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Ironic? It’s real style is Greek Revival, and sitting at the top of a hill, it looks quite regal compared to the Nashville kitsch just blocks away on Broadway.

And then there’s Alaska. Poor Alaska. Quite frankly, it looks like an old warehouse gone loft. Built in 1931 as a federal building, it does not sit amongst lush grounds, but rather as just another office building in downtown Juneau. (Wait: is there a downtown Juneau?)

Alaska State Capitol Building, Juneau.

“Unassuming” doesn’t even begin to describe the Alaska State Capitol building. — T.M. Brown, Thrillist.com

New Mexico’s state capitol building, known locally as “The Roundhouse”, is the only round capitol in the country. It was built as a nod to the Zia sun symbol, with four entrances facing exactly north, south, east, and west. The interior is filled with artwork from local and Native American artists. In New Mexico, legislature is only in session for 30 days one year, 60 days the next, and so forth. That’s a lot of business to get done in the nation’s fifth-largest state.

While many capitol buildings look similar from the outside, in most cases, you’ll find an astounding collection of works from the states’ native artisans and other curated art. You’ll also see the wide variety of building materials used to achieve basically the same results. State capitol architects liked to use stone native to their state where available.

In 2017, Thrillist.com ran an article titled, “The Flat-Out Ugliest State Capitols in the Country”. Three of their seven picks are detailed above. And guess what? The other four are dome-less. (I did NOT consult that article before I wrote this story!)

Much of what I know about geography I learned from Jeopardy!, while the other kids were watching cartoons. See? I told you I was a geek. Most of the rest comes from traveling the country — I have just three states left to see.

These buildings are a great place to see part of a state’s history. You just have to get off of the Interstate to find them. In many cases you can see the dome and drive towards it. In those states that don’t have a domed capitol, that’s why there’s GDS.

What are you waiting for? Geography is fun!

My life in the context of 20th-century history and pop culture — infused with a dose of fun (where appropriate!) More to come when I get my sea legs on here.

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