Structure Type: built works - public buildings - capitols

Designers: Lohse, Henry, Sr., Building Contractor (firm); Olmsted Brothers, Landscape Architects (firm); Pratt and Watson, Building Contractors (firm); Schorr, Barnett, and Company, Architects (firm); Swenson Say Faget Corporation (firm); Wilder and White, Architects (firm); James Frederick Dawson (landscape architect); Paul Faget (structural engineer); Jay Johnston (building contractor); Maxfield H. Keck (sculptor); Henry Lohse Jr. (building contractor); Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (landscape architect); John Charles Olmsted (landscape architect); Daniel Say (structural engineer); Barnett Paul Schorr (architect); Gary Swenson (structural engineer); Harry Keith White (architect); Walter Robb Wilder (architect)

Dates: constructed 1911-1928

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416 Sid Snyder Avenue SW
Washington State Capitol Group, Olympia, WA 98501-1347

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Building History

A national competition was held for the design of the Washington State Capitol #4 in 1911. Youthful, New York architects Walter Robb Wilder (1875-1934) and Harry White (1877-1966), alumni of the illustrious McKim, Mead and White office, won the top award. A construction contract was signed by the general contractor, Pratt and Watson, on 03/23/1922, and Governor Louis F. Hart (1862-1929) assisted in laying the cornerstone on 09/01/1922. Republican Governor Roland E. Hartley (1864-1952), a vocal opponent of the capitol's construction, participated in the building's topping out ceremony on 10/13/1926. Construction work went on it earnest between 1922-1928; it wasn't until 1928 that the building was completed, costing $6,792,0000, a reasonable sum for the time. All sculpture on the interior and exterior was designed by New York artist, Maxfield Keck (d. 1943); the New York Studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) produced the lighting fixtures on the interior and exterior, and the New York department store W. & J. Sloane received the commission ($510,000) for furnishings on 09/30/1926.

The Seattle architectural firm of Bebb and Gould assisted Wilder and White, as local architectural associates, with Charles Bebb (1856-1942) being the primary liaison to the New York office. The Olmsted Brothers, the leading landscape architecture firm in the U.S. (and one that had worked on park plans in Seattle and Spokane), laid out the Capitol's 30-acre grounds in 1928-1929, with James Frederick Dawson (1874-1941) serving as Lead Designer. (The Olmsted firm had been commissioned originally to create a landscape plan back in 1911, but they fell out with Capitol Commission and were fired.)

The legislature first began using the building in 03/1927, but construction and interior furnishing did not completely cease until 1928. Governor Hartley, elected in 1924, rhetorically targeted the State Capitol as a taxpayer boondoggle, terming it a "monument to extravagance." Hartley made a political career of criticizing and discontinuing costly and magnificent state building projects, such as the Olympia Capitol and the University of Washington's Suzzallo Library (1927). As the capitol project concluded on-time and on-budget, Hartley's pronouncements proved to be puffery, and the capitol and Suzzallo Library have been widely admired since their completion, high water marks of Beaux-Arts design. (For more on Hartley's attitudes toward the capitol, see Johnston, Chapter VIII, "The Hartley Imbroglio," Washington's Audacious State Capitol and Its Builders, p. 106-120.)

Building Notes

The Walker Cut Stone Company mined the capitol's exterior sandstone at Wilkeson, Pierce County, WA. Exterior granite steps and foundation were granite mined at Index, WA; interior marble was brought from Alaska, France, Italy, and Germany, at great expense. The Washington Capitol group occupies 30 acres and is surrounded by 4 other governmental buildings whose locations were provided for in the original White and Wilder plan. Only one building, to the west of the Capitol was not built, due to the location of the Washington Executive Mansion there. In 2007, the building still had the fourth-largest masonry dome in the world, 278 feet in height. J. Kingston Pierce, writing for, said of the dome: "At the time of its building, it was the fourth-tallest dome in the world -- rising 278 feet above the ground. The dome weighed 30.8 million pounds. Spreading that extraordinary weight out equally over the building’s frame and ensuring that ground settling in the years after its construction wouldn’t leave the building somehow lopsided were tasks that required precise calculations and a great deal of testing." (J. Kingston Pierce, "Olympia Capitol -- A History of the Building," Essay #5443,Accessed 02/08/2013.) In the opinions of several notable architectural historians, including the University of Washington's Norman Johnston and Grant Hildebrand, the dome and other compositional details of Washington's Capitol made it one of the finest state legislative buildings in the nation. (See Grant Hildebrand, "Washington's Audacious State Capitol: A Tribute to Norman Johnston," lecture, Horizon House, Seattle, WA, 02/07/2013. This lecture was filmed for replay by residents of Horizon House.) Johnston was the son of Jay Johnston (1886-1969), who served as the capitol's construction supervisor during the 1920s.


The Washington State Capitol's Dome was damaged in the Puget Sound Earthquake of 04/13/1949. At this time, the dome's lantern was taken apart with aim of reducing its structural load. A metal cupola replaced the dome's original stone top, also to cut weight. Another serious quake on 04/29/1965 caused $9.6 million damage. A large-scale renovation undertaken by Seattle architect Barnett Schorr concluded in 1986 that finished various sections of the building, particularly in the dome's interior. Seattle-based Swenson Say Faget Structural Engineers calculated the seismic capabilities of the capitol and supervised structural modifications, in the wake of the Nisqually Earthquake of 02/2001. During this 2001-2003 renovation, asbestos abatement occurred, the building's antique heating, ventilation and cooling system was replaced. and its electrical networks were repaired.

PCAD id: 7963