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Arizona's State Capitol Building, Museum, and Memorial Plaza Phoenix Arizona

Updated on February 4, 2014
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I've lived in Arizona for 68 years (Tucson, Glendale, and Sedona). I love writing about Arizona history, antiques, books, and travel.

Original Arizona Territorial Capitol

Arizona Territorial Capitol Circa 1905
Arizona Territorial Capitol Circa 1905 | Source

The Copper Domed Capitol

Visiting a state capitol is a chance to learn many things about a state in a few hours. I'm surprised when "born and bred" people tell me that they have never visited their state capitol, even when they live in the city where the capitol is located. On the other hand, history nuts like me try to visit every state capitol that they can, just because! I strongly hope that the Arizona Centennial events that will occur in 2012 will bring more visitors to the Arizona State Capitol. As for the Arizona State Capitol building itself, it's more than a bit disappointing. It appears as a hodge podge of buildings tacked on to the older original part. If the original stone building were not flanked by the two modern square buildings which house the Arizona House of Representatives and the Arizona State Senate, and the large tower high rise tacked onto the back of the original, the capitol would have the integrity of a historical building. Of course I recognize that without the tower behind the original, our state leaders wouldn't have a place to conduct their business and sometimes that probably wouldn't be a bad thing. These words of discouragement said, while the Arizona Capitol isn't a beautiful building when compared to the Capitol of Nebraska in Lincoln or the Capitol of Idaho in Boise, the Arizona Capitol is a treasure trove of art and historical items well worth visiting.

The Capitol building is located at 1700 W Washington Ave. in Phoenix, Arizona just west of downtown Phoenix. The original building was built as a Territorial Capitol for Arizona in 1900, twelve years before Arizona became a state on February 14th 1912. The ten acres of land was essentially donated for a token amount of $1. Work on the Capitol grounds was begun about six months later with the goal of a varied landscaping that would create a park surrounding the Capitol building that was still in the planning stages. While date palms, roses and cacti were the expected choices, many types of trees were planted. When bonds for construction costs had been raised, James Riely Gordon was selected as the architect. The estimated construction cost was $99,1633 with the provision that the building costs would include fire proofing the structure. A classic Ionic-Grecian design that could later be added to, appropriate for the proposed Arizona Territorial Capitol was approved.

The exterior construction materials were mostly obtained from Arizona. The foundation was laid of fired brick and Malapai rock (Camelback Mountain area) and concrete. The lower portion of the building is set with grey granite stone quarried from the Salt River area and the upper stone is tufa (a porous stone composed of volcanic detritus) that was quarried from the Kirkland area. Plans for the copper dome with the copper donated from Arizona copper mines did not materialize, so the original dome was painted black. It would not be until 1980s that copper would be donated to cover the dome . Winged Victory the classic 17 ft tall wind vane installed on the top of the original dome, was almost a joke that she moved with the shifting winds of changing politics. The Capitol had a formal dedication on February 25, 1901.

Arizona Capitol Before West Tower Addition


The Arizona State Capitol Museum

The Arizona Capitol west tower addition was built in 1974. Over the last five years, several bills have been introduced by Arizona lawmakers to set aside funds to refurbish the Capitol; however, none to date (2/8/12) have been passed. Following the addition of the tower, the original Capitol building became the library of public records and archives, and a genealogy research center, but mostly the old part is used as the State Capitol Museum.

The archives have since been moved into the Poly Rosenbaum center at 1901 W Madison. What do visitors enjoy inside the museum? I suspect that the most visited exhibit is articles and photos from the USS Arizona ship that was sunk during the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. (The ship's anchor rests in front of the Capitol across the street at the top of the mall.) The most impressive ship's silver service had been removed when the ship was being outfitted for the coming World War II. The 87 piece silver service that also had copper overlay on many items was being kept by the US Navy. The Navy returned the silver service to the state of Arizona in 1953. Viewing the beautiful copper and silver massive punch bowl set with scenes of Arizona and saguaros and other silver items is worth the trip. Another popular exhibit is items of the Merci or thank you train that the French sent to thank the United States for their role in liberating France from Germany. The scope of the items they sent range from dolls, a bicycle, books, silver items, needlework, and paintings. My favorite gift is a wedding dress made from the women of Lyon France who sent each US state a wedding dress to worn. Alas, or maybe it's great that the Arizona wedding dress was never worn and it remains on display in pristine condition.

Some exhibits and artifacts are routinely rotated, but the famous Lon Mcgargee paintings commissioned by Arizona's first governor George W P Hunt shortly after statehood are permanent, as are the beautiful desert scene paintings by David Swing. A painting of the Grand Canyon by Thomas Moran is fantastic too.

Inside the Capitol Library, a must see is the Pageant of Arizona Progress Murals by artist Jay Datus. The four bright murals were painted in 1937-39 and contain scenes of Ancient Civilization, the Spanish Era, the Pioneer Era and the Modern Era. In each of the scenes is an Apache responding to Smoke Signals. This is a detail, that I never really noticed until recently. There is usually a librarian present to explain further details about the murals and the artist.

To help you discover the many important items, there are several brochures available at the front desk. The museum also has volunteers to answer questions and guided tours are available twice daily. The museum maintains a web site at www.lib.azus/museum Across the street, and in front of the Capitol building is the wonderful Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza which is a park setting of memorials that honor citizens who made Arizona's history what it is today.


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