Farm House, 1921

Painting at Iowa State House

Old Capitol in Des Moines

A three-story brick building served as a temporary Capitol and was in use for 30 years, until destroyed by fires. But in the meantime, the permanent Capitol was being planned and built.

In 1870, the General Assembly established a Capitol commission to employ an architect, choose a plan for a building (not to cost more than $1, 500, 000), and proceed with the work, but only by using funds available without increasing the tax rate.

John C. Cochrane and Alfred H. Piquenard were designated as architects, and a cornerstone was laid on November 23, 1871. However, much of the original stone deteriorated through waterlogging and severe weather and had to be replaced. The cornerstone was relaid on September 29, 1873.

Although the building could not be constructed for $1, 500, 000 as planned, the Cochrane and Piquenard design was retained and modifications were undertaken. Cochrane resigned in 1872, but Piquenard continued until his death in 1876. He was succeeded by two of his assistants, Mifflin E. Bell and W.F. Hackney.

The building commission made its final report on June 29, 1886, with a total cost of $2, 873, 294.59. The audit showed that only $3.77 was unaccounted for in the 15 years of construction.

Architecture[edit]

Iowa State Capitol dome as viewed inside from rotunda

The architectural design of the Capitol, rectangular in form, with great windows and high ceilings, follows the traditional pattern of 19th century planning for public buildings. A modified and refined Renaissance style gives the impression of strength and dignity combined with utility.

The commanding feature is the central towering dome constructed of iron and brick and covered with 23 carat gold. The gold leafing was replaced in 1964–1965 at a cost of $79, 938. The dome is surmounted by a lookout lantern that may be reached by long and winding stairs, and it terminates in a finial that is 275 feet above the ground floor. The rotunda beneath the dome is 67 feet in diameter. Four smaller domes of simple design rise from the four corners of the Capitol.

The pediment over the front entrance discloses a fine piece of allegorical sculpture.

Exterior[edit]

North side view of Capitol building Pioneers of the Territory (1892), by Karl Gerhardt, outside the Capitol overlooking West Capitol Terrace and downtown.

The exterior of the building is entirely of stone with elaborate columns and handsomely designed cornices and capitals. Iowa stone is the foundation for the many porticoes of the building. The building is brick with limestone from Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Ohio, and Illinois. The substructure is of dark Iowa stone topped by a heavy course of wari-colored granite cut from glacial boulders gathered from the Iowa prairie. The superstructure, or main part of the building, is of bluff colored sandstone from quarries along the Mississippi River in Missouri.

Both front and back porticoes have pediments supported by six Corinthian columns each. The dome of the capitol is gilded with tissue-paper thin sheets of pure 23-karat gold, with a protective layer sealing the gold from the weather, and the top of its finial peak is 275 feet (84 m) above the ground. From its opening during 1884 until 1924, it was the tallest building in Des Moines, and likely the entire state.

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