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Olympia Capitol -- A History of the Building

HistoryLink.org Essay 5443 : Printer-Friendly Format

Modern-day visitors to Olympia’s capitol campus are justly impressed by the main Legislative Building’s 287-foot-high dome and the equally broad-shouldered edifices that surround that central structure. Architecture critics have called the arrangement a watershed in American capitol construction. Yet building the Washington state capitol was in no way an easy task. Not only were there daunting costs and delays involved, but even upon its completion in 1928, critics derided it as a waste of tax dollars.

A "Monument to Extravagance"

Cuspidors costing $47.50 apiece? Outrageous. Or so it seemed in 1928 when silk handkerchiefs sold for a mere 65 cents and women’s girdles could be had for $1.25. Yet Washington had agreed to pay that inflated price for the ornate spittoons to be strategically located around its new state capitol building. No one objected to the spittoons themselves -- every well-equipped office had them at a time when many men, including state legislators, chewed tobacco. It was the price that was shocking.

To Governor Roland E. Hartley (1864-1952) those hefty cuspidors symbolized the improvidence he saw in the whole capitol project, which was begun before he was elected in 1924. He derided it as a "monument to extravagance in architectural design and waste and profligacy in furnishings."

Even on March 27, 1928, the day before state executives were to move into the $7 million Legislative Building, an occasion on which another gov