Saturday, November 05, 2011

Costliest of Capitals.

Even in an ostensibly critical article, the New York Times can just lie like a rug, as she misrepresents the most publicized scandal from twenty years earlier---the infamous "papier mache ceiling" in the Assembly Chamber.

March 30, 1911, New York Times,
NEWTON, Mass. March 29.—George W. Abbott of West Newton, son of Samuel J. Abbott, the night watchman at the New York State Library in the Capital Building, is on his way to Albany to investigate the report that his father lost his life in the fire. Mrs. L. M. Newton, a daughter, also lives in Newton. Her father, she said, was seventy-seven years old.

Costliest of Capitals.

$23,000,000 Spent on Albany Structure---Trail of Graft Charges.

The Capitol in Albany, construction of which started in 1867, but which was still undergoing fundamental architectural changes as late as 1905, is a massive stone building, 400 feet by 300 feet, with walls 100 feet high. It was originally planned to cost $4,000,000, but the total ran above $25,000,000, thus exceeding the cost of the next most expensive State Capital, at Harrisburg, Penn., by $12,000,000.

Since the submittal of the first plans for the new building by Thomas Fuller, architect, and J. McAlpine, Consulting Engineer, the history of the construction process has been recorded in terms of accusations of graft, official investigation, and new levies for the completion and alteration of the original and amended plans.

The first intimation that the construction work did not meet the requirements came when it was announced that the heavy stone towers for which the plans called could not be built because the foundation would not bear the strain. The most massive part of the building, it was said, was built on a clay bank overlying quicksand. The first charge of misapplication of funds came in 1879, when only $9,500,000 had been spent. The investigation which followed, as well as all other future investigations, ended without any direct charges of wrongdoing.

In 1887 one wing of the building began to settle, due, it was thought, to the clay bank underneath. To lessen the weight on the foundation all the stone ceilings were then replaced by papier mache ceilings adorned with oak panels. Dissatisfaction with this reconstruction work resulted in the appointment of a committee of experts, of which the late Stanford White was a member. The findings showed that only three of the twenty-seven drawings had been prepared before the contract had been let, and that these were neither singed or dated.

A doubt was expressed as to the bona fide character of the bids received. Material changes in building materials had been freely made in violation of the law, and the new ceiling was found to contain less than half of the required number of oaken frames called for in the contract. The cost exceeded the amount of the bid by over $23,000. In short, the investigation showed that the contract had been violated in almost every specification and requirement.

Then followed a series of destructive cracks in walls, in the great stone arches, and in the famous Assembly staircase. Added to that came complaints that the building was poorly ventilated, that the acoustics were bad, and that all the window frames were made of iron, the expansion in Summer making it impossible to open the windows, whereas the contraction allowed the cold to come in in Winter. In 1905, during Governor Cleveland’s administration, there was an honest attempt made to correct as many of the deficiencies as a levy of $1,000,000 would allow.

Among the rooms of the Capital suffering particularly from a free change of specifications was the Executive Chamber. The contract called for long mahogany panels extending from floor to ceiling. Instead, “bay mahogany” or “baywood” was used. One genuine mahogany panel was used, however, and its darker finish and finer grain stood in marked contrast with the remainder of the walls. Again, in the Court of Appeals, there was a huge stone fireplace which, though many years old, had never been used. When the court was in session on one occasion a fire was started with the result that the Judges were smoked out of the chamber. The chimney flue was found to be only six inches wide.

Writers upon architecture say that the Capital reminds them of the famous Taj Mehal in India. There is nothing equivalent to the style in this country. Originally it was intended to copy the Italian Renaissance; this was partially forsaken for the Romanesque, however, and now the style has been commonly called "free Renaissance."

The Assembly Chamber had to be substantially rebuilt when structural deficiencies caused its solid stone ceiling to begin to collapse less than ten years after it was completed.

1888 Stone vaulted ceiling of Assembly Chamber replaced after it failed structurally.


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