Tuesday, December 20, 2011


January 9, 1875, New-York Tribune, Page 2, Column 2, THE COST OF THE NEW CAPITOL.



Fluellen--There is occasions and causes why and wherefore, in all things. King Henry V. Act V., Scene 1.

To the Editor of The Tribune.

Sir: The tax paying publie of the State of New-York will read that portion of the Controller's Annual Report which relates to the cost of the New Capitol at Albany, as published in The Tribune of this morning, with no very tranquil or comfortable reflections. It is here stated that "there has been expended upon the New Capitol, to the present time, including $500,000 for the purchase of lands, and excluding unadjusted claims contracted by the Commissioners, fully $5,800,000.'' What the amount of those unadjusted claims may be there is no means of ascertaining from the report; but aside from these, we have an admitted expenditure of $5,300,000 upon the structure alone. And it is understood that the work has been carried but little, it any, above the first of the three stories which make up the elevation of the principal fronts.

Under such an official exhibit of waste and imbecility, it would be wrong for any one who is thoroughly conversant with all the facts of the case to remain silent. The original Board of Commissioners repeatedly pledged themselves to an expenditure not exceeding the appropriation of $4,00,000 for the entire structure---with the single exception of the ornamental sculpture alone. I was at that time one of the two "joint architects" of the Capitol, and furnished the design which was adopted by the Board, and which, in most of its leading features, is now being carried out. That the design has been somewhat changed by the present architect in charge, and perhaps with a material increase of expense, I am not disposed to deny. This fact is well alluded to by the Controller, in the concluding portion of his remarks on the subject. But I deem it a duty to inform the public that I procured at that time not estimates merely, but written tenders of contract from not less than three Separate firms of experienced builders in New-York to do and complete all the works on the plans as thus adopted, in each case for a sum within the said approptiation of four millions of dollars. And these tenders were accompanied in each case by the offer to furnish ample and undoubted security for the satisfactory completion of the whole work. Bills of quantities, exhibiting every item of the proposed contracts, were carefully taken out; and as a single instance of the ample eviidence that the sum named was abundant for completion of the design, I quote from the sworn testimony of one of the contractors referred to before a Committee of the Senate, as reported in The Albany Argus of the next day after, "that he estimated the cost of the new Capitol, according to the present plans, at $3,800,500, and he was willing and ready to furnish ample bonds, provided he could obtain the contract, to build it at that price."

But these tenders, although eagerly quoted by the then Commissioners as an inducement to the Legislature for further grants of ready money, seemed to be regarded by them as of no further consequence. Indeed, I rescued one of them from a waste-basket in the Senate Committee room within ten days after the foregoing testimony was given. And it very soon became evident to me that a majority of the Commissioners, at least, had no wish or intention to contract for the work. It even seemed to me---and to many others who were cognizant of the facts, now for the first time publicly stated---that some of the most active of the Board had not the slightest idea of limiting the expenses of the building. To secure a handsome annual appropriation appeared to be the limit of their intentions, and a distiguished citizen of Albany remarked to me at the time that "they would make a placer of it yet." How well this gentleman estimated the probable result appears from the official report of the Conroller as published in The Tribune of to-day.

It is due to the truth to state that there were gentlemen in the minority of each of the Boards of Commissioners under whom I served, who were sincerely and conscientiously anxious for a different mode of procedure. But their voices and influence were powerless to effect a change, and they, one after another, resigned, or were left out in successive reorganizations of the Board. And the only reply to my own often repeated and urgent applications to the Commissioners to put the whole work under a definite and satisfactory contract ---so as to assure its completion within the sum at which I had estimated the proper cost, as proved by the bids above mentioned---was to drop quietly my name from the "joint" design, and to dispense with my further services.

I hope that this simple and direct statement of facts will suffice to throw some light on the worse than folly of the prcsent system of executing important public works under the direction of a "Board of Commissioners." In this respect the message of Gov. Dix last year hit the exact point of the difficulty when he recommended the appointment of some known and tried, efficient, professional architect, whose whole character and reputation would be at stake in the proper conduct of his work, and who would be held strictly accountable in the public eye for the honest and economical discharge of his duties. If the State of New-York had occasion to send a ship and cargo to sea valued at $4,000,000 or $5,000,000, it is scarcely to be supposed that they would appoint a "Board of Commissioners" to dictate how she should be navigated. They would rather select a careful and experienced commander, with second and third officers of a like judicious selection, and confide the precious venture to their trained and habituated skill. Now, to build a Capitol well is a more arduous and difficult piece of work than to sail any ship in the world. And the public may be well assured that never will a straightforward administration of their public works, or an unembarrassed and economical execution of fine and creditable designs be secured to their service until some such course as that recommended by Gov. Hill be steadily, faithfully, und intelligently carried out.                          Yours, Arthur Gilman.

New-York, Jan. 7, 1875.

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