Throughout this state, and beyond it among those who ever saw the capitol of this state, there is deep regret because of its partial destruction.
The massive, imposing structure has come to be a source of pride to the people of this state.
The sentiment which has been aroused by yesterday's calamity is generally reflected in press comments.
The New York "Sun," alone makes of the misfortune an opportunity for the publication of an editorial article, one column in length, in which memory of scandal which developed in the course of the construction of the capitol is revived, and the structure itself is described as "hideous," "dingy," "lacking in dignity" and resting "upon a foundation of quicksand." It says even that "it is perhaps a cause for regret that the fire did not complete its work, make restoration impossible and the building of a new capitol necessary."
It is surprising, and to be deplored that a newspaper usually credited with conservatism and not given to the exploitaton of any event for yellow sensationalism, made this disaster a basis for such comment. It is difficult to form a conception of the state of mind from which came the impulse to such treatment of the subject.
Though there are architectural faults in the building, as a whole it is a magnificent, imposing, massively beautiful structure. At least so it has always impressed all who have viewed it with eyes not trained to discover technical faults. The many beauties of its interior are widely known and appreciated.
But criticism of its architectural harmony and appearance is a matter of personal opinion, and not really important, since it will not affect the popular opinion, which long ago became fixed.
It is the labored effort to impress upon the minds of the present generation the belief that the whole record of its construction was permeated with fraud and scandal that is to be deplored and condemned. Such effort has a tendency to create in the minds of the people, and especially in the minds of the rising generation, suspician and distrust of all men who have to do with the government.
Such effort is without excuse. It is pernicious.
The Assembly-ceiling scandal is cited as if it were typical of the whole work of construction. Of course it was not. The very fact that it was a great scandal proved that it was exceptional. The men involved in it were sent, disgraced, into oblivion.
Again the "Sun" says:
In all the administrations from 1870 to the Hughes administration, the state capital at regular intervals has obtruded itself upon the attention of the people of the state by the sudden discovery of some new scandal, some new betrayal of faith, some larceny of public money. A ceiling fell, a staircase cracked, architects, engineers, state officials hurriedly undertook to bolster up, to change, to remedy evils which were in fact inherent and irremediable, for the capital at Albany was founded upon a quicksand and stood as a monument not merely to the incoherence of a dozen different architectural designs but to the political morals and the party sins of 40 years of the history of this state.
That is partly misstatement, partly exaggeration. That a ceiling fell, we do not recall. If one did, it was doubtless such an accident as might occur in any building. That a staircase had to be strengthened is a fact, but there was no scandal about that, though there may have been a miscalculation in the original cpnstruction. In any event, the fault was not "irremediable," since it was remedied.
And while there were detestible incidents in some of all those years during which the capital was in course of construction, there is in the main a record of creditable action. From the legislative halls has come a great deal of legislation which proved to be for the public good—the abolition of the direct state tax, the liquor-license law, the law creating the Public Service commission and the highway commission, laws for the betterment of the condition of workingmen, better laws for the regulation of insurance companies and banking institutions, laws insuring the purity of the ballot, and many others equally as good.
Upon all this [rtrca*] should be laid, for it represents the rule of action.
There is no state in which the record of several decades does not hold something discredable, something that proves the rule of honesty by the qualities created by departure from it; but never can good be acomplished by dragging it out of the past and spreading it out conspicuously as if it were the [ ] of this house and not the exception. To do that is unpatriotic. It creates [five illegible lines.] and magnify it greatly, cannot be too strongly condemned.
March 30, 1911, The Sun, Page 8, Editorial
The State Capitol.
The first impression that must come to every one who reads of the fire in the State Capitol at Albany is that whatever has been saved, that which was of greatest value, in fact that which alone had permanent value, has been destroyed. The collection of documents, the written records of the State and of the colony which was before the State, the surviving evidence of Dutch and British as well as of State administration, those are gone, lost, it would seem, because of the same carelessness, the same folly, which finds its manifestation in every State, neglect to provide the protection which in these days of fireproof vaults is so simple and inexpensive for things at once priceless and easy to preserve.
After this positive and definite emotion there must come to every citizen of New York who has reached middle life a panorama, a sort of moving picture of the generation and more of State history which has left its most accurate and its most depressing evidence in that huge and hideous building on the Albany hill, every stone, every chamber, every hall of which has an intimate association with some scandal that once shook the State. The mere catalog of the rooms reached by the fire in its march must awaken the recollection of some half forgotten disgrace.
The fire seems at last to have been checked in the Assembly Chamber after the flames had destroyed the papier-mache ceiling. To-day after nearly twenty years there are still men in retirement, forgotten, men whose public life opened with promise and ended because they shared in that conspiracy by which there was substituted for quartered oak poor papier-mache, which in its turn replaced a splendid vaulted stone ceiling, removed to make way for this job. The Assembly staircase, which year after year has cracked and sagged, rests upon a foundation of quicksand, over which the earliest builders spread puddled clay to deceive the inspectors.
A house that never was completed was this State Capitol, for if one penetrated into the upper corridors there were yards and yards of unfinished work, boarded over, left rough and incomplete, because no administration, no party dared again to reopen the long chapter of scandal and shame which had attended every building operation since the Legislature of the middle 60's first authorized the construction of a capitol building to cost $4,000,000. To-day it has cost more than $25,000,000, and when yesterday's fire swept it there was still on all sides the proof of how much remained to be done, while the great tower which was to dominate all, like the City Hall tower in Philadelphia, had long been abandoned because the foundations of the structure could not bear the weight,
In the political history of the State the Capitol in some fashion connects itself with all the administrations from Lucius Robinson to John A. Dix. Alonzo B. Cornell, was inaugurated in the Assembly Chamber, which a year before had been dedicated. Cleveland went from the Executive Chamber to the White House, and Roosevelt followed him after a few years. The whole rise and fall of the Hill machine, of the Platt machine and the final decay of Republican rule in the State itself, these were the result of the planning and the plotting which moved backward and forward in the narrow halls between the second and third stories; even the secret stairway from the Executive Chamber, recently abolished, had its share in the unwritten history of those days.
But always, in all the administrations from 1870 to the Hughes administration, the State Capitol at regular intervals has obtruded itself upon the attention of the people of the State by the sudden discovery of some new scandal, some new betrayal of faith, some larceny of public money. A ceiling fell, a stairway cracked, architects, engineers, State officials hurriedly undertook to bolster up, to change, to remedy evils which were in fact inherent and irremediable, for the Capitol at Albany was founded upon a quicksand and stood as a monument not merely to the incoherence of a dozen different architectural designs, but to the political morals and the party sins of forty years of the history of the State.
As for the architecture, it presents only a jumble, a beginning by one architect, abandoned by a second, adopted again by a third. A building it was without even the most primitive provision for ventilation, hot in summer beyond the description of an inferno, in winter swept by the gales which come down from the Adirondacks. The rooms, ill planned for the purposes for which they were used, crowded, dingy, the structure itself lacking any dignity, despite incidental beautiful details, it was, and since so much remains it must survive, a permanent witness to the spirit and to the political conditions of the years in which it was erected. And if one sought a contrast, none more eloquent could be found than that supplied by the simple, dignified old State Hall across the narrow park.
It is inevitable, presumably, that the State Capitol should be "restored." Such a restoration will unquestionably preserve all the hideous, unsanitary, clumsy details which render it unsuited for the purposes for which it was built. For the simplest and least ambitious of modern office buildings furnishes a luxury of appointment and a machinery of efficiency utterly lacking and impossible to attain in the State Capitol. Since it was impossible to save the records or the memorials of that history which the State may remember with greatest pride, it is perhaps a cause for regret that the fire did not complete its work, make restoration impossible and the building of a new capitol necessary.
Nor is there reason to believe that such a total destruction would have been more expensive in the end than this "restoration," to which the experienced taxpayers and the citizens of reasonably long memories must now look forward with apprehension and disgust.