Saturday, January 07, 2012

An Awesome Reception.

To hear the tape recording that you'd listen to if you were walking through a self-guided tour of the actual Capitol, play the following link in a new tab while silently reading the text below to yourself. You'll hear a testy female narrator; an earnest current "State Architect" of New York, Jim Jamieson; as well as a crusty actor giving voice to the artist William de Leftwich Dodge. Their effort at rationalizing the appalling architecture and weird interior decoration only makes matters worse, in what was a doomed fiasco starting in the dome's planning stages, as evidenced by the mess of allegorical nonsense. The subsequent re-purposing of this space by modern political occupants seems a lost cause at justifying something that looks both expensive and half-aborted, which is the reality of the Capital building at Albany.

LINK: Governor's Reception Room.
Stop 16: Governors' Reception Room

This is one of the most beautiful and colorful spaces in the entire Capitol, with a history to match. Originally, it was meant to be an open space, part of a domed tower that never got built. Plans were made to remove the floor you're standing on to create a 40-foot-high rotunda with murals, meaning you would have viewed the ceiling above you from much farther away. Again, here's Capitol Architect Jim Jamieson

"They hire William de Leftwich Dodge, to paint murals. He paints these murals over a period of years from 1920 to 1925, even though they're actually not installed till 1929. That should be a buzz year – 1929 – because now we have the murals installed, but we have the Great Depression. There's not enough money to complete the project. So even though the ceiling and murals are in, they never remove the floor. So we're in the top half of what should be a two-story space, in an area where the floor should be removed, but it's not."

The Dodge murals consist of 25 paintings on canvas that are attached to the plaster and four decorated areas that were painted directly onto the plaster—the bright blue sections with flags and stars. The murals depict the military history of New York and commemorate battles with the English, the Dutch, the French, the Iroquois, through to the Civil war and World War One. The artist used his daughter Sara as the model for the central figure: the spirit of New York and the Goddess of Harmony—a symbol of both war and peace. In her memoirs, Sara recalls her father saying:

"The subject is the history of New York State, treated allegorically. In the central ceiling panel is a fourteen-foot female figure representing New York, with one hand on the state's shield and the other on a sword. She is supposed to be symbolic of all industrial, educational, humanitarian, and militaristic activities. I don't know how in thunder I'm going to put all that in one damn figure, but that will be the idea."

If you look around the central figure, you will also see the representations of the five nations of the Iroquois. Additionally, naval battle scenes are painted in gray in the corners. They hang above images of Theodore Roosevelt, Revolutionary War General Richard Montgomery, Civil War General Kemble Warren, and the Unknown Soldier. Today this room serves as the Governor's Reception Room for visitors and guests of the Executive Chamber. Beyond the glass doors is the working office of the Governor and his staff.

Think of the collective mind that was halted from building a high tower due to an unstable foundation, which would then conceive of taking out the very floor beneath them---as if the Capitol needed yet another grandiose spectacle of wasteful utilization. Remember that this is all taking place a few years after the destruction by arson of the State Library in the western wing, after which the grand, 50-foot high central reading room was subdivided into two floors, whose rooms on each had been an unwieldy 25-feet high. This sort of mentation seems to place the expenditure of an appropriation ahead of the rational objective of creating something beautiful and long-lasting, And though they're loath to admit it, here is a shrine to comeuppance.

The 82nd Annual State Library Report, for 1899, on page 62, quotes H. H. Bender, the Superintendent of Public Buildings, who had been directed by the State Legislature to report on the Library's current and anticipated space needs in the Capitol. Although the Library had occupied its quarters for barely a single decade, the winds of political change seemed about to blow:
"It should be borne in mind that if the location of the state library is changed from its present quarters, all the metal shelving, book cases, elaborate carving, and special appliances, extending, as they do, through two or more stories, with numerous galleries, must be removed and the regular floor levels of the building carried through the space they now occupy, to adapt those quarters to other purposes; and that but an inconsiderable proportion of such fixtures and appurtenances could be utilized elsewhere."
An article in the Corning, N.Y., Evening Ledger on April 28, 1949, describes a $5,000,000 job underway to renovate "the massive old state capitol," which practically rebuilt the "third, fourth and fifth floors of the 66-year-old building," and principally consisted of "installing mezzanines throughout the three floors to utilize some of the space which up to now has been unused because of extremely high ceilings." The writer explained that the "Representatives formerly had been crowded into huge, high-ceiling "workrooms" throughout the building."
[Original source. April 28, 1949, The Evening Ledger [Corning, N.Y.] Page 14, Push $5,000,000 Job Of Renovating State Capitol, by Bill Davidson, with a transcript of text at Google Docs.]

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