Louisiana’s art deco capitol building isn’t just the tallest building in Baton Rouge, it’s the tallest capitol building in the United States of America. ‘Huey Long’s Monument’, as it is often called, was started in 1930, and inaugurated two years later, and was made a National Historic Landmark in 1982.
However, after 80 years, the building was beginning to show its age, and in 2013, the year-long project to carry out essential renovation works was completed. Part of a bigger overall project, this phase was concerned with the heating and air-conditioning systems, and cost in the region of $8 million.
Although the majority of this stage of the renovation project was out of sight, Duane Meeks, a Stuart and Co. contractor, said that “everything is basically maintained with the original style”. The job involved installing two 10 inch steel pipes through the Senate and House chambers on each side of the building, from the basement out to the rotunda.
Inspired partly by the unexpected discovery of “dirty magazines from the 1980s” hidden inside a basement bathroom wall, his contractors decided on a slightly less colorful selection of time capsules for future crews to find when they too were carrying out renovation works in years to come – amongst the items in their time capsules were newspapers and magazines, in particular the copy of the Times-Picayune from the day after President Barack Obama’s re-election.
The same Baton Rouge based company also carried out a program of security renovations, with a budget of just under $5 million. The bill of quantities included 500 steel pipe bollards, and 450 feet of pre-cast concrete walls to extend around the perimeter of the Capitol building. The art deco aesthetics were kept to, as the surrounding gardens were extensively landscaped. They also installed a new parking lot, with more retractable steel bollards for ease of access, and with a guard hut at the entrance points. This didn’t just look good – it won the ABC Excellence in Construction award for perimeter security.
The Old State Capitol hasn’t been neglected either – overlooking the Mississippi River, the building is a twice the age of its newer replacement. James H. Dakin’s Gothic Revival-style building was finished in 1852, and was built in preparation for the state capitol’s move from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Falling into considerable disrepair from the 1930s when it ceased to be the capitol building, the building was threatened with demolition in 1991. The architects that oversaw the painstaking renovation – E. Eean McNaughton – removed the unsightly layer of cement that was around the exterior, and restored the cast iron fence dating from 1855. Now the Museum of Political History, the old capitol building is now something of an exhibit in its own right.
Renovation works are some of the most painstaking and specialist construction projects out there, requiring specialist materials as well as specialist skills. However, enabling historic buildings to share their stories with new generations makes the cost worth it.