Designated: Honorary Landmark Building Exterior 1989
206 Washington St., S.W.
DESCRIPTION AND ANALYSIS
The Georgia State Capitol is one of only forty-three National Historic Landmarks in Georgia. Built on the former site of Atlanta City Hall/Fulton County Courthouse (1854-1884), the five-acre property was donated to the state by the City of Atlanta specifically for a new capitol building. As the seat of state government since 1889, the capitol has been the focus of Georgia policy and law-making during the state's greatest periods of growth, and the scene of countless colorful events in the state's history.
Designed by Willoughby J. Edbrooke and Franklin P. Burnham in a style described as "Neo- Classical-Renaissance Revival," the classical lines and massive scale of the building appropriately reflect the seriousness of the work that goes on within. Built on one of the higher points of the city, the gold domed capitol is a visual landmark in the southern part of the downtown business district, and is the focal point of the state government complex.
Little altered on the exterior since its completion, the Georgia State Capitol is of very high significance architecturally, historically, politically and socially, as the symbolic anchor of Georgia politics since Reconstruction.
ATLANTA AS STATE CAPITAL
The post-war Constitutional Convention of 1867-68 voted to relocate the capital of Georgia from Milledgeville to Atlanta on a temporary basis. Atlanta was already recognized as a major transportation center and a center of commerce for the Southeast, and had been suggested (and rejected) before the war as a potential new capital. The City of Atlanta encouraged the relocation with a standing offer of land and money for a capitol building. In 1868, the new Kimball Opera House, then under construction at the corner of Marietta and Forsyth, was selected as the temporary capitol, with the City of Atlanta acting as the broker for the transaction. The city's intense interest in the permanent siting of the capital in Atlanta is reflected in its offer to donate to the state "any parcel of land appropriate..." including the then-current site of the Atlanta City Hall.
The 1877-79 Constitutional Convention voted in 1877 to permanently move the capital to Atlanta, and in 1879 accepted the city's offer of the five-acre City Hall/County Courthouse tract, which was conveyed to the state in 1880. In 1883 the legislature finally appropriated one million dollars for the construction of the new capitol, specifying that only Georgia materials be used, unless the cost of Georgia materials proved prohibitively expensive. Governor Henry D. McDaniel directed much of this process and, along with Governor John B. Gordon, oversaw the Capitol Commission. The commission was charged with selecting a design for the new building. A competition among Georgia architects produced no satisfactory design and the field was widened to include out-of-state architects. Edbrooke and Burnham of Chicago submitted the winning design for the building, and in 1884 Old City Hall/Courthouse was demolished in preparation for construction.
Franklin P. Burnham is best known for his work in conjunction with Willoughby Edbrooke, whose entry in the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects reads as follows:
"Willoughby J. Edbrooke (1843-1896), born in Evanston, Illinois, first practiced in Chicago in 1868 and eventually formed a partnership with Franklin P. Burnham. Among their major commissions were the Georgia State Capitol, and the Mecca Apartments (1891-1892) in Chicago. Edbrooke served as the superintendent of construction in Chicago and as supervising architect of the Treasury department for which he initiated the design of at least forty buildings."
Edbrooke's designs included three buildings at Notre Dame University (one with Burnham, 1888), federal buildings in several midwestern cities, and the U. S. Post Office in Washington, D.C. In Atlanta, the Edbrooke-Burnham partnership also designed the old Y. M. C. A. building (1886, demolished circa 1970) at the corner of Pryor Street and Auburn Avenue. Edbrooke's most significant works, especially for the federal government, were commissioned after completion of the Georgia Capitol, which established his reputation as a designer of public buildings.
CONSTRUCTION OF THE CAPITOL BUILDING
Although Georgia materials were specified in the "Act to Provide for the Erection of a State Capitol Building," Georgia's marble industry was in its infancy at that time. Since the use of Indiana limestone enabled construction bids to adhere to the $1,000,000 budget, the legislature allowed its use on the exterior of the building, excepting the cornerstone. Most of the rest of the building employed native materials, including more than 500,000 bricks salvaged from the City Hall, Georgia marble for the interior, native pine, and iron made from ore mined within the state.
The cornerstone was laid on September 2, 1885, attended by a major ceremony and celebration. Georgians were invited to donate articles for entombment in the stone, and local Masons oversaw the laying of the stone.
The building was completed on June 15, 1889, a rare example of a major public building completed under budget; upon completion, $118.43 was returned to the state treasury.
William R. Mitchell, Jr., former director of the Georgia Historic Sites Survey, describes the Capitol as:
...entered from each side of the square, but the main entrance, approached on a wide concrete plaza, is on the west facing downtown Atlanta. Dominating this facade is a four-story, heroic portico, the pediment being supported by six columns in the composite order. Six rusticated piers support the columns...Above this pedimented portico a dome and lantern..rise, topped by a female statue of Freedom holding a sword to her side and a lantern aloft. This main entrance block has two wings connected by wide hyphens. The rear facade essentially duplicates the front.....
...Although designed and completed during the era of High Victorian styles when stylistic mixing was fashionable, it is a monumentally classical domed and columned structure with a convincing atmosphere of architectural purity and design integrity...which could be called a stylistic exercise in the United States Capitol, Neo-Classical-Renaissance Revival manner.
Very few alterations have been made to the exterior, with one major exception. In 1959, the citizens of Lumpkin County donated enough gold to the state to gild the dome and lantern of the Capitol. The gold was carried to Atlanta by wagon train and applied by Italian artisans. This entire process was repeated in 1981 after the leafing showed signs of deterioration.
The interior of the building echoes the classicism of the exterior. The open rotunda is the focus inside, with sweeping marble staircases leading to the second-and third-floor galleries, supported by composite columns. The House Chamber on the east and the Senate Chamber on the west are richly paneled and highly detailed.
Originally the basement was unfinished, and is said to have been used as a stable by early legislators, in addition to being used as storage space. At the turn of the century, fire destroyed many of the documents in storage, including the original plans and specifications for the building. In 1929 the basement was renovated as office space.
The history of Georgia is reflected in statuary, portraits and memorabilia placed throughout the building. A Hall of Fame displays busts of signers of the Declaration of Independence and other illustrious Georgia statesmen. The fourth floor contains the exhibits of the Georgia State Museum, a favorite of generations of Georgia schoolchildren. Numerous dioramas and individual displays illustrate the natural history of the state.
THE CAPITOL GROUNDS
In keeping with the theme of displaying the best of Georgia, the Capitol grounds are landscaped with specimens of native Georgia flora, including elms, oaks and magnolias, interspersed with bronze statuary of notable Georgia statesmen and other markers of historical interest. Well maintained lawns and walkways add to the stateliness of the setting.
The Georgia State Capitol, named a National Historic Landmark in 1974, has long been a visual symbol of the state of Georgia to her citizens. Periodic suggestions to alter the exterior of the building have been met with a statewide public outcry demonstrative of the pride Georgians feel about the Capitol. Architecturally, the Capitol is archetypical of a timeless, classical style that is a most appropriate reminder of the origins of the democratic form of government. Because of the many major events associated with it, the Capitol is also of national significance in the country's political and social history.
Fortson, Ben W., Secretary of State. The State of Georgia and its Capitol. (Atlanta, 1970).
Garrett, Franklin M. Atlanta and Environs. (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc.), 1954.
Miller, Paul W. , ed. Atlanta: Capital of the South. (New York: Oliver Durrell, Inc., 1949).
Mitchell, William R., Jr. Personal Inspection, April 1971.
Sparks, Andrew. "Under the Capitol Dome," Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine, January 12, 1964.
Group I (1) (2) (3)
The proposed nomination of the State Capitol meets the above-referenced criteria for a Landmark Building or Site as set out in Section 16-20.004 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Atlanta.