By DENNIS WYATT
The 209 staff
Beneath the Golden Dome in Sacramento is a building worthy of the world’s sixth largest economy.
It has ornate plaster designs and intricate ceiling schemes painted painstakingly by hand from 1860 to 1974 and restored to their 19th century opulence during the 1980s when the original State Capitol building underwent a then record-setting $80 million restoration and earthquake strengthening program.
Exploring the restored State Capitol is well worth the price — it’s free — and the 60-mile one-way trip to Sacramento.
There are plenty of docents on hand plus friendly California Highway Patrol officers more than willing to direct you to various interest points.
For starters, take Highway 99 north and at the Highway 50 interchange keep going north and take the L Street exit off the Capitol Expressway. Head north several blocks and turn left on K Street. This will take you by the State Capitol and the parking structure you’ll want to use on the northwest corner of Ninth and K streets. The parking structure is right across the street from the capitol.
You will need to make sure you have photo identification before as increased security requires visitors are funneled through the obligatory detector scanners with access to the building restricted to the northern side entrance on weekends.
Before going inside, you may want to explore the four blocks that make up the shady State Capitol Grounds complete with memorials for those who have served in various wars as well as tributes to California firefighters and peace officers. You will find some of the oldest ornamental landscape trees and flowering shrubs in California on the grounds. Camellias and azaleas the size of small trees are in full bloom in the early spring. The squirrels are out in force as well.
You definitely should explore the front of the capitol with its granite steps below a protocol overlooking the Capitol Mall and the Tower Bridge across the Sacramento River to the west.
And, yes, that is real gold paint covering the upper part of the dome.
It’s shame you can’t enter through the massive, oversized wooden doors with glass insets but security is security.
The advantage of using the northern entrance is the opportunity to explore the 57 county displays that line the hallways in the capitol addition that you might of otherwise have overlooked.
The restored original capitol building has two levels.
The first level has restored the original offices of the governor, secretary of state and treasurer as well as the original state library to its late 19th century. Towering ceilings approaching 20 feet complete with ornate designs, spittoons, period furniture and printed materials and even wood burning stoves for heating add to the realism. Each room is corded off by a rope at the doorway. But even so, you are given a great vantage point to explore the restored rooms.
There are also static history displays.
The Goddess Minvera and other aspects of the California State Seal are reproduced in tile at the base of the grand stair case leading to the second floor to the visitors’ galleries for both the California Senate and California Assembly as well as offices of both the minority and majority leaders for both houses.
On your way up, you will see the first of many portraits of former governors hanging along the walls including the most famous of all — the modern impressionist style portrait of Gov. Jerry Brown from his first go around as governor.
The most stunning rooms at the State Capitol by any standard are the two legislative chambers that have been redone in the palette of colors of the 1874 when the original construction was completed.
Docents in each gallery are more than happy to answer your questions.
Yes, those are original desks on the floor that were produced s a custom order by California’s original furniture magnate — W.F. Bruener. And, no, you’re not imagining it, but teach of the 80 desks in the Assembly and each of the 40 desks in the Senate have laptop computers for members to access a wide variety of documents needed to go about the business of making laws.
Visiting the chambers while they are in session is a treat but you can’t use flash photography. It is much more pleasant to go when the Legislature is out of session so you can wonder about the gallery to explore all nooks and crannies from above and ask the docent any question that comes to mind.
Sacramento, as you’ll discover is actually the sixth California capitol city. Others were Monterey, San Jose, Benicia, Vallejo and San Francisco.
Head back down to the main entrance via a staircase midway between the two chambers and you’ll step into the impressive rotunda with a sculpture beneath and a dazzling kaleidoscope of color above.
If you packed a picnic lunch, there are spots you can sit on the grass on the grounds. Or of you prefer, the J Street Mall and its proliferation of restaurants is just a short walk away while Old Sacramento and its variety of dining options is an easy nine-block drive.