If you were to have approached the state Capitol from the northwest this summer or fall, you might first think that Missouri's statehouse was being rebuilt.
It's not a total rebuild, but a major repair and replacement of outside stone stairs, railings and a walkway on side of the building.
Behind this latest statehouse repair effort is a fascinating story of decades of neglect for the seat of Missouri's government followed by frantic repair efforts.
This latest effort of restoration covers an area that had been crumbling for years. The neglect continued until it became a major safety hazard with the administration having to erect temporary barricades to prevent visitors walking into unsafe areas.
My first experience with Capitol neglect came from rain drops falling on the head of Gladys Marriott in 1973.
She was a member of the Missouri House at a time the Capitol's roof suffered from terrible deterioration. It got so bad that one day during a rainstorm, water began dripping into the House chamber.
Marriott, a Kansas City Democrat, got steamed. She organized tours of reporters and legislators into what effectively is the Capitol's attic. Her efforts personally pointing out the deterioration -- and even the holes in roof -- worked. Funds were approved to fix the roof, keeping House members dry.
Even when repair and refurbishment efforts are undertaken, the job is not always finished. For example, right now, the color scheme for the walls on the Capitol's main floor is an uncompleted mishmash.
It's the result of an ambitious plan to repaint the non-stone walls with a fancy and expensive scheme. But it turned out to be too expensive. The effort was abandoned when the state ran into financial trouble, leaving a partially-finished job on the main floor and a couple of pretty ugly splotches on the second floor near the rotunda.
Years ago, the state finally got around to replacing the near-rotting original window and door frames of the Capitol. But when you go through the doors leading to the visitors' center, you'll find the job never got finished.
Hearing stories that the administration was replacing the Capitol's original windows and doors with fixtures from a foreign country, the lieutenant governor at the time, Bill Phelps, threw a fit.
As a member of the Board of Public Buildings that has jurisdiction over the Capitol, he immediately ordered the replacement stopped. Almost all the window frames got replaced. But not all the door frames. As a result, the statehouse has been stuck with mismatched window and door frames for the last few decades.
Meanwhile, the stone walls for which the Capitol is famous get treated like cafeteria bulletin boards with taped announcements and advertisements from a variety of non-government organizations. Former Senate President Pro Tem Jim Mathewson argued passionately for some sort of ban on defacing the building. His idea went nowhere.
As for the stonework on the northwest side of the building that was repaired this fall, that's part of a problem that goes back decades. The stone came from a quarry near Carthage, Missouri.
When it came to getting stone for that side of the building, it was less than perfect stone. Coupled with facing the northwest, it's been eroding and crumbling for years.
A few decades ago, some of that stone was replaced. But it generated a storm of protest from the Carthage area senator, Dick Webster. He objected that the administration was using stone from Illinois.
Webster argued it was not as good nor as attractive as the stone that could come from his part of the state. To prove the point to his office visitors, placed blocks of the two types of stone in bowls of water.
I still remember Webster passionately pointing out the differences to anyone who entered his office. It seemed like months before the Carthage senator gave up, but he did make his point. There was a difference. The Illinois stone absorbed more water and, as a result, had a stained appearance.
Of course, what Webster's demonstration did not address was whether that Illinois stone could better withstand the winter freeze and thaw cycles that had helped crack up his beloved Carthage stone in the first place.
Today, besides weather, the outside of the building is facing another threat -- skateboarders who break off small chips from the stone of the Capitol's steps from their acrobatics.
Chipped stone, defaced inside walls, mismatched window frames, uncompleted paint jobs, rusting security barricades are among signs of neglect at Missouri's statehouse.
Over the years, a few legislators have suggested creating a commission with an assured budget to watch over, maintain and protect Missouri's historic Capitol.
Since 1867, the federal government has had an official Architect of the Capitol, selected by Congress with responsibility to maintain the U.S. Capitol. Missouri has no similar office.
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