It's a $33-Million Facelift

Someone called it "demolition by neglect."

The fact is, your State House is crumbling. And a $33-million contract has been awarded to save it from extinction. The original cost of the building, when Governor Sam Adams, assisted by Paul Revere, laid the cornerstone? Just $133,333.33.

As I understand it, the original so-called Bullfinch part of the State House is in pretty good shape, after 200 years of use. But the three newer wings are not in such good shape. So we'll be working in a construction project for the next two years. At least.

The legislature and executive departments have been working in the current State House for more than two centuries. Since 1798, when legislators marched up the hill from their former headquarters.

The very first government building in Massachusetts was a wooden structure, built in 1658, which was destroyed by fire. Of course, The Old State House, built in 1713, still stands and is one of the oldest capital buildings in the Western Hemisphere. A museum now, its 3,000 square feet originally provided offices for the Governor, Deputy Governor, and four assistants, along with commercial and court space.

It was Oliver Wendell Holmes who called it "the hub of the solar system," later remembered as the "hub of the universe," and thus, now, Boston is known as just "The Hub."

But, I digress. If you want to know more, write to the Bostonian Society at the Old State House in Boston and ask for their brochure on the Past and Present. Or, better yet, visit the Old State House in person. Then, walk up the hill to your current State House, so you can see it before it's reconstruction phase.

Because, it is not too shabby! Oh yes, the marble is cracked in places, and there's always a need to paint. A lot of what were beautiful spaces have been subdivided into little offices. But the major damage is hidden among the cement blocks and behind walls. Out of the sight of most of our visitors and people who work there.

And, I admit, it is still a thrill to enter the State House every day to go to work. My office is over the arch that allows traffic to, in effect, go under the State House from Mount Vernon Street on the west. It opens onto the Hall of Flags, just a few feet from the Grand Staircase.

Both were part of the original building, which was just 173 feet long and 61 feet deep, and built on land owned by John Hancock. It was some 155 feet from ground to gold dome--refurbished in time for the bicentennial celebration a year ago--and full of stained glass, beautiful Italian marble, amazing portraits and murals.

A lot of the earliest legislative traditions still continue. Because Massachusetts was always an exceptionally democratic state, we offer any citizen the opportunity to come forward and speak for or against any pending legislation. And every piece of pending legislation has a public hearing.

Everything offered for deliberation in the General Court (the legislature) must be in written form, and read three times on three separate days. And today, like long ago, all laws and orders have to majority approval of both House and Senate.

And we still must heed the speaker's words of more than a hundred years ago, when George von L. Meyer reminded his legislature that members, "in all our acts remember that the public good is paramount."

The Governor, under the state's 1644 charter, had a House of Assistants, which is today's Senate, and a House of Deputies, today's House of Representatives. There have been some changes along the way with the Senate going from 28 members to 40 members, and the House changing from two members for each town (three for Boston) and an all time high number of 749 to just 160 members today. And, of course, the Governor is no longer appointed by the crown.

The building has changed, too, over its 200 years. At one time its red bricks were painted white. The dome, originally plain, was first coppered to prevent water leakage, and then covered with gold leaf, for example.

There are three additional wings added in the 1890s and 1917, and new basement vaults, the glass domed "Great Hall" completed just 10 years ago along with four hearing rooms, even an underground parking garage.

But, it is the still the oldest building on Beacon Hill, covering almost seven acres or about two city blocks. Tourists come from around the world to walk the halls.

And, despite all the changes, the Massachusetts State House is still the official location of Boston. When mapmakers and signs say "100 miles to Boston," it really means "100 miles to the golden dome."

It deserves to be restored, and $33-million seems a fair price to pay for 200 years of history.

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