Former lawmakers were on hand this past week as the House formally marked the 50th Anniversary of the State Legislative Building in Raleigh, where the legislature meets and conducts its official business. North Carolina is the only state in the Union which has a separate building dedicated solely to the operations of its legislature, and the North Carolina General Assembly convened its first session here on February 6, 1963.
[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1C25LZH-IMk&feature=share&list=UUG-gFA_ZcZqySlNRDYa815A rel=0 fs=1 autohide=1 modestbranding=1 width=590 ]Video courtesy of The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau
By the late 1950s, facilities in the Old State Capitol Building — which had been used by the General Assembly since 1840 — were becoming increasingly insufficient to accommodate the needs of members of the General Assembly. In 1959, the state legislature approved the necessary funds to construct the Legislative Building.
Designed by acclaimed architect Edward Durell Stone, the “LB” — as it’s called by Members, staff, and other folks that regularly roam its hallways — sits in the center of downtown Raleigh on a vast podium of Carolina granite that’s larger than a football field. Its sleek white marble facade is trussed by a boxed colonnade that reaches up to the main roof, which looks out beyond the Old Capitol to the east. Gracing the approach to the main entrance is a brown and white terrazzo mosaic of the Great Seal of the State of North Carolina, 28 feet in diameter.
This past Wednesday, the North Carolina House of Representatives unanimously passed House Joint Resolution 64, honoring Edward Durell Stone and the many others who helped conceive, construct, and build the Legislative Building. Stone is well-known for designing New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, the Museum of Modern Art, and perhaps most notably the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The buildings are similar in their classical yet contemporary design — Mr. Stone’s signature style.
The interior of the building is even more impressive. Rising majestically from the LB’s first-level foyer is a grand 22-foot wide, 51 step red-carpeted staircase that leads to the third level’s public galleries and rooftop gardens. The first level accommodates the tiny, cramped offices of our state legislators, and also the offices of the Principal Clerks of the House and Senate, and various other official meeting rooms.
The color scheme throughout the building is white, gold and red — with walnut furniture and green foliage. The decor is minimal, in keeping with the modern style of the time.
On the second level are the chambers of the House and Senate. A reflection on the traditional layout of the Old Capitol just a block away, the chambers are located at opposite sides of a great center rotunda. Standing guard at the entrance to each chamber is a pair of gigantic brass doors, weighing in at 1,700 pounds apiece. When the doors are opened and the legislature is in session, the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate (the General Assembly’s two presiding officers) can face one another from their respective podiums across the rotunda.
Hanging behind the Speaker’s podium in the House chamber for the last 50 years are four exquisitely designed hand-embroidered tapestries depicting the coats of arms of the eight Lords Proprietor. The Lords Proprietor were eight Englishmen to whom King Charles II granted, by the Carolina Charters of 1663 and 1665, joint ownership of a tract of land in the New World called the colony of “Carolina.” These charters initiated the first official government of what is now the great state of North Carolina.
But the building, for all its grandeur, isn’t the easiest for the public (or sometimes even the legislators themselves) to navigate. Its cavernous halls are confusing and the passageways all look somewhat the same, so it’s easy to get lost. In fact, during the discussion of the resolution honoring the building this past week, Representative Leo Daughtry offered this light-hearted anecdote:
“I first came to this building in 1989 to serve in the Senate and…I looked for my office for about two hours and I couldn’t find it. And I didn’t want to ask anybody how to find my own office. When I finally found my office, then I couldn’t find the bathroom — and I still have trouble today,” he reminisced to warm and sympathetic laughter from his colleagues on the House floor.
“I still get turned around in this building,” Daughtry continued. “It’s the strangest built building I’ve ever been in — but it’s served its purpose all these years. It’s sort of like serving in this body: it does strange things…but somehow it works itself out.”
The Legislative Building is the People’s House: the authority to make laws in the State of North Carolina rests here. And this week, we celebrate its 50th birthday — and remember those who built it for us.