Thursday, May 11, 2006

Pondering the NC Senate's makeover

When the N.C. General Assembly moved into its brand-new Legislative Building in 1963, its architecture reflected the state’s desire to modernize and fully join the 20th Century. The building had been commissioned in 1959, and the state selected architects Edward Durell Stone of New York as a principal designer. Work began in 1961, shortly after the inauguration of Gov. Terry Sanford, an ally of President John F. Kennedy, two adherents to the new-day, new generation theme of that era.
The N.C. Manual reports the architects wrote this description: “The State Legislative Building, though not an imitation of historic classic styles, is classical in character...”
Perhaps so. But some thought its crushed marble block walls looked like glorified cinderblock and its pyramidal roofs and big, 1,500 pound brass Senate and House doors a bit gaudy for a state that had long prided itself on not being too proud, too showy or too ostentatious. Some just called it tacky, the ultimate insult.
About eight years ago a few senators had it with their chamber and jokes about a showy brass backdrop to the Senate dais some called the wine rack. Plans were laid for redecorating in a major way, hiding the offensive block walls behind wallboard and coming up with a more, um, classical style for desks, chairs and the dais where the presiding officer and a host of clerks did their work. Economic slowdowns got in the way and delayed reconstruction until late last year.
When the Senate convened Tuesday, the public got its first good look at the results – the full effect, as the Southern saying goes. Adorning the walls were portraits of long-dead governors and other historical figures, including William R. Davie, a key figure in the founding of the University of North Carolina. There are new cherry desks and lovely blue chairs for senators with the Senate’s seal and – for those willing to shell out $750 to buy them – their names embossed into the top.
It’s quite a different look, soothing in some ways and pleasant enough. I was never a fan of the old crushed-Vermont-marble style, but it was an original and it was unique. And one day tastes will change again. A historic preservation movement might result in a decision – around 2050, I’d guess, by maybe sooner -- to tear out the 2005-06 revisions and return to the original scheme Stone envisioned 45 years ago.
If so, they’ll discover intact the original walls under the wallboard, and the wine rack is still there – covered over with a curved backdrop that now bears the state seal and a king’s ransom in crown molding. Pretty fancy for a state that didn’t have much use for royalty or its trappings, once upon a time.


David McKnight said...

But it is indeed a shame, Jack,
About losing that vintage wine rack!
N.C. wines now have great Geschmack--
They can bring the state's economy back.

Just so we're not seen as too humble,
Otherwise we'll never stir a rumble,
For Our Raleigh's not prone to fumble
A promo from Haywood clear to Columble.

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