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‘A piece of history for your house’: Missouri auctions stone salvaged from Capitol Building

Ronnie Bates of Eugene looks over paving stones prior to Friday’s auction of dense Burlington limestone salvaged from the Missouri Capitol Building during a renovation project. (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent)
Rudi Keller
Missouri Independent
Ronnie Bates of Eugene looks over paving stones prior to Friday’s auction of dense Burlington limestone salvaged from the Missouri Capitol Building during a renovation project.

On Friday morning, stones quarried more than 100 years ago performed one last service for Missouri.

Until recently, the dense white Burlington limestone pieces were part of the state Capitol Building completed in 1917. They provided surfaces for sidewalks and staircases, and formed rims for the three fountains that have attracted thousands of art students looking for subjects.

There were balusters, columns and medallions from the dome.

Retired from their original purpose during recent work to restore and preserve the exterior of the Capitol Building, on Friday they were auctioned with the proceeds dedicated to future needs of the Capitol.

The auction attracted both serious bidders and people who wanted to see, or perhaps take home, a piece of history.

“I think it is fantastic,” said Keke Walker of Columbia. “It would be so great to have a piece of history for your house.”

Called “Carthage marble” for the southwest Missouri community near the quarry where it was mined, the dense stone was prized for its durability but the supply was exhausted about 1970. That made the auction one of the first chances to obtain usable quantities in decades.

The stones were set out on hundreds of pallets, some stacked seven high with pavers weighing 100 to 250 pounds. Bids were taken by auctioneer Bill Gratz for each lot of five to seven pallets.

Buyers were given two weeks to remove their purchases.

“I brought a pickup but I didn’t know it would be that much in a row,” said Ronnie Bates of Eugene, a small town in Cole County.

The stone being auctioned represents approximately 5% of the stone originally used on the exterior, said Dana Rademan Miller, chief clerk of the Missouri House and member of the Missouri State Capitol Commission.

“What’s happened over the years is the elements penetrate the stone, ener natural fissures and little holes, and the freeze thaw cycle of water and air over and over throughout the seasons,” Miller said.

The sale started off well, with bids of $1,000 or more for some lots. New paving stones cost approximately $24 a square foot. The largest paving stones on sale were 9 square feet.

The sale, even if only a fraction of the salvaged stone is sold, was an opportunity to put the stones to new use, Miller said.

“We felt very strongly that this is a big part of our history here,” Miller said. “We didn’t want to see it just ending up in a landfill or being used for fill.”

Building the Capitol cost about $3 million starting in 1912, approximately $88.5 million today, and restoring the stonework was a job that cost about $55 million over many years.

And this year, lawmakers made a down payment of $300 million on the next big project on the Capitol grounds, which includes subterranean staff offices and committee rooms for the Missouri House.

The present Capitol Building, the sixth to house Missouri’s government, was built as a replacement for the building destroyed by fire in 1911. The last major reworking of the space came in the early 1980s, after the Truman State Office Building was constructed.

For the first time, every representative in the 163-member Missouri House had their own office. But for members of the minority party and junior members of the majority, that meant space about the size of a walk-in closet, stacked to create a mezzanine level that is inaccessible to people with disabilities.

A master plan prepared for the Capitol commission in 2019 by MOCA Systems Inc. recommends expanding underground in what would be the biggest construction project on the Capitol grounds since the building itself was completed.

The plan envisions a 145,000 square foot building below ground level on the south side of the Capitol Building. It would provide space for committee hearing rooms and staff offices.

“It was described as we are going to dig a hole, we are going to build the building and put the dirt back on top of it,” Senate Administrator and Capitol Commission Chairman Patrick Baker said.

There would be a skylight to allow natural light to enter, but when work was completed, the lawn, with its fountains and expanses of grass, would be replaced, the plan states.

“By expanding underground, the plan will preserve the main stairway and the south Capitol lawn, grounds and monuments for continued public use and inaugural ceremonies,” the report states.

Members of the commission will visit Austin, Texas, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, where underground facilities for lawmakers have already been constructed, Baker said.

The entire master plan has a price tag of $521 million, with approximately $350 million for construction costs, with much of the rest for architectural work, construction oversight and furnishings.

The project would be built in phases, with the underground expansion in the first phase to provide space for shifting current offices while the remaining phases are completed. While the commission is working from the master plan, it would have to be updated, both to recognize increasing construction costs or make adjustments in other ways, Baker said.

“It is a living, breathing, certainly not finalized plan,” Baker said.

Other major elements of the plan include:

  • A complete renovation of the basement, including removal of parking spaces used by statewide elected officials and legislative leadership. The primary use of the space would be 78 offices for members of the Missouri House.
  • A new parking garage to replace the 308-space Senate garage constructed in the 1960s. The new garage would add 250 spaces for the public because parking on the circle drive south of the Capitol would be eliminated.
  • Restoring the Capitol to “original architectural integrity” by reworking the space to allow natural lighting, removing drop ceilings and duct work that obscures the beauty of the building.

The $300 million appropriated by lawmakers is a deposit to the Capitol Commission’s fund, but the bill doesn’t actually allow any money to be spent in the coming fiscal year. It does, however, show a commitment from lawmakers to the project, Miller said.

“This is huge for us because there was a consensus and an effective majority agreement among the members that we needed to look at the interior of the building,” Miller said. “We’ve sealed the building envelope by completing that exterior project. However, there are a number of areas of need that we need to address inside the building now.”

With an unprecedented surplus approaching $3 billion in the general revenue fund, the commission hopes to get the rest of the money next year, Baker said.

“It would be dishonest to say we are going to begin phase one without securing the rest of the money,” Baker said.

On the north side of the Capitol, above the portico outside the governor’s office, a frieze by Hermon MacNeil allegorically depicts the changing civilizations that have used the Missouri River for transportation, Bob Priddy and Jeffrey Ball wrote in “The Art of the Missouri Capitol.”

On the south side, Alexander Stirling Calder’s 138-foot frieze depicts 300 years of Missouri history, as the original Capitol Commission requested, to be “an allegory of Government, Missouri pledging freedom and protection to its citizens and loyalty to its sister states.”

MacNeil is best known for designing the Standing Liberty quarter minted from 1916 to 1930 and Justice, the Guardian of Liberty on the east pediment of the United States Supreme Court building. Calder’s most widely acclaimed work is the figure of George Washington on the Washington Square Arch in New York and the Swann Memorial Fountain in Philadelphia.

The friezes were part of the original design, but the state was able to hire such talent to do the work because the tax levied to build the Ccapitol brought in far more than expected.

The original budget was $500,000 for site expansion, decorations and furnishings, but the voter-approved tax raised an extra $700,000 and made the building a living museum of work by the most prominent artists of the period.

The frieze panels include incredible details, in figures 7½-feet high for the north frieze and 6 feet tall on the south. But their elevation makes seeing those details difficult.

It may be possible, sometime in the future, to see those details up close on the clay and plaster models created by the artists for the stonecutters. After they were no longer needed, the models, one-quarter to one-half the size of the actual friezes, were donated to the University of Missouri.

For years, they were displayed in Jesse Hall but more recently they have been held in storage at the old Ellis Fishel State Cancer Center building, now known as Mizzou North. MU has offered to donate them back to the state, but they have to be out by June 30, Baker said.

“We had gone and initially looked at the friezes, and we said, yes, we would like them,” Baker said.

MU is demolishing the building but no date has been set, spokesman Christian Basi said. The building must be emptied for demolition, he said.

“We want to move people out and have them in their locations on campus as fast as we can in a reasonable, safe and detailed manner,” Basi said.

The frieze models are in crates so their overall condition is unknown, Baker said. The intent is to move them to Jefferson City and while they are in storage to prepare a space where some or all can be displayed, he said.

If the state didn’t take them, he said, the university was going to dispose of them.

“They were either going to destroy them,” he said, “surplus them or give them away.”

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence.

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and state legislature as the Deputy Editor at The Missouri Independent.