The State Capitol is the home of the state Senate and House and the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor. It is at the north end of Denver’s Civic Center complex.
The building opened in 1894 and features a Corinthian design by architect Elijah Myers. The building was constructed in the 1890s at a cost of $2.8 million, and its gold-plated dome was added in 1908 to commemorate the Colorado Gold Rush.
The building’s exterior is covered with granite from a quarry south of Gunnison, with the foundation and walls constructed of Fort Collins sandstone. The interior features white marble from a quarry at the town of Marble in Gunnison County that also provided marble for the Lincoln Memorial and the world’s entire supply of Colorado rose onyx from a quarry at Beulah.
The 272-foot-high dome was originally covered in copper, and residents complained when it became tarnished. Otto Mears, a pioneering roadbuilder in the Western Slope’s mining districts, persuaded the Colorado Mining Association to donate 200 ounces of 24-karat gold leaf, which was used to gild the copper dome in 1908. The dome was re-gilded in a 2014 renovation, using gold from Teller County, source of its original gold. Atop the dome is light beacon surrounded by a glass globe four feet in diameter.
A plaque on the west steps noted that the building was a mile above sea level, but it kept getting stolen, so the state engraved the words “One Mile Above Sea Level” on the 15th step in 1947. A second brass marker was set into the 18th step after a 1969 survey by a team of Colorado State University students found that it was 5,280 feet above sea level. Another measurement in 2003 that is regarded as the most accurate identified the 13th step as being 5,280 feet in altitude, and a third brass marker was placed there.
The rotunda is 45 feet in diameter and sits at the center of the Greek cross floor plan. The design, with 128 Corinthian-style columns lining the walls and the dome rising 150 feet above the first floor, gives the rotunda a stately grandeur and more than 220,000 cubic feet of public space. The walls feature 16 stained-glass windows with portraits of state pioneers who were chosen for the Colorado Hall of Fame.
The building’s grand staircase runs from the basement to the second floor in the middle of the rotunda, with 77 marble steps and 176 brass balustrades embellished with oak and olive leaves and acorns. Surrounding the staircase on the first floor are eight murals painted by Denver’s Alan True that tell the story of the development of water in Colorado.
The House of Representatives chambers seats the 65 representatives and features a stained glass window with a portrait of Barney Ford, the “Black Baron of Colorado,” a former slave who became a successful miner and restaurant and barbershop owner and an advocate of civil rights for blacks in Colorado.
The Senate chambers seats the 35 Senators and features stained glass portraits of 10 members of the Colorado Hall of Fame.
The Capitol’s dome and observation deck reopened to the public in 2014, following a nearly four-year restoration project, reversing weather damage and general deterioration to the structure. Its observation deck had been closed to visitors since 2006 due to structural issues.
The capitol offers free tours of the building and exterior, along with legislative tours for schools. Special tours, free but with reservations required, take visitors up 99 steps to an observation deck in the dome with a panoramic view that takes in Pikes Peak on the south and Long’s Peak on the north. There also is a free exhibit on Colorado history in a small museum on the third floor known as Mr. Brown’s Attic.