Preservation in Mississippi is 10 years old today–can you believe it? Traditionally, we take the day of our anniversary to go back to the subject of the original MissPres post, the Old Capitol: not just one of Mississippi’s most historic sites and a great work of architecture, but also the site of Mississippi’s first preservation battle, a decade-long knock-down drag-out with ups and downs, dirty tricks, hurricanes, and a surprise ending courtesy of architect Theodore Link.
Since our first post in 2009 was about the restoration of the Old Capitol after the depredations of Hurricane Katrina, a restoration that involved covering the brick walls with stucco scored to resemble stone blocks, I thought it would be appropriate for our 10th anniversary post to highlight the first restoration of the building, the one that took the stucco off and exposed the red brick. This was a phase of the building that I think many people loved, Mississippians having an affinity for exposed red brick, but it turned out to be quite destructive to the building, as the low-fired brick weathered badly and needed the protection of the stucco to keep out moisture.
There’s always been a story that Charlotte Capers, who oversaw the project for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, demanded against the restoration architect’s wishes that the brick be exposed as more original to architect William Nichols design intent. I’ve never been sure how much credence to place in this story, but it is interesting that at least in the early planning stages in December 1958, architect John Ware of Overstreet, Ware & Ware, was expecting to repair the stucco finish, not remove it.
As we now know, the Old Capitol’s phase as a red brick state museum lasted until August 29, 2005, when it was unroofed for the second time in its life by a hurricane. It reopened in early 2009, just in time to become the subject of the first MissPres post of all time.
Old Capitol Project Gets BC’s Approval
By The Associated Press
The State Building Commission today approved a $1,567,948 restoration of the state’s 118-year-old Capitol building. The commission allocated $617,948 from its funds to complete the financing for the work and a $50,000 repair job on the dome of the new Capitol.
Already on hand was one million dollars from a bond issue.
The vote to undertake the project was unanimous, after Gov. J.P. Coleman, house speaker Walter Sillers and other members pressed for approval of the project and authorizing the extra funds. The restored building will be used as a state museum and will include house and senate chambers and the governor’s office as they originally were.
The old Capitol is at the head of Capitol street, the main street of Jackson, and is an imposing structure built with slave labor in 1840 at the cost of about $400,000. It is considered one of the nation’s best examples of Greek revival architecture.
Architect John Ware told the commission the work would involve strengthening the old building structurally, replacing the stone facing on the first floor and the stucco finish on the exterior of the second.
The North and South walls will be taken down and rebuilt [he wasn’t kidding, as attested in this rather horrifying picture from the MDAH collection of the construction work underway], the foundation stabilized and drainage work undertaken. The low bidder on the project was Robert C. Crouch of Memphis, Tenn., who entered a bid of $1,498,100. The contract, which will include the $50,000 new Capitol project, includes interior and exterior work and all incidentals except furnishings for the house and senate chambers and exhibit cases for the museum rooms. The present concrete stairways will be taken down and the two circular staircases at the front will be restored [meaning completely reconstructed since they had been removed in Link’s renovation of the building in 1917].
Coleman told the commission, “if we don’t see this thing through we could come back in 1960 and be confronted with a budget problem. No doubt exists in my mind that we’ll have one . . .”
The governor said he feared if the project were postponed it might not be undertaken in the future.
Coleman said the project was “of consequence to the entire state” and Sillers agreed. “I think we ought to go along with it.”
Coleman said if some building emergency arose a special session of the Legislature could be called, but that all of the money required for the job would not be needed for two years.
Ware, who drew up plans for the restoration, told the commission it could not spend more than one million dollars on the work through next year.
The Crouch bid said work would be completed in 550 calendar days after starting, which would mean almost two years would be required for the work.
Besides the $1,498,100 bid from Crouch, there would be $119,848 in architects costs for a total of $1,617,948, including the $50,000 in new Capitol work.
Clarion-Ledger, Dec. 12, 1958
More anniversary posts . . .