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Little-Known Facts About the California State Capitol

Little-Known Facts About the California State Capitol

California’s State Capitol building has its fair share of strange, interesting facts. Here are the ones you probably don't know—but should. Team


4 min read

October 04, 2020

California is famous for its endless opportunities, rich culture, ethereal nature, miles of coastline, and innumerable attractions. But the state also has a quirky side and a plethora of little-known weird facts. If you dig even deeper, you’ll find at least one strange law or peculiar fact in nearly every part of the Golden State. Sacramento isn’t an exception—there are numerous fun facts about the state capital of California thanks to its unique history, and California’s State Capitol also has its fair share of interesting facts.

Things You Didn't Know About the Sacramento Capitol Building 

Sacramento’s Capitol acts both as a museum and the state’s working seat of government. Whenever you’re visiting Sacramento for a weekend, the capitol building should be on your list—if not for its breathtaking Neoclassical architecture then for its intriguing history. Here are some fascinating secrets and architectural facts about the California State Capitol building that are sure to surprise you. 

Situated above the entrance to the State Capitol building, the Roman goddess Minerva represents California's direct rise to statehood.

1. You might not expect to see mythical characters in the capitol building, but it is full of symbols that allude to the identity and story of the state. On the façade and pediment of the building, you’ll spot the Roman goddess Minerva; according to Roman mythology, she was born fully grown. Similarly, California became a state without having first been a territory. Her image on the State Capitol building and the Great Seal symbolizes California’s direct rise to statehood. 

2. In the northern and southern hallways on the first floor of the State Capitol building, you can find four large tile groupings. The tiles create an image of Minerva seated with a California grizzly bear—the official state animal—and the word “Eureka” above them. “Eureka” is California's state motto; the Greek word means, “I have found it.”

California's capitol building is crowned with a gold-plated copper ball that represents the state's rich Gold Rush history.

3. California’s capitol building was modeled after the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. While many other capitol buildings in the nation are similarly designed, Sacramento’s is unique in that it doesn’t have a statue crowning its dome. Instead, it’s ornamented with a gold-plated copper ball that’s reminiscent of California’s Gold Rush history. The building’s majestic dome rises high into the sky of Sacramento, while inside, a smaller dome allows visitors to get a closer look at the Victorian details. 

4. Most of the ghost stories of California are connected to abandoned houses, mansions, or spooky hotels—but the California State Capitol building also has a chilling history. The construction of the building started on December 4, 1860, but it didn’t go smoothly due to floods, political and labor issues, and other problems. The series of delays in the process caused costs to skyrocket, putting a lot of pressure on principal architect Reuben Clark and eventually driving him insane (literally). In 1864, he was committed to a Stockton mental institution and passed away two years later. The building was finally completed in 1874.

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5. The California State Capitol Building is also a tale of two stones. If you take a closer look at the western façade of the building, you may see the two different types of granite used. The greyish, darker granite is from the nearby city of Folsom, while the lighter-hued granite is from Penryn.

The original plan was to build the structure using cast iron and stucco, but Clark argued that stone was more suitable for a building of such importance to the public. While sandstone was the original choice, it was determined that it would be too dark (and very expensive to transport), so granite became the best option in terms of aesthetics and cost. 

6. Sacramento was hit by two earthquakes within days of one another in 1892, and the California State Capitol building was damaged. Renovations took place between 1975 and 1982 to fix the damage, and it was recorded as the largest restoration project in U.S. history at that time.

In the heart of the California State Capitol is the rotunda, which rises nearly 100 feet from a circular walk on the second floor.

7. The initial architectural plan was to have visitors enter through a “doorway to democracy”—outside, a classical portico was meant to have a grand staircase and function as a doorway filled with statues. However, the staircase was never built due to construction costs. 

8. Capitol Park, which surrounds the Sacramento State Capitol, was home to a feline resident—Senator Capitol Kitty—for 13 years. No one knows exactly where she came from, but the beautiful black cat found a forever home in this Sacramento park. Capitol building employees always cared for her. She eventually became so famous that former First Lady Sharon Davis authored a fictional children’s book called The Adventures of Capitol Kitty. Though Senator Capitol Kitty passed away in 2004, her memory lives in. You can even visit her resting place near the south entrance of the State Capitol. 

9. Within the California State Capitol building is a museum containing a collection of artworks such as paintings, sculptures, and murals. They are displayed throughout the first floor in the East Annex and the West Wing in legislative conference rooms and leadership offices. So, you can admire art while also learning more about the state’s history during your visit. 

Things You Can Do Near the California State Capitol

Explore the stunning gardens of Capitol Park before continuing your Sacramento explorations.

Once you have exhausted the California State Capitol building itself, you can enjoy other fun attractions in the area. Here are some activities to check off your Sacramento bucket list. 

1. Stroll through Capitol Park to admire various memorials, and attractions such as the World Peace Rose Garden, and views of the capitol building.

2. Swing by the California State Library, the central reference and research library for state government and the Legislature.

3. Go on a Local Roots food tour. This Sacramento company offers a variety of culinary and cultural walking tours, so embark on a foodie-focused excursion to meet local restaurant owners and chefs and taste their signature dishes.

4. Visit the majestic Crest Theatre. This historic downtown venue features one of the most elegant interiors in Sacramento, with a beautiful Art Deco design and a ceiling gleaming with gold leaf. The theatre presents classic films and new releases and also hosts shows, concerts, and events.

5. Enjoy a cultural journey at the California Museum. Formerly known as The California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts, this attraction is located just a block away from the State Capitol. The museum features famous exhibitions such as the California Hall of Fame, California Indians, Constitution Wall, and more.  

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