Tag Archives: Capitol Lake

Miller and O’Connell: Revisiting Capitol Lake

The previous two newsletters contained articles on the history of Capitol Lake, whose authors maintain divergent conclusions. As our newsletter policies maintain, the Olympia Historical Society welcomes submissions on any subject of local history and does not take positions on the points of view of our contributors.

Mr. Miller submitted the following:

Unfortunately the membership of the Olympia Historical Society was purposefully deceived by an article in the June newsletter by Emmett O’Connell entitled: “The Myth of Connection between Wilder and White and Capitol Lake.” The article was false on two counts. First it is an historical fact that Wilder and White’s 1911 plan for the State Capitol Campus included the reflecting Capitol Lake. The August 29, 1911, “Report of Group Plan” signed by Wilder and White and which is in the State Archives states: “A tide lock at the Boulevard would form a lake and the whole effect would be visible from most parts of the city as well as from the sound.” A full copy of the document is attached. Second, Mr. O’Connell deceptively overlays the 1912 Olmsted Brothers plan, which was rejected by the State Capitol Commission, as if it was the Wilder and White plan for Capitol Lake and the Campus. This history is clearly laid out in Professor Norman J. Johnston’s definitive book on the subject: Washington’s Audacious State Capitol, at pages 33-37 and page 124.

Mr. O’Connell submitted the following:

I have two thoughts about the discussion reflecting the piece I submitted earlier this year on the history of Capitol Lake.

First, in “The myth of the connection between Wilder and White and Capitol Lake” I opaquely described the early history of the Wilder and White era of capitol campus design. Based on a master’s thesis by Mark Epstein, I overlayed the Olmsted Brother’s plan for a more limited lagoon with the current Capitol Lake. I don’t think I was wrong in showing that overlay, but I would admit that I didn’t explain it well.

According the Norman Johnston, the Olmsted’s group plan was rejected in 1912 not because of its more limited lake, but because it suggested a new axis for the campus. The axis on which the group would be built was an important consideration for the Capitol Commission, as explained below.

By the time the campus landscape planning was completed in the late 1920s, the Olmsted Brothers were brought back in by the commission, and depending on what history you believe, waterfront improvements either reverted back to the Olmsted’s vision (according to Epstein) or were dropped altogether (according to Johnston).

Second, I find the suggestion that Walter Wilder and Harry White’s “Report of Group Plan” as the last word in any discussion of Capitol Lake’s history troubling. Yes, they did mention a lake in that letter, but its worth exploring the entire letter to see the lake’s context in their minds.

The “Report of Group Plan” is correspondence from Wilder and White to the Capitol Commission dated August 29, 1911. The document is just over 4 pages long and in it Wilder and White quickly lay out three questions to be answered by the letter:

1. Was Olympia the right place for a permanent state capitol for Washington State?

2. Can the city express any special character possessed by the state?

3. Can Olympia’s growth be directed to “enhance the importance of the state.” This was an important question because capitol buildings in many older states had become crowded and overgrown by their host cities.

In terms of the first question, Wilder and White demur because of their limited knowledge of the state. They do point out that a coastal city was a proper choice because the state itself is coastal. And, in terms of Olympia’s small size compared to other cities, Wilder and White point out that the city can be more attentive to the needs of the state government than trying to compete with Tacoma or Seattle.

Wilder and White move quickly from the second question into the third, answering that it is:

…in the possibilities that (Olympia) contains for expressing the character of the state, that the city in general as well as the site for the capitol is remarkable, and we believe careful development of these possibilities, will result in an effect unequalled by any capitol in the world.

Most of the report (the remaining three pages) deal with answering the third question, how Olympia’s growth could be shaped to emphasis the capitol campus they proposed.

They then discuss the alternative of the north south orientation of the campus that they recommend, the east west orientation which would connect the campus to Capitol Way (Main Street then). Wilder and White criticize this approach, calling it “nothing but an accidental importance, starting nowhere and ending indefinitely…” Changing the approach to the east would also turn the capitol’s back on Olympia and ignore the approach from the water.

More specific recommendations reconnect their vision of the north south axis with the possibilities they earlier mentioned. They go into detail about a new road, which would be a possible extension of 4th Avenue, that would “connect the main ridges contained within the city” and continue to coastal towns. This road would be connected to the campus by another, which would extend along the east shore of what is now Capitol Lake and continue to the then proposed Pacific Highway and then onto Tumwater.

Wilder and White then propose regrading the hill between Water Street and the campus, creating space for a park-like setting for city and “other public buildings.”

Then, they discuss the building of a tide lock at the boulevard first mentioned earlier to “form a lake and the whole effect would be visible from most parts of the city as well as from the Sound.” In the entire document, this is the only mention of a tide lock and a lake.

Then follows a more philosophical discussion of why the city growing the manner they prescribe, while a sacrifice, would benefit Olympia in the long run. They quickly pivot from their specific recommendations about the growth of the city to the benefits that would be created by “any sacrifice made by property owners in the city for the sake of its beauty…”

The sacrifices on the part of the city would, in our opinion, be trifling compared to the advantages that would accrue from them, while the development outlined would facilitate the natural travel through the city and direct it past the most beautiful portions.

They then propose that the “present park” – Sylvester Park as far as I can tell – should be physically connected to their park and civic district proposed for below the campus.

They then cover their opinion of whether a foundation laid during a previous capitol building effort should be employed. Wilder and White write that taking into consideration the entire cost of the capitol campus, the sunk cost of an old set of foundations should not be considered, especially if they interfere with their design.

At the close of the letter, they refer to the need for more detailed plans for the campus.

While Wilder and White do mention a lake in this letter, it is important to put their suggestion in context. The reference is a single sentence in a more than four page long letter. It is also one suggestion of how the city itself should grow.

This is an important point in the discussion of the campus and Capitol Lake. By placing the lake in the discussion of how the city should grow and outside the group plan, they make it secondary. Their primary concern with the letter is the axis upon which the group is oriented. Obviously the city should grow around that axis, but that growth is secondary to the axis itself.

Also, like the grading between Water Street and the campus, the road to Tumwater and the location of a post office and other civic buildings below the campus, very little of what Wilder and White wanted in Olympia’s growth actually happened. In fact, the lake is practically the only thing they advised that was carried through.

Also, by using words like “sacrifice” when talking about the city’s growth, its also questionable whether Wilder and White ever saw these improvements as even part of the capitol campus. It seems likely that the roads, civic buildings and the lake would be constructed by the city itself and be complimentary to the campus.

I’m not trying to point out that Wilder and White didn’t envision a lake at the base of the campus. What I am trying to do is put their vision in its proper context. Their suggestion of a lake wasn’t the first one and the connection between what Wilder and White actually suggested and what eventually came about is tenuous.

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O’Connell: The Myth of Connection Between Wilder and White and Capitol Lake

This article originally appeared on the Squaxin Island Tribe’s Natural Resource Department Weblog and was reprinted here as another view of the history of the development of Capitol Lake. The Olympia Historical Society takes no positions on the analysis or conclusions of the authors who submit articles for consideration in our newsletters.


The creation of what we now know as Capitol Lake was not the natural outgrowth of a landscaping plan for the Capitol Campus. Rather, it was the result of a decades-long lobbying effort by local businessmen, politicians and city-fathers to create an appealing water feature and “scrape the moss off” Olympia.

Recently, lake defenders have distorted the origin story of Capitol Lake for use as a cloak of legacy. The defenders of the lake present the argument that the Wilder and White plan for the campus was the origin of the lake idea. This position is wrong. They claim that restoring the estuary would disparage our own history. The true origins of Capitol Lake inform not only our misunderstanding of local history, but also how we move forward with the future of the lake and the Deschutes River estuary.

The initial campus plan called for a modest reflecting pool, but it was a group of prominent Olympia citizens that suggested creating a much larger lake by impounding the Deschutes River with a dam running east-to-west. This more drastic proposal was not embraced by the State Capitol Commission and was immediately rejected.

The first suggestion of a dam at the mouth of the Deschutes actually pre-dates Wilder and White by more than a decade. Ironically, Leopold Schmidt, the founder of the Olympia Brewing Company, proposed damming the river with a set of locks in 1895 to facilitate shipping to his planned brewery. Later opposition by Tumwater and the Olympia Brewing Company would prove to be the largest impediment to the damming of the river for decades to follow.

Capitol Planners Called For Free Flowing Deschutes River

During the early days of drafting a capitol campus plan, Wilder and White worked with the large and renowned Olmsted Brother firm to develop a larger landscape plan for the campus. Based on Wilder and White’s rough drawings that included some sort of reflecting pool, the Olmsted firm added more detail to the plans.

There are numerous representations by Wilder and White about what shape the campus could eventually take. This image below in particular has been used by current lake defenders as the best representation of what their vision for the lake was.


This is actually a draft that was meant to show the arrangement of the buildings in the capitol group, not to show any details of any proposed water feature. While you could read into the picture a proposal similar to the current lake, it included no actual detail of how that would be accomplished. It simply presented the idea of a pond.

When the planners started putting details down on paper, John Olmsted wrote about a reflecting pool that changed with the tides. From a Jan. 19, 1912 letter to the State Capitol Commission:

…extend a dike with a driveway upon it along the east side of the channel from Capitol Park to 6th Street (Legion Way) and to acquire all the flats between the river and the proposed Capitol Avenue, this area to be mainly devoted to a salt water pond which would be kept nearly up to high water level, merely fluctuating a foot or two at every tide so as to ensure a change of water.

(Epstein, 66).

Here is the more detailed plan for the Wilder/White and Olmsted saltwater pond laid over a more current aerial photo of Capitol Lake:


This reflecting pool would have had a much smaller footprint than the current version. Olmsted, along with architects Walter Wilder and Harry White never intended to block the Deschutes River or block the incoming tide to create a reflecting pool.

Actually, the entire idea behind the originally proposed reflecting pool was to take advantage of the tides. The pool itself would be filled by salt water and refreshed by the tides. A sill would keep the pond filled and ensure mudflats weren’t exposed, but the tide would not be totally blocked.

As late as 1927, when construction of the domed legislative building was in full swing, the designers of the campus continued to pursue the modest saltwater tidal pond rather than an aggressively dammed estuary (Epstein, 67).

Carlyon’s Lake becomes Capitol Lake

Today’s Capitol Lake strongly resembles a plan drawn up by former Olympia mayor and state legislator P.H. Carlyon. His 1916 plan would have included a dam at 4th Avenue (just north of the current dam), replacing the wooden bridge that at the time spanned the mouth of the Deschutes River.

While the Carlyon lake plan was likely popular locally, it lacked any further support:

Vigorously oppose closing waterway

City’s proposal is fought at hearing before state commissioner.

…State Lands Commissioner Clark V. Salvidge has taken under advisement the petition presented by the city of Olympia and by Senator P.H. Carlyon in a hearing before him last Tuesday, for the vacation of the Des Chutes waterway, the construction of a dam in the river at Fourth street and the creation of a lake south of that street…

The city officials and Dr. Carlyon are practically alone in their advocacy of the change…

(Olympia News, 1916)

Carlyon’s lake was impossible at the time for two reasons:

  • The so-called Des Chutes Waterway was privately owned. The state-owned Capitol Campus at the time was limited to the bluff at Capitol Point and didn’t include any lowlands. It wouldn’t be until 1937 that the state started a serious effort to purchase property that would be inundated by a dam.
  • Closing the Deschutes by an east-to-west running dam would stop water traffic from reaching Tumwater and possibly ruin power generation at the Deschutes falls. In the early 1900s, Tumwater’s downtown businesses still depended on water traffic.

Carlyon’s lake proposal was not his first effort in municipal terraforming. During his time as mayor of Olympia, he made significant efforts to complete the Carlyon fill, which created dozens of city blocks on the east side of downtown. This fill coincidentally also obliterated acres of the Moxlie and Indian creek estuaries. (Newell, 242)

Carlyon’s interest in the construction of the eventual permanent capitol campus (and lake) was primarily to put Olympia in its proper place among northwest cities.

This episode took place soon after the initial approval of the Wilder and White plan in 1911 (Newell 246):

Olympians were delighted when the plan for a complete capitol group was complete… (but) Everett boosters had been engaged in a last minute plot to steal the capital for their city and a bill had been introduced to move the supreme court and library to Seattle.

…Representative H.E. Foster of King county led the opposition with the traditional charge that Olympia was a sleepy village inhabited by mossbacks. “What has Olympia ever done for the state?” he wanted to know. “Although it’s been the seat of government for 50 years it has been at a standstill, progressing very little. Olympia is asleep and does not deserve any consideration from us.”

Dr. Carlyon, representative from Thurston County, having just put together the great downtown dredge and fill project, was speechless with indignation. William Ray, also of King County, added his voice to the defenders of the capital city, explaining that “the reason Olympia hasn’t been going ahead with other cities in the Northwest is simply this: every legislative session, some cranks come down here with some idea of moving the capital and agitate the question during the session. No business man or eastern capital is going to invest here until the question is settled once and for all…”

Even though it was rejected soundly in 1916, the Carlyon’s Deschutes Waterway project did not go away.

In 1937 the state Legislature allowed the use of bond revenue from state trust land to start buying property along the Deschutes waterway, the first step in the process to complete the aggressive lake plan. A 1941 ad for a mayoral candidate listed “develop the Deschutes Waterway” as a campaign goal (Olympia News-Graphic, 1940).

In early 1941, with the land in the waterway being bought up by the state (Olympia News, March 1941), a delegation of state capitol campus commissioners and “prominent Olympians” visited a Tumwater town meeting to persuade their neighbors to drop their objections to the larger lake plan. And, by a 29-3 vote, the Tumwater residents agreed. (Olympia News, June 1941). Among the reasons for Tumwater’s acquiescence was a new overland rail line that made shipping by water unnecessary.

Olympia’s final push for Capitol Lake

The final 1947 debate on whether to fund closing the Deschutes waterway was certainly a debate between Thurston County and the rest of the state. The proposal to issue $1 million in bonds for the project actually received a negative vote in a House committee due to its proposed funding mechanism.

Rep. Ella Wintler (R-Vancouver), chair of the committee that gave the negative vote, was quoted as opposing the bill because it took the state’s priority away from constructing buildings. She added that the only reason it advanced to the House floor after receiving a poor committee report was because of consideration for Olympia’s Rep. George Yantis. (Daily Olympian, February 1947)

Rep. George Kinnear (R-King County) added:

It is high time the Legislature settled down and realized we are in big business. Miss Wintler’s thoughts are so sound they are irrefutable. There are serious responsibilities we have begun to overlook the business for which we are here – conducting the business of the state.

After passing the House, it was only because of an extraordinary effort by another Olympia state senator, that the bill got any consideration in the Senate. State Sen. Carl Mohler (Thurston County) worked out a deal with a Senate committee chair to give the committee extra time to consider the bill. Mohler’s arguments put a strong emphasis on the project’s funding; the funds would come from a trust, not directly from the pockets of taxpayers. (Daily Olympian, March 1947).

The lake bill passed by a 70-20 vote in the House and a 29-4 vote in the Senate, but only because state Legislators from Olympia pushed hard for it. The lake bill was not considered a high priority otherwise.

An editorial in the Olympian (and reprinted in the Tacoma News-Tribune) as construction on the lake was about to begin in 1948 gives credit where credit is due (Tacoma News-Tribune, 1948):

Campaigning for the basin was a discouraging task at times but city officials, the chamber of commerce, various civic and fraternal organizations, real estate groups and numerous individuals kept plugging away until their perseverance was rewarded last week by the assurance that a long-fondled hope at least will be translated into reality.

News that the much-needed improvement will be started as soon as is feasible was received with immense satisfaction by the residents of Olympia and suburban areas… (Capitol Lake) will be a source of much pleasure to the people who already are established here, but also will convince visitors that Olympia is a mighty pleasant place in which to live and work.

The advocacy, funding and creation of Capitol Lake goes well beyond the intention of the capitol campus designers. Their intention was for a modest reflecting pool as part of the landscape of campus in balance with the built environment of the campus and the surrounding landscape. It was not unreasonable for the designers of the campus to consider a reflecting pool, but what ended up being built was an obese exaggeration.

When you view the Wilder, White and Olmsted tidal pond in the true historic context, it is only one mention in decades of discussion, certainly not the original vision.

Works Cited

“Capitol Lake Plan Sent to State Senate” Daily Olympian, March 4, 1947.

“Des Chutes Basin Plan to be Aired at Meet Tuesday” Olympia News, June 12, 1941.

“Deschutes Basin Improvement Gets Unfavorable Report to Legislature” Daily Olympian, February 26, 1947.

“Details on Basin Project Wanted” Olympia News, March 7, 1941.

Epstein, Mark B. “A history of the Washington state capitol landscape.” 1992

“Improvement at Olympia” Tacoma News Tribune, July 21, 1948.

Lane, Horrace M. “Letter to the Citizens of Olympia” Olympia News-Graphic, November 21, 1940.

“Last Objection to Improvement Withdrawn” Olympia News, June 19, 1941.

“Leopold Schmidt Announces Plans to Build Brewery” The Daily Olympian, September 18, 1895.

Newell, Gordon. “Rogues, Buffoons and Statesmen.” 1975

“Senate Approves Lake Project” Daily Olympian, March 10, 1947.

“Vigorously Oppose Closing Waterway” Olympian News, Friday, May 26, 1916.

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Miller: Centennial of the Wilder and White Plan

Centennial of the Wilder and White Plan for Capitol Campus

By: Allen Miller with assistance from Professor Emeritus Norman J. Johnston, Ralph Munro, and Leavitt White

GxOQ903iA century ago, on both coasts of America, the curtain of history was about to go up on a transcontinental drama still being played out today. In the West the setting could be found on a bluff above the muddy tide flats of the Deschutes River in Olympia. In the East the setting was the midtown-Manhattan office of two young architects with a dream and an ambition that propelled them to historic achievement. That dream and achievement involved the design and construction of Washington’s classical and monumental state capitol campus in the style of the City Beautiful movement in 1911.

Of special interest in the Washington drama is the initial, exciting frame of mind of the New York architects Walter Robb Wilder and Harry Keith White. They had started out together on big projects at the New York City firm known as McKim, Mead and White (no relation to Harry). Now in their mid thirties and entering a new partnership, Wilder and White were about to begin their stunning 18 years of service to Washington, one of the youngest states in the Union.

In the spring of 1911 these young partners entered a national competition for the selection of architects to develop a plan for Washington’s proposed capitol campus. In May, Harry White’s overnight note to his bride-to-be, Blossom Randolph in nearby Plainfield, New Jersey, confirmed the spark of this memorable moment:

Have just finished our entry…..We think it’s good

…..very good……classic, eye-catching, a very

sound plan. Worked two nights till 1:30, then

3 A.M. Wednesday to get things just right…….

Had extra time today, before Western mails closed

At six….Got to the counter on time with our best

Effort yet….Now, some rest!

Wilder and White incorporated five design principles into their plan for the State Capitol Campus. These principles include:  (1) the City Beautiful Movement, (2) the Capitol Group of buildings, an unprecedented design of separate legislative, executive, and judicial buildings to look like a singular Capitol building when viewed from Budd Inlet, downtown Olympia, and the Fourth Avenue Bridge, (3) the borrowed landscape of the Olympic Mountains and Budd Inlet to frame the design (4) the northern orientation of the Capitol Group and Campus to Budd Inlet and the Olympics and (5)  a lake to reflect the beautiful buildings on the bluff.

On August 3, 1911 the competition judges and the State Capitol Commission unanimously selected Wilder and White’s proposal as the winning concept for Washington’s new state capitol campus. The New York architects not only captured the crown with their group building plan but also the separate commission to design the first building in the set, the Temple of Justice.

The City Beautiful movement was a Progressive Era land use and architectural design experience of urban renewal, large in scale, rich in detail, and providing a sense of national wealth and power. The 1901-02 McMillan Plan for the National Mall in Washington D.C. exudes the City Beautiful movement with its grand buildings, long viewscapes, and reflecting pools and lakes. Closer to home, the Olmsted Brothers’ plan for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition on the University of Washington Campus with its grand Rainier Vista also encapsulates the City Beautiful movement.

In an August 29, 1911 “Report of Group Plan” to the State Capitol Commission the architects concluded that “a tide lock would form a lake and the whole effect would be visible from most parts of the city as well as from the sound.” This part of the Wilder and White plan was delayed by World War II but became a reality in 1951 with the creation of Capitol Lake. The promenade from the bluff down to Capitol Lake and out to Budd Inlet was constructed in the 1990’s during the first decade of the 21st Century with the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial, the North Capitol Campus Trail, an amphitheater, the Arc of Statehood from the Western Washington Inlet to the Eastern Washington Butte with thirty-nine county commemorative markers, and the City of Olympia’s interactive fountain on the Isthmus.

From the beginning of 1911, it was immediately apparent that the success of the project would depend not just on partners Wilder and White but also on their endless consultations with engineers, a carefully selected sculptor, and numerous vendors. Another crucial element would be the hard work and personal motivation of hundreds of craftsmen. Sparked by the architects’ own inspiration, a responsive feeling grasped the minds of the supporting cast, “the circles of planners and builders” who became focused on the new state project of the Washington State Capitol Campus.

In January 1913 Wilder touched on his own initial thoughts in a short article for Pacific Coast Architect. Said Wilder, in part:

In any state capitol, there is more at issue than

is at once obvious. Far above excellence of detail,

of plan and evaluation is the expression of the dignity

of the state….. it should be characteristic of the

particular state…..Fortunately, Olympia is wonderfully

expressive of the State of Washington. Its location

at the head of Puget Sound, with water and mountains

in every direction, makes it distinctive beyond most

capital cities. What is true of the city is particularly

true of the sites elected for the capitol buildings themselves.

The problem is to preserve [and enhance] this expression……Olympia being the state capital, the people

of the whole state are vitally concerned…..public

opinion should be aroused to protect [the new

monumental structures}.


The architects’ dedication to their Washington project was certainly challenged in the next decade. The initial decision was to build the first unit, the Temple of Justice, “in brick,” leaving its sandstone exterior facing till the end. World War I and economic problems intervened. Half a dozen years passed before the classical judicial building was finished. In this period, the source of quality sandstone was established at the Walker Cut Stone Company in nearby Tacoma. Walker’s key quarry was in Wilkeson, a coal-mining town near Mount Rainier.

In the 1920’s one of Walker’s senior craftsmen was a stone carver named Alexander McKenzie Munro. Having been born in Scotland, at age 13 he grabbed the chance to become an apprentice stonecutter on the Scottish Castle in Beauly. Then, as a new journeyman at 19, he bonded with a group of young Scots coming to America “to build a better life.” The Scots were recruited to work on the new Texas capitol, but they backed off when labor problems developed. After stone jobs in Kansas and Denver, they headed for Seattle. There in 1889 the catastrophic “Big Fire” spelled opportunity.

When in his 50’s Alex Munro joined the Walker Cut Stone Company to work on the Washington State Capitol project, his stone carving kits included a remarkable 600 chisels, mallets, and various specialty tools. His most important assets, however, were his know-how and his leadership gathered from long years in the trade. Alex was at the apex of his career as a stone carver, superbly ready for the grandest, most honorable and most distinctive project he had ever seen. He would be capping his active years by working on the Washington State Capitol.

In the 1920’s a dramatic variety of carvings was specified for the structure. Every day, as Munro worked on the ornate stone petals and figures-90 feet or more above ground he knew what a unique “margin of excellence” was going into this classical structure. So it was this craftsman and his colleagues who produced the fine decorative carvings and helped stamp the Legislative Building with a unique mark. For generations of Washingtonians that “margin of excellence” has reinforced the capitol’s character and quality while also helping to define the state’s ever-evolving democracy.

There’s more to the Alexander McKenzie Munro story. On Bainbridge Island he and his Scottish wife raised ten children. In due course came grandchildren, including a grandson named Ralph. He had arrived in 1943, seven years after Alexander Munro died; but Ralph grew up hearing a good deal about his special grandfather. Ralph, of course, grew up to serve in the great capitol building his grandfather helped build as Washington’s Secretary of State.

Through the years, the state capitol campus has built its own constituency. Countless generations of legislators, their staffs, plus a flood of temporary student pages have been gripped by the thrill of working in and around this classical structure. “This is one cool building and landscape!” exclaims almost every new young page walking the corridors and the park-like setting between the buildings. Statewide officials and their staffs have come under the same spell. They revere the marble halls, the towering dome, the feeling of grandeur, and the magnificent view across Capitol Lake to Budd Inlet and the Olympic Mountains beyond. It’s a feeling shared by the Olympia community, even the news media, and certainly by the guides who host tourists. Also in the limelight in recent decades: the dramatic increase in student visitors who have found new opportunities to learn about government from the hometown legislators, often with an informal bag lunch on the indoor capitol steps and finding their home-county marker along the Arc of Statehood adjacent to Capitol Lake in the North Campus. It’s an educational experience etched in the minds of young people all across Washington.

In the 1950’s, 30 years after Wilder and White finished their project, architect Harry White took up his own vacation tours of the capitol. He joined his close friend and former associate, Jay Johnston, who had represented the New York architects in Olympia during construction days. Revisiting the legislative chambers and chatting with current government leaders, they saw the fulfillment of the early State Capitol Commission’s dreams. In the 1920’s Wilder and White and Jay Johnston had reached with hope and daring to build a dynamic monument to state democracy. Now Harry White and Jay Johnston delighted in the pride they observed everywhere. The “magic” was still in the air!

Another 30 years later Jay Johnston’s son, Professor Norman J. Johnston, was a leading educator in architecture and urban planning at the University of Washington when he decided to research and tell the capitol’s story. In his 1988 authoritative history, Washington’s Audacious State Capitol and Its Builders, Professor Johnston captured the flavor and reality of how the state came to build its remarkable capitol campus.

Johnston’s penetrating study developed fascinating facts. On one point he was very direct: “In contrast to similar efforts in other states, the history of the Legislative Building project was free of scandal…..” In prior years, as Johnston knew, this taint of corruption had been part and parcel of state capitol construction in other states.

In 1911, when the bold project had first been approved, the population of the entire state barely exceeded 800,000. The Legislative Building and other core campus structures in Olympia were funded by timber revenues from the original 1889 federal land grants to the state. No state taxpayer dollars were used.

During the last one hundred years, the Campus has survived three earthquakes and has expanded as envisioned by Wilder and White to include Capitol Lake and the North Capitol Campus Heritage Park. We have much to celebrate as we approach August 3, 2011, the centennial of the adoption of the greatest land use plan for our State Capital City. We need to be ever-vigilant to preserve, protect, and perfect the great Wilder and White plan on its 100th birthday and thereafter.

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