Baton Rouge. When many think of heading to Louisiana’s capital they think traffic.
Many of us from Acadiana find of our capital city as the nuisance on the way to New Orleans or the beaches of the Gulf Coast. And while many of us do enjoy hanging with 100 thousand or our best friends at Tiger Stadium, when was the last time we really took the time to visit the home of our state government? It’s home to the tallest of all 50 state capitols at 449 feet tall, 460 if you include the flagpole.
“It was completed in 1932 at the coast of 5 million dollars,” says Shawn Braud information travel counselor at the state capitol. “It was the dream of Mr. Huey Long the governor at that time.”
But, why such a tall building?
“He fell in love with this state traveling as a young man as a cottonseed oil salesman,” says Braud. “He saw the poor conditions of our state and that’s when he started his grassroots campaign to become governor.
As governor, Long began implementing programs to improve state conditions. His dream, says Braud, was to have the biggest and best capitol building in the United States.
The building is modeled after Nebraska’s capitol, but ours is 34 stories while theirs is 27. It took ten years for Nebraska to construct their capitol building. Braud says that Gov. Long managed the feat in just 14 months.
But, just a few years later, a tragedy in the back hall of the building would eventually claim his life.
Arriving at the capitol building, guests can ride the elevator to the 24th floor, change elevators, and ride to the observation platform. There, spectacular views from all directions include the Mississippi River, the governor’s mansion, and downtown. Even on a cold, cloudy day, the view is breathtaking.
Drop back down to the main level for a look at where the legislature meets.
“I love to see people’s faces when they get off that elevator,” says Braud. “Because they walk out of the elevator and look at this place and they’re in awe!”
The Memorial Hall is truly something to see, starting with the 10 flags that have or currently fly over Louisiana. Two solid bronze chanedeliers weighing two tons each descend from the high ceiling. A relief map of Louisiana showing the boundaries and rivers that give our state its unique shape covers the far wall of the hall.
To the east is the House of Representatives, where marble from France and Spain as well as architectural elements from Italy can be found. The ceiling celotex is made from basasse a byproduct of sugar cane refinement.
On the west is the Senate chamber. Here more building material and designs from Germany, France, and Italy can be found. 39 desks made of American walnut grace the Senate floor while up above, 64 hexagonal ceiling tiles represent each parish.
With a walk through the capitol grounds, guest can enjoy 27 acres of Louisiana native plants and trees overseen by the capitol’s architect Leon Weiss, and installed by Jungle Gardens of Avery Island. The grave and statue of Huey Long stand among it all, watching the reality of his vision of the greatest capitol in the United States.
The capitol building is open daily to visitors and it’s free. A good time to visit is during times when the legislature isn’t in session.
“It’s crazy, it’s chaotic, it’s very loud,” says Braud. “You can hear the sound reverberating off of the marble when they’re in session, it’s almost deafening.”
After stopping at the capitol, there are other downtown attractions that are a must visit. The Louisiana State Museum, the Louisiana State Library, the Old State Capitol, the Science Center, and a stroll along Ol’ Man River are just a few of many places to enjoy.
Some construction is going on now at the capitol, so usually you would walk up the 49 steps representing the other states, Hawaii and Alaska share one, but we should be proud to have such a beautiful state capitol.