Rare tour of Utah State Capitol marks building’s 100th birthday

SALT LAKE CITY -- A group of local reporters got a view of Salt Lake City like no other, including Fox 13 News' Danica Lawrence. She had the opportunity to stand on top of the Utah State Capitol’s copper dome Sunday.

The area is not open for the public, and the Capitol Preservation Board rarely gives tours up there, but to commemorate the Capitol’s 100th birthday the media was allowed up.

It was all part of honoring those builders in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and those who renovated it from 2004 to 2008.

“We had the opportunity, and we have been planning this for a couple years here to look back at those people who made this possible and had the foresight to say, 'Let’s build a building that generations, generations, generations can use; and 100 years later we are looking at a building here that fits all of our years,” said Rep. Brad Dee, Vice Chair of the Capitol Preservation Board.

The reporters climbed over the inside of the concrete part of the dome, underneath the 10,000 square feet of copper wrapped around them outside. There were markings left behind from old tours. Some looked like graffiti, while others were hearts, names or dates to show people “they” were there.

“This is the thing that draws people to this Capitol, is this dome and this copula, and I wanted people to see that, not just from State Street; I wanted you to be able to see the inside and how it worked and the craftsmanship and how they built it and how they put the copper on,” Rep. Dee said.

Rep. Dee also said that, originally, the builders were told they would be unable to build a copper dome of this size for the Utah Capitol.

“In the late 1800s, 1900s, they said you don’t know how to do this; we said ‘Well we’d like to give it a shot.' We obviously have some copper in Utah and granite in our cottonwood canyons, and we said we’d like to give it a shot; and we did it, and we taught our people how to build it so the next generation could build on it, and now we have the best metal artists in the world,” explained Rep. Dee.

The building desperately needed its last renovation back in the early 2000s. Engineers started surveying the building in 2002.

“The higher up we went into the building it progressively got worse and worse,” said Jarod Johnson, the renovation’s project designer.

Johnson’s last time up to the top was at the end of the renovation in 2008.

“The concrete was literally so bad that on the inside you could brush it away with your fingers," he recalled.

That meant a four-year long renovation project that would also allow the building to withstand an earthquake.

“This building is now decoupled from the ground," Johnson said. "It sits on a series of 265 seismic base isolators that filter earthquake motion. So the building will not move nearly as violently as it would have otherwise. Our numerical analysis predicted we would have had a very strong likelihood of collapse and the mortality of anyone in it.”

From 265-feet up it felt stable to Danica Lawrence, and she said it’s a view she will never forget.