© 2006 Virginia Review, LLC

Capitol Support

The Virginia Capitol Preservation Foundation: Supporting Our Living Monument to Democracy

By M. Alice Lynch


The Capitol cannot continue to shoulder its dual responsibility as a working statehouse and historical icon without major restoration work and additional space. Patchwork solutions no longer will suffice to avoid further long term, irreversible damage to the building and its valuable contents.

Prevention of moisture penetration is a top priority. Much, but not all, of this damage has been hidden from public view. During one heavy rainstorm last spring, a portion of the walls in the House of Delegates gallery poured with water. In the words of one state employee, “It seemed that the old Capitol was crying out for our help and protection.”

The General Assembly and the Governor have done their part in guaranteeing the restoration of this national treasure. Guided by advice from the Capitol Square Preservation Council, the organization that represents major historical, architectural, landscape, and arts organizations within the Commonwealth, and by a blue ribbon panel of renowned architectural scholars, the General Assembly and the Governor ordered evaluations and designs to restore and improve the Capitol. The internationally acclaimed architectural firm was engaged to develop comprehensive designs for the restoration and expansion. Bond monies will be used to replace the mechanical, plumbing, and storm water systems as well as heating, air conditioning, and electrical distribution systems. Exterior surfaces will be restored or replaced. Construction of additional space underground on the south side of the building will feature a visitors’ center for educational programs. This well planned initiative will ensure that the Capitol remains the centerpiece of Virginia’s government, continuing to serve the citizens as a working capitol and as a tourist destination.

Work is well underway on this massive project. The Virginia Department of General Services, led by Jim Roberts [see page 10], is working in conjunction with a construction management firm to ensure that the project is completed successfully and on schedule. The target date is 2007, just in time for Virginia’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Although more than one million visitors are projected to come to Virginia that year, the impact of this historic project will reach decades beyond this anniversary celebration.

Bonds will not cover all of the needs, however. Throughout history, private individuals, organizations, and businesses have stepped forward to preserve Virginia’s rich heritage. In the early 19th century, when the Capitol’s original flat roof leaked, civic minded individuals helped finance the cost of a new pitched roof. In the 20th century, private donors paid for the busts in the Rotunda. Many of the paintings and the statuary in the Capitol and statuary on Capitol Square were provided by private funds.

Accordingly, the Virginia Capitol Preservation Foundation, a tax exempt, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, has been established to secure private funds to support specific aspects of the project. A collection of distinguished Virginia government and community leaders have stepped forward to guide this effort. They include Richard A. Arenstein, Secretary of Administration Sandra D. Bowen, Clerk of the House of Delegates Bruce F. Jamerson, Charles S. Luck, III, Clerk of the Senate Susan Clarke Schaar, S. Buford Scott, Wallace Stettinius, Marilyn Tavenner, John Charles Thomas, and Richard G. Tilghman.

The foundation will seek to enhance this national treasure and strengthen its inherent educational value by securing private funds in five critical areas:


The Capitol, like a diamond, must have the perfect setting. As one of the oldest enclosed public parks in the United States, Capitol Square is the ideal setting for our jewel. As a prime example of the picturesque style, the Square showcases plantings, trees, and wildlife indigenous to the Commonwealth; prominently displays statuary of noteworthy Virginians; and allows for a respite for visitors from the urban environment surrounding the Capitol. The Capitol Square Preservation Council and the Department of General Services have completed a master landscape design that retains existing elements of the Maximillian Godefroy 1816 plan, reintroduces pathways from the John Notman 1850 plan, and returns surfaces around the Capitol to their appearance after the 1906 addition of the wings. Full implementation of the master landscape plan will restore what is arguably one of the most significant gardens in our country.

Thinking inside the box, by George! The famous Houdon statue of George Washington that keeps guard in the Rotunda of the Capitol is safe and sound inside a protective cover designed to protect it from the construction going on around it. See page 27 for George “before.”


Virginia’s most treasured masterpiece is the life sized statue of George Washington, the centerpiece of an extensive and varied collection of over 130 paintings and statuary in the Capitol and on Capitol Square. In partnership with the Commonwealth, the foundation can assist in funding appropriate restoration methods to restore the original beauty of priceless works of art to ensure that they continue to illustrate the storied past and promising future of the Commonwealth.


Modern day technology has proved to be an invaluable tool in discovering many long–obscured historic elements of the Capitol. A significant amount of Jeffersonian fabric [original historic material] has been uncovered including eighteenth century millwork and masonry that experts previously thought had been removed or destroyed. Preservation experts have uncovered original paint colors and decorative finishes with an eye toward returning the interiors to their early twentieth century appearance. The Virginia Capitol Preservation Foundation will seek private funds to fully conserve the historic millwork in the Rotunda, Old Senate Chamber, and the Old Hall of the House of Delegates.


The Capitol is the proverbial front door to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Over 100,000 school children, citizens, and international visitors come to the Capitol annually to view the building, learn about the legislative process, and pay homage to the symbol of our democracy. A new underground entrance will admit visitors to the Capitol from the south, the way Jefferson intended the building to be viewed. Ramps and other facilities will bring the Capitol into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and will enable countless individuals, who previously could not gain access, to experience this public building. A visitors’ center will utilize interactive, state of the art exhibits to inspire future generations by bringing Virginia’s history to life.


An endowment fund will enable preservation efforts to remain a perpetual focus for the historic Capitol, Capitol Square, the 1813 Executive Mansion, and the 1825 Bell Tower. Educational programs will be developed including exhibits detailing the history of Virginia government, the story of the Capitol, explaining the legislative process, and providing civic education. Some of our most revered public documents will be properly displayed and safeguarded in the new public exhibit area. A lecture series will augment the permanent and rotating displays. We will ensure the Virginia Capitol’s role as a beacon of democracy for hundreds of thousands of national and international visitors welcomed and educated each year.

As citizens of the Commonwealth, now it is our turn to invest in the Capitol’s place in our history: its past, present, and future. As Virginian Sherwin McRae, an archivist for the state, wrote many years ago: “We read the history of nations in their public buildings. “Standing on the hills and plains of nature, they teach by example the rules of beauty and by association the names of their founders, and those made memorable by eloquence or deeds. “Every citizen, then, is under obligation to protect the public edifices of his country.”

With the generous support of the Commonwealth and of interested individuals and organizations, we will ensure that the Capitol will continue to serve future generations as a living monument to democracy.

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