UTAH STATE CAPITOL
State Capitol Building
The classic simplicity and well-proportioned design of Utah's State Capitol
Building, located in Salt Lake City, Utah, have allowed it to remain as
pleasing an architectural symbol of American democracy today as it was when
the plans and architect were selected in 1912 in the most important architectural
competition ever held in the State. Richard Karl August Kletting's winning
design, along with the nine other entries, falls into the broad category
of Beaux Arts-influenced architecture. Kletting was a grand old man in Utah
architecture by the time he undertook his design for the competition. He
was 52 years old, and this was his last major commission. Kletting's academic
and practical training in his native Europe, coupled with his long and varied
professional experience in this country, were complemented by his varied
interests in city planning and community affairs.
The pioneers of Utah were anxious to build a statehouse. The first legislative
assembly of the territory, which met in 1851, placed the capitol in the
center of the territory and appointed a committee to proceed to Millard
County immediately to designate the exact location for the new capitol building
designed by Truman O. Angell, the primary designer of the Salt Lake Mormon
Temple. However, central Utah did not develop as hoped, and only one complete
session of the Legislature was held at Filmore before the governmental offices
were moved back north to Salt Lake City. The $20,000 appropriated for the
building in Filmore was considered wasted by Washington, and Congress refused
to grant further funds for government buildings in Utah.
The state was divided by a Mormon-Gentile conflict from about 1858 to 1896,
when statehood finally was granted to Utah. In 1896 those scars of forty-nine
years of conflict were not sufficiently healed for the idea of an architectural
symbol of statehood to be addressed. An economic depression in the 1890s
caused further delay. It would be ten years until the diverse groups were
able to work together to plan a statehouse.
In January 1907 Governor John C. Cutler reminded the legislature that Utah
had been in the union for eleven years without a capitol building. In the
1909 session three acts were passed relating to the financing of the building,
and the project finally moved ahead with help from a windfall. A.R. Barnes,
attorney general for the state, found a state inheritance tax lying inoperative
on the books. His enforcement of this law in the estate of E.H. Harriman,
railroad magnate, resulted in $798,546.00 revenue. Along with these funds,
the legislature passed a bill to provide for and negotiate a loan of $1,000,000.00
and to issue bonds. The Harriman funds provided sufficient money to start
Despite the excellence of the prize-winning building which resulted, the
Utah Capitol competition must be considered controversial at best. Its program
broke twelve of the fourteen newly announced guidelines of the American
Institute of Architects, and thus became a national problem within the profession,
with architects, both local and national, urging one another not to compete.
Finally, Utah architects did enter the Competition, reversing their group
statement that they could not and would not compete under the existing program.
Several nationally-known architects also competed, at the risk of disciplinary
action by their professional organization.
The architectural symbolism of American democracy had been developing over
the previous decades, as statehouses were built. By 1911 the architectural
symbols were familiar -- the dome, the balanced wings for the divisions
of government, and the decorative classical elements indicate the roots
of that democracy in Greece and Rome. In Utah, the architect was called
upon to design a building of this magnitude for $2,000,000.00. Minnesota's
statehouse, by contrast, had been completed only a few years earlier for
The exterior of Kletting's capitol design is similar to the U.S. Capitol
in Washington, D. C. The Utah building perhaps achieves some of its grandeur
from the condensation of the same elements -- the porticos, pediments, and
monumental columns-onto the simple, but carefully proportioned, rectangle.
The building is 404 feet long, 240 feet wide, and 285 feet to the top of
the dome. The Utah Capitol rests on a raised, rusticated basement with monumental
flights of steps leading to doors recessed behind the Corinthian columned
porticos. Kletting's was the only plan that proposed monumental free-standing
columns on three sides of the building. The columns, along with the rest
of the exterior, are constructed of Utah granite taken from Little Cottonwood
Canyon in Salt Lake County. The dome has been called Walterized Wren, and
indeed it bears a strong similarity to the dome of the U. S. Capitol by
Thomas U. Walter.
Henry Russell Hitchcock and William Seale in Temples of Democracy
appraise Kletting's building: His plan was the simplest and most dramatic.
Wide but not deep, its dome and its continuous range of colossal Corinthian
columns echoed the national capitol. There was so little incidental decoration
that the general effect was more strictly Classical than Renaissance....The
Kentucky Capitol lacks the belated Gilded Age glitter of those of Idaho
and Montana; all the same, it is not so grand as Kletting's far more restrained
capitol at Salt Lake City. Surveying the Great Salt Lake and ranges of mountains
that fade to pink and violet in the setting sun, the Utah Capitol combines
McKim, Mead and White's simplicity with Gilbert's taste for the spectacular."
The plan of the first Utah Capitol selected by Brigham Young and built in
Fillmore was as different from other American statehouses being built during
that period as Kletting's winning entry was similar to the then accepted
concept of a state capitol building. In 1911-1912 the Utah State Capitol
Commission representing both the Mormon and non-Mormon factions demonstrated
Utah's wishes to be an acceptable and cooperating part of the nation.
Geraldine H. Clayton