How to Visit the Louisiana State Capitol Building


In the late 1920s and early 1930s, no one wielded as much power in Louisiana as Huey Long. As governor, then United States senator, Long dragged the backward state into the 20th century, creating programs that made him beloved by the common man and despised by the wealthy. His chief monument was the 34-story, 249,000-square-foot Art Deco skyscraper state capitol building he had constructed in Baton Rouge. Built between 1931 and 1932, it remains the tallest state capitol building in the United States.

Start the tour by going to 900 North Third Street in Baton Rouge and finding a place to park in the lot. The building is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except for holidays. Notice the details and ornamentation of the exterior. Each of the 48 front steps has the name of a state carved into it and appears in the order of its admission to the Union. Alaska and Hawaii were added later on the 48th step. The large statues are called "The Patriots" and "The Pioneers." The 50-foot entrance door is surrounded by images relating to Louisiana's history and resources, as well as quotations from the Louisiana Purchase Treaty.

Step inside to the 120-foot long Memorial Hall, which serves the same function that rotundas do in neoclassical capitol buildings. The floor is made of polished Italian lava and is dominated by a bronze relief floor map of the state, which is 10 feet in diameter. Murals appear over the entrances to the House and Senate chambers, while the rest of the walls are made of a variety of marbles. The statues in the Hall are of Governors Claiborne, Allen, Nicholls and Pinchback, while the elevator doors feature the images of all the governors up to Huey Long. Hanging from a second floor balcony overlooking the hall are the flags of the 12 nations that have ruled over Louisiana.

Tour the House of Representatives Chamber to the right and the Senate Chamber to the left. Both are sumptuous two-story rooms with polished stone walls, bronze light fixtures and railings and wood panels and desks. Stairs just outside the Chambers lead to balconies for visitors.

Proceed next to the Executive Corridor, to the north of the Memorial Hall. Here is where Huey Long was assassinated in 1935. There is some doubt as to whether he was shot by Dr. Carl Weiss, a man whose family Long had insulted, or if Weiss merely punched Long and Long's trigger-happy bodyguards accidentally shot their boss in the confusion. Either way, the walls are still pock-marked from the bullets.

Go back into Memorial Hall, where Long's tuxedo-clad body lay in state, and take an elevator to the Tower Observation Deck on the 27th floor. The deck is either 350 or 450 feet up, depending on which source you consult, but regardless, the view is spectacular and you can see for up to 20 miles.

Finish up with a visit to the formal garden south of the capitol. Here among clipped hedges is the grave of Huey Long, marked by his statue.

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