One display in the Arkansas State Capitol described it as uncluttered. That struck me as accurate. It’s a very traditional neoclassical building almost to the point of dullness. “… a common style found in monumental architecture of the early 20th century,” one brochure explained. The building’s 2nd architect, Cass Gilbert, sought and received permission from the architect of Mississippi’s Capitol to copy his dome. No one noticed for a generation.
This isn’t to say that Arkansas’ Capitol was erected on the cheap like Michigan’s. Quite the opposite. It took 16 years to build and cost $1,000,000 more than Michigan’s Victorian fantasy. Placed on the site of an old state penitentiary and employing prison labor during construction, the Arkansas Capitol, which is about a mile west of downtown Little Rock, has plain but impressive Alabama marble staircases. Some construction money also went for 6 bronze Tiffany vault doors.
Ruth and I visited on a Saturday afternoon when the Capitol was cemetery quiet. The rotunda was undergoing work. Plastic sheeting made it invisible. However, its massive 4,000 pound Mitchell-Vance chandelier had been lowered to the first floor. To see one of these dome-filling fixtures up close was far more interesting than the meager displays for tourists. A man in the office who was watching a football game on his mobile device and clearly didn’t like answering questions told us to grab a self-guided tour brochure.
The only other visitors were upstairs. Because some friendly students were setting up the Old Supreme Court Chamber that hadn’t been used for cases since 1958 for a meeting, we were able to see its very traditional decor. They were placing candles at each place for some law school rite. The legislative chambers were understandably locked.
Also upstairs were a couple of modest displays that mentioned past governors. I was struck by how many of them had become nationally known–Winthrop Rockefeller, Orval Faubus, Mike Huckabee, Bill Clinton–and I wondered why this was true of a State without a large national profile like Michigan.
To get a guided tour during the week one must contact a Visitor Services Specialist at 501-682-5080. Walk-ins “will be scheduled for the next available guided tour,” I read. Being Saturday, there was no one to ask if that meant Ruth & I would likely experience a guided, same-day tour on Monday. I surfed later for other visitors’ reactions to Arkansas’ State Capitol and found mostly favorable comments on TripAdvisor. Boyd B noted that you better like steps and observed that the ASC had more marble than the Acropolis.
Later I looked through “A Walk on the Hill”, a self-guided tour booklet, and noted that only 2 pages were about the building. The rest were about 14 outside monuments, 41 trees, and Downtown attractions. I had noticed the trees when I tried to take an exterior photo and could never find a shot that didn’t include them. They seemed to hide the building as if to spare it embarrassment. It’s not the Arkansas State Capitol wasn’t monumental, it was just common.