The Texas Capitol is an extraordinary example of late 19th century public architecture and is widely recognized as one of the nation’s most distinguished state capitols. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986 for its “significant contribution to American history.”
Sited on one of Austin’s highest points, the Capitol anchors the northern periphery of the downtown commercial district and commands a sweeping view towards the Colorado River from its southern façade. The main campus of The University of Texas at Austin is situated four blocks to the north. Wonderful views of the Capitol’s dome from many vantage points throughout the Austin area are protected from obscuration by state law.
Completed in 1888 as the winning design from a national competition, the Capitol’s style is Renaissance Revival, based on the architecture of 15th-century Italy and characterized by classical orders, round arches and symmetrical composition. The structural exterior walls are “sunset red” granite, quarried just 50 miles from the site. Additional structural support is provided by masonry walls and cast iron columns and beams. The foundation is limestone. Texas paid for the construction not in dollars, but in land: some three million acres in the Texas Panhandle that would later become the famous XIT Ranch.
An extraordinary edifice by any measure, the 1888 Texas Capitol is the largest in gross square footage of all state capitols and is second in total size only to the National Capitol in Washington, D.C. Like several other state capitols, the 1888 Texas Capitol surpasses the National Capitol in height, rising almost 15 feet above its Washington counterpart.
In 1993, the $75 million underground Capitol Extension was completed to the north, doubling the square footage available to Capitol occupants and providing much improved functionality. In 1995, a comprehensive interior and exterior restoration of the original building was completed at a cost of approximately $98 million. Finally, in 1997, the park-like grounds surrounding the Capitol were given a much needed $8 million renovation and restoration.