Capitol Dome Color Fact Sheet

The Capitol Restoration Project:

The project’s goal is to repair and restore damage to the exterior painted circular tower above the roof of the capitol, and re-gild the famous gold dome atop the century-old historic landmark.  The architectural structure and exterior detail was originally manufactured out of cast iron – not out of stone as many believe.  This restoration and repair project includes examining all of the exterior architectural details that decorate this part of the building. 

The Need for the Work:

More than a century of water infiltration coupled with Colorado’s freeze/thaw cycle caused extreme rusting and deterioration of the metal on the exterior of the cast iron tower and dome.  Not easily visible from the ground, this corrosion included the metal fasteners holding the architectural details in place.  Hundreds of pieces of the assembly have been affected by the weather over the dome’s history.

The damage to the dome is not apparent from inside of the capitol.  However, the outside observation deck has been closed to all visitors since 2006 when fasteners holding a portion of the cast iron detail failed and part of the structure fell.  Fortunately, nobody was injured as a result of the failure.

The Dome – Yesterday and Today:

The architect of the Colorado capitol, Elijah Myers, originally planned for the dome of the capitol to be copper.  However, after completion of the structure in 1894, the legislature agreed that the copper should be covered with gold leaf for aesthetics, and to represent the significance of gold to the state’s history.  The gold-leafed dome made its first appearance in 1908.

At the start of the current restoration project a forensic analysis of the dome’s cast iron architecture revealed that the original color of the cast iron portion of the dome was significantly darker than the chalky gray color most people remember from right before the restoration project.  The dome was not originally designed to resemble the granite used to construct the main portion of the building.

The color on the cast iron portions of the dome tower seen today is consistent with the color palette used during the building’s original construction.  Historians confirmed and approved the color used in the restoration.  Contrast between the dome tower and the building’s stonework in Colorado is similar in style to other state capitol buildings designed by Myers prior to his work on the Colorado capitol (see the Texas and the Michigan state capitol buildings). 

As the scaffolding is dismantled and final restoration takes place the building is continuously monitored by the state for quality and compliance with the project’s specifications.  While structural and cosmetic work was completed to exacting detail it is anticipated during the final phases of the restoration that some “fine tuning” of the building will be necessary.  The project remains on time and within budget, scheduled for completion by late summer/early fall 2014.