North Dakota bridles at neighbor's Capitol insult

April 20, 2012 - 3:47 PM
Embarrassing Capitol

This photo, taken Thursday, April 19, 2012, shows the North Dakota Capitol, whose main tower is almost 250 feet high. The Republican majority leader of the Minnesota House on Thursday described the North Dakota Capitol building, which is located in Bismarck, N.D., as "embarrassing" and compared it to an insurance office. His remarks came during debate in the Minnesota Legislature in St. Paul, Minn., about whether to set aside money for repairs to the Minnesota Capitol. (AP Photo/Dale Wetzel)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's governor has bridled at a Minnesota lawmaker's scathing assessment of the state's austere, Depression-era Capitol, saying the critic knows little about architecture.

The Bismarck Capitol was built with less ornamentation and flourish than its designers wanted because lawmakers wanted to make sure the project stayed within its $2 million budget. Minnesota state Rep. Matt Dean described the gray skyscraper as "embarrassing."

"It's like State Farm Insurance called, they want their office building back," Dean, the Minnesota House's Republican majority leader, said Thursday during a debate in St. Paul on legislation to fund repairs to the Minnesota Capitol. The $221 million bonding bill failed by a single vote.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple called his state's seat of government "one of the most pleasing Capitol buildings in the United States, and I have seen several of them myself."

The North Dakota Capitol is one of the state's tallest buildings, with its austere, concrete-and-stone edifice dominated by a 242-foot tower. It was completed in 1934, less than four years after North Dakota's original Capitol burned in 1930.

A history of the building says lawmakers "determined that the new building must be efficient and within budget." That led architects, led by Chicago's Holabird & Root, to design "an unusual high-rise office tower," inspired by state capitols in Nebraska and Louisiana.

Granite, black marble and limestone were used in construction, with mahogany, walnut and maple featured in the building's interior. But to stay under budget, some elements were ditched, including decorative etchings, stone sculptures and a 30-foot statue planned for the building's front steps.

Dalrymple said the Capitol's legislative wing, where he served as a House member, "is one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever been in.

"If you can't appreciate the architectural value of the Chicago style of skyscraper ... then you really haven't spent much time trying to appreciate architecture," he said.

Dean, an architect, said Friday that he meant the comment as a gibe at Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who is a North Dakota native. He said he meant no disrespect and considered the remark as "good-natured rivalry from one state to the next."

"I'm sure it's a very nice building. I have never been inside it, and I shouldn't make a judgment without having had a tour of it," Dean said. "I would love the opportunity to tour it and admit that I am wrong."

Dean's comment drew ripostes from North Dakota lawmakers as well. North Dakota has about $1.5 billion in reserves, thanks in large part to oil tax collections, and Rep. Blair Thoreson, R-West Fargo, joked that they could be used to buy the Minnesota Capitol outright.

"Here they are, criticizing, and they can't even fix their state Capitol, and yet they have unemployment problems and other economic problems," Thoreson said Friday. "They can't come to a consensus on basically anything over there."

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Associated Press reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this report from St. Paul, Minn.