Among traits we hold to be distinctively Minnesotan is an uncommon affection for the State Capitol. Architect Cass Gilbert’s “people’s palace” on a hill north of downtown St. Paul has been a source of pride and a magnet for visitors since its massive doors opened on Jan. 2, 1905. It’s where Minnesotans almost instinctively gather to give voice to their shared joys, sorrows and aspirations.
That bond between a building and its people is due to be celebrated in fine fashion this weekend. The completion of the Capitol’s three-year, $310 million renovation will be marked by a three-day party so chock full of attractions that it has its own smartphone app.
From yoga on the front lawn Friday morning to the final lighting of the grand chandelier above the rotunda Sunday night, there will be plenty to see and do in and around the seat of state government. But the star of the show will be the building itself — a familiar old friend, but brighter, shinier, more open and accessible than before. Tours every 30 minutes will point out changes both obvious (an attractive basement, for example) and obscure.
Fittingly, the weekend includes a salute to the people whose skill and sacrifice made the building possible — the original construction workers and their latter-day counterparts. On Sunday at 2:30 p.m., a plaque will be unveiled that recognizes them and pays special tribute to the six workers who died as the building rose from 1896 to 1905. Their descendants will be honored guests. The idea of a permanent workers’ memorial originated with a middle school class in Owatonna; a competition among sixth-graders determined its design.
That memorial underscores that the Capitol is not a static, once-and-done museum, nor the handiwork of powerful elites. It’s a dynamic place, adaptable to Minnesotans’ changing needs to gather, share their stories and govern themselves. And just as the state itself, the Capitol is in the people’s hands.