The Texas State Capitol is the centerpiece of the city of Austin. The building’s exterior is made of Sunset Red granite and was completed in 1888. A much-needed expansion (mostly underground) was finished in 1993. Texans will proudly tell you that this is the largest state capitol (in square footage) and is higher than the US Capitol.
Visitors must pass through metal detectors at the north or south entrances. Free guided tours meet in the lobby every day except major holidays. I’ve taken the tour many times and usually the tour guides are knowledgeable and friendly.
Portraits of previous Presidents of the Republic of Texas and Texas Governors hang in the central rotunda. George W. Bush’s picture is the most recent and hangs near the south lobby. When our current governor, Rick Perry, leaves office, his portrait will be hung in that spot and all the others will be moved one spot over. Some day I need to walk up to the fourth floor to see whose portrait is first up there. I’m guessing it’s Sam Houston, as the first elected President of the Republic of Texas, but it might be David G. Burnet, who was the interim President before him.
Historically, Texans have not been fans of big government. As a result, the Texas State Legislature only meets on odd-numbered years for no more than 140 days. (The Governor can also call 30-day special sessions on specific topics.) Downtown Austin was noticeably busier this past spring when the Legislature was in session.
The House chamber on the west side of the Capitol is crowded with desks for the 150 state representatives who are elected for two-year terms. The speaker of the House is elected by the majority party.
The Senate chamber at the opposite end of the second floor seems more spacious because there are only 31 state senators. They serve four-year terms and the Lieutenant Governor serving as presiding officer. Both chambers have an upstairs viewing gallery.
I often walk up to the Capitol just to see what’s going on. Sometimes there are demonstrations or marches on the front lawn. School groups perform on the front steps or in the rotunda. And the building and surrounding grounds are a popular backdrop for wedding and Quinceanera photographs.