New York State Capitol Tour
May 22, 2022
By David Smitherman
The New York State Capital is located in Albany New York which is located in the eastern part of the state near the Hudson River. The surrounding areas have beautiful rolling hills and mountains that provide a significantly different environment from that of New York City to the south.
The Capitol building was built in the late 1800s over an unusually long construction period of 30 years when it was finally completed in 1899. This was due in part to the demands on the design, funding, and changing administrations resulting in the use of four different architects. The resulting design appearance is credited primarily to the third architect on the project, Henry Hobson Richardson, noted in later years for what we call the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style.
During my first visit on Saturday November 7, just four days after the presidential election, there was quite a commotion gathering in the East Capitol Park. It is still at the height of the pandemic and there was a street corner preacher blaring out over a loud speaker and crowds gathering in different parts of the park with various protests both for and against Donald Trump.
I worked my way around the crowds and was able to get this photograph of the east corner of the capitol, similar to the original rendering of Richardson’s design. The original design included a dome that was not built due to poor soil conditions and structural issues with the building construction. Various references indicated that there was considerable fill in the area to raise the grade which may have contributed to the problem. There is a courtyard in the center of the building where the tower was supposed to be built, so it still might be possible to construct this domed tower at a later date.
The capitol grounds includes several sculptures of interest. The first is at an intersection adjacent to East Capitol Park in front of the Albany City Hall that has stirred ongoing controversy and may soon be removed. It is of Philip Schuyler, 1753–1804, by the sculptor J. Massey Rhind, 1925. Schuyler was a noted General in the Revolutionary War but was also the largest slave owner in Albany New York. Slavery was not outlawed in New York until 1827.
At the southeast entrance to the Capitol in East Capitol Park is a sculpture of Phillip Henry Sheridan, 1831–1888. He was a Civil War General for the Union, and the sculptor was John Quincy Adams Ward and Chester French, 1916. The sculpture is noted for the beauty of this equestrian stature that appears to be in a galloping motion.
Across the street from the East Capitol Park is the Albany City Hall, built in 1883, and is also designed by the architect Henry Hobson Richardson with Ogden & Gardner, in the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style. In the adjacent Academy Park is a sculptural relief at the Albany Vietnam Veterans Memorial by an unidentified artist, and Lewis A. Swyer, 1918–1988, by Richard Kislov, 1992.
At the northwest side of the Capitol is the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building completed in 1928 and designed by the architect William E. Haugaard and Sullivan W. Jones in an Art Deco architectural style. Around the lower floor of the building is an inscription of all the county names in New York. In front of the State Office Building is a stature of George Washington, 1732–1799, by sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, 1796, facing the Capitol building across West Capitol Park.
The entrance to Empire State Plaza is on the southwest side of the State Capitol and is framed by two buildings, the New York State judicial office building and the State Legislative building.
The Robert Abrams Building for Law and Justice and the Legislative Office Building were both completed in 1972 and have similar design features. They were designed by the architects Carson Lundin & Shaw; Harrison & Abramovitz; James, Meadows and Howard; and Sargent Webster Crenshaw & Folley, in a Modernist architectural style.
The Empire State Plaza extends from the southwest entrance of the State Capitol to the State Museum at the opposite end is lined with government buildings in a modernist architectural style. The Plaza features the arts in the form of theater, modern art, modern sculpture, and modern architecture. It was built from 1965–1976 with supervising architect Wallace Harrison featuring architectural designs in the Modernist, Brutalist, and International architectural styles.
There are four identical towers on the northwest side of the plaza known as the Agency Buildings 1–4. They were completed in 1973 and designed by the architects Carson Lundin & Shaw; Harrison & Abramovitz; and James, Meadows and Howard, in a Modernist architectural style.
The Egg, named for its appearance, contains theatrical venues for the arts. It was under construction from 1966–1978 and has won several design and engineering awards for its unique shape overcoming significant structural engineering challenges. Next to the Egg is the Erastus Corning Tower built in 1973. Both buildings were designed by the architects Wallace Harrison and Max Abramovitz in a Modernist architectural style.
At the southwest end enclosing the plaza opposite the State Capitol is the New York State Museum completed in 1978. It was designed by the architects Harrison & Abramovitz; Carson Lundin & Shaw; and James, Meadows and Howard, in a Brutalist architectural style.
The Empire State Plaza was a vision of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1908–1979, and contains many memorials and abstract sculptural works from the Rockefeller collection.
Following the Plaza Guide, item J, “Fallen Firefighters” is a sculpture by Robert Eccleston, 1988, as part of a memorial to the state firefighters that have died in service; and item 1, “Untitled” sculpture by sculptor Forrest Meyers, 1970, which I have named “Cubes” for the two cubed frames that form the overall shape.
Item 2, “Labyrinth” is the only wood sculpture on site as all the others are made of steel, aluminum, copper and bronze. “Labyrinth” is by sculptor Francois Stahly, 1971.
Item 3, “Triangles and Arches” by sculptor Alexander Calder, 1965, is the only sculpture located in the center reflection pools of the Plaza.
Item 4, “Lippincott 1” by sculptor James Rosati, 1967.
Item 5, “Trio” by George Sugarman, 1971, is not currently on display but there is reportedly another edition at the Lynden Sculpture Garden in Milwaukee Wisconsin.
Item 6, “Verge” by sculptor Clement Meadmore, 1972.
Item 7, “Yellow Blue” by sculptor Ellsworth Kelly, 1968, is not currently on display; and item 8, “Salem 7” by sculptor Antoni Milkowski, 1967.
Item 9, “Two Lines Oblique” by sculptor George Ricky, 1971, and item 10, “Geometric Mouse Variation 1” by sculptor Claes Oldenburg, 1969, also are not currently on display. These can be found on the Empire State Plaza website listed in the References.
Item 11, “The Cathedral Evening” by sculptor Ronald Bladen, 1972.
Item 12, “Untitled,” which I have named Spheres for the use of many spherical parts, is by sculptor Julius Schmidt, 1996; item 13, “Wild Rice” by sculptor Lyman Kipp, 1967; and “Double One on C” by sculptor Herbert Ferber, 1966, which is not listed in the Plaza Guide but is located near item 2, the “Labyrinth.”
And finally “The Snake is Out” by sculptor Tone Smith, 1969, is not listed in the Plaza Guide but is located near item 13, “Wild Rice.”
I have taken two tours at the New York State Capitol, the first on November 7, 2020, just a few days after the 2020 election. It was still at the height of the pandemic and the interior was closed so I focused on the architecture of the Capitol building and the sculpture on the surrounding grounds. The tour was done while traveling between Boston and Huntsville. I ran across this sighting of a “Chic-fil-A Award Winner” Tesla Model 3 vehicle similar to mine while passing through a charging station in Bristol Tennessee. Cool!
The second tour was on May 22, 2022 where I focused primarily on the sculpture at the Empire State Plaza. It was a Sunday and the interior of the building was closed so I hope to make another trip at a future date. This tour was done on a return trip from Boston Massachusetts to Huntsville Alabama with overnight stays in Cleveland Ohio and Columbus Indiana. I was using a loaner car, a 2017 Model S, while my Model 3 was in the shop having some warranty work done. The weather was great so I was able to photograph the Empire State Plaza sculpture on Sunday and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument the next day in Indianapolis Indiana.
Photographs and slides by David Smitherman, and data collected from onsite inscriptions and brochures, Wikipedia, and Google Maps.
Empire State Plaza visitors guide available online at: https://empirestateplaza.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2019/06/PlazaLevelMap.pdf
Empire State Plaza artwork guides available online at: https://empirestateplaza.ny.gov/art/explore-art-collection