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Florida's historic capitol gets a face lift

Florida's Historic Capitol

By Sascha Cordner


Tallahassee, FL – Florida Historic Capitol almost had a date with a Wrecker's ball half a century ago. But, today it's a treasured symbol of the Sunshine State. The building itself dates from 1839 and its present roof is more than 100 years old. Now, as Sascha Cordner reports, that copper roof is getting a 600-thousand dollar makeover to prevent any further leaks.

"We can see kind of the water spotting in that area."

Curator Michelle Purvis and I are taking a tour of the Old Capitol. She's showing me the most visible water damage is in the rotunda area of the dome:

"The dark spots around the ring under the sub-dome is mold. That's from water damage. And, then you can see spalling, plaster, and flaking paint is also related to the water intrusion."

So, to stop further water damage, a company is coming in to replace the copper on the roof, repair the gutter system, and repaint the dome. The Department of Management Services is responsible for the Old Capitol. Because the building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, there are certain guidelines they need to follow when making the necessary renovations.

"So, we can't suddenly paint the Capitol purple [laughs] or some other color. It was restored to a 1902 version of the Capitol and it has been maintained in that state since 1978."

Tom Berger is the Department of Management Services Real Estate Director. He says after the renovations take place, the new roof will have a copper sheen. But, it won't always be that way:

"The new copper sheeting will look like a burnished copper. Not shiny like a new penny, but more like copper piping or something. You will certainly see that it's copper for the first few years, and then as rain and the sun take its toll on it, it will eventually take that patina look on again that copper roofs take on."

Meanwhile, Childers Construction Company workers are already starting the first phase of the work. I asked the Project Manager Mike Clark to show me the plans for removing the old copper:

Mike: "So, we're going to kind of come up off the roof and come over. And, scale in towards the dome area. The little hat on the top, the cupola, that's copper."

Sascha: "So, you're going to take this off."

Mike: Take this copper off, it's just a skin. Just like your normal roof, if you had asphalt, shingles, or supply wood underneath, you would just take off the copper, put new copper up there."

But, there's more! Clark says after they remove the old copper, workers will place it in storage for the Old Capitol Museum to use. The building's director of External Relations Alma Hubbard says the museum staff has plans to make it into a historic treasure:

"As the copper is being removed overhead, development staff is coming up with ways to fashion the copper items into collector's items for fundraising purposes. Items such as commemorative coins, collectible souvenirs, ornaments, and a donor wall of recognition are just a few of the plans we have in place. And, we think people will be very interested in purchasing a piece of their history to share with their friends."

Historic Capitol Curator Michelle Purvis talks about where their inspiration came from:

"We learned of someone who had taken marble and copper from the renovation of the building of the late 70s, early 80s and created a beautiful platter, a marble platter that was surrounded in copper, so that's the type of thing that people are interested in using this historic fabric for."

And, Purvis says the Old Capitol would have been rubble AND there would be no funds for repairs, if not for the efforts of former Secretary of State Bruce Smathers in the 1960s. In more recent years, that work has been carried on by the members of the Florida Historic Capitol Foundation. One member, Major Harding, was a former justice of the Florida Supreme Court for 11 years. Three of those years, he was the chief justice. Now 75, Harding remembers hearing oral arguments in the old Capitol while he was on the Supreme Court. Now, he wants Floridians to treasure the history of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum, just like he does.

"I think the efforts to preserve the historic Capitol are significant and I think it will be for my children, my grandchildren, and my great grandchildren a great opportunity to recall the past."

The items the Museum makes from the copper will go towards a fund for the preservation of the Historic Capitol. If anyone has any other creative ideas or suggestions on what to do with the historic copper sheeting, they can contact the Florida historic capitol Museum. The renovations are expected to take six months.