Hidden door, walled windows among Oklahoma Capitol mysteries
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Restoration specialists at the Oklahoma State Capitol are scratching their heads over unusual discoveries made inside the walls and in other hidden spaces of the 100-year-old building.
Amid a $245 million renovation project, workers wonder why metal-framed windows and screens were once installed in a cavernous basement, then painted over with thick beige paint before being covered up.
And what was the purpose of a large green door surrounded by glass panels, also walled up?
And who was the Indiana stone carver who chiseled his initials, C.W., conspicuously on the side of two limestone chimeras — winged, lion-headed creatures from Greek mythology — that peer from the roof of the 452,000-square-foot structure?
“It’s a bit of a mystery,” said Trait Thompson, Capitol project manager for the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services. “These are just the neat things about this project that you find from time to time.”
Using money from a pair of bond issues approved by legislators, workers are updating the Capitol’s infrastructure to ensure its survival.
“This building wasn’t meant to be here for 100 years. This building was meant to be here for 500 or 600 years, if we can take care of it,” Thompson said. “Thankfully, right now, we are. Hopefully, future generations will as well.”
The sounds of hammers and heavy equipment rumble across the basement as laborers update the plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems to 21st century standards. No explanation has been found for some of what they’ve found, including windows behind interior walls.
“I honestly have no idea what there were for,” Thompson said. “Who knows what they were thinking or what the purpose was when they put these windows in so many years ago?”
Although they’re original purpose is a mystery, the fact that they were walled in instead of removed is consistent with the way the building has been managed over the years, Thompson said.
“Most of the things were done with: ‘How fast can we do it’,” Thompson said. “That’s kind of been the mantra in this building, whatever is fastest and cheapest.”
Restoration workers have set the windows aside and plan to restore them to usefulness.
“They were an original element of the building. If we can find a place to reuse them, we will,” Thompson said.
Workers found a large green door nearby, hidden inside of another wall. The door likely opened into an office, but there are no records indicating its original purpose, Thompson said. He said the door could be refurbished and returned to use somewhere in the building.
High up on the Capitol’s roof, workers are trying to solve another conundrum: Who was C.W. and why did he feel the need to carve initials on two of the eight chimeras on the building’s corners?
Julia Manglitz, a restoration specialist with Treanor HL, said the initials, chiseled into the side of the limestone figures by a professional stone cutter, were discovered during efforts to restore and preserve them.
The chimeras were carved and installed around 1915 by the former Shea, Donnelly & Giberson Co. of Bedford, Indiana, an area surrounded by limestone quarries. But employment records that might indicate the carver’s identity are unavailable, and census records during that period are incomplete, Manglitz said.
Other interesting finds, including original plaster lighting fixtures that will be restored or replicated, have also been unearthed, Thompson said. And more will likely turn up as specialists explore other areas of the building, where work is expected to wrap up by 2022.