Inventory of the Board of State Capitol Commissioners Records, 1856-1860

Processed by The California State Archives staff; supplementary encoding and revision supplied by Xiuzhi Zhou.
California State Archives
1020 "O" Street
Sacramento, California 95814
Phone: (916) 653-2246
Fax: (916) 653-7363
© 2000
California Secretary of State. All rights reserved.

Inventory of the Board of State Capitol Commissioners Records, 1856-1860

Inventory: F3580

California State Archives

Office of the Secretary of State

Sacramento, California

Contact Information:

  • California State Archives
  • 1020 "O" Street
  • Sacramento, California 95814
  • Phone: (916) 653-2246
  • Fax: (916) 653-7363
  • Email:
  • URL:
Processed by:
The California State Archives staff
Date completed:
© 2000 California Secretary of State. All rights reserved.

Descriptive Summary

Title: Board of State Capitol Commissioners Records,
Date (inclusive): 1856-1860
Inventory: F3580
Creator: Board of State Capitol Commissioners
Repository: California State Archives
Sacramento, California
Language: English.

Administrative Information

Publication Rights

For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact the California State Archives. Permission for reproduction or publication is given on behalf of the California State Archives as the owner of the physical items. The researcher assumes all responsibility for possible infringement which may arise from reproduction or publication of materials from the California State Archives collections.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Board of State Capitol Commissioners Records, f3580, California State Archives.

Agency History


It was not until 1854 that Sacramento became the permanent site of the state capital. The city allowed the state the use of its new county courthouse as a temporary capitol building to be used until a permanent structure could be erected. The Legislature occupied the building until December, 1869, when the current capitol building became suitable for use by the Legislature and State offices. (See series entry 19, ALTERATIONS AND USE OF THE SACRAMENTO COUNTY COURTHOUSE BY THE STATE, 1854-1855; note records in this series in no way relate to the Capitol Commission which was not established until 1856.)
On April 18, 1856, the Legislature of the State of California provided for the construction of a state capitol building to house the Legislature, Governor, state offices, and the State Library. It was to occupy a site provided by the city of Sacramento, bounded by Ninth, Tenth, I and J streets (the current site of City Plaza). The Act providing for its construction (Stats. 1856, Chap. 95, p. 110) included a provision for the establishment of a Board of State Capitol Commissioners (to be referred to as either the Commission or the Board in this study aid), whose duty it shall be to contract for and superintend the construction of a state capitol.... The Commission, composed of the Secretary of State, ex-officio Superintendent of Buildings, the Controller of the State, and Gilbert Griswold of Sacramento, was empowered to advertise for plans, to choose the best architectural design, and to draw up specifications for contracts. To aid them in these functions, they were allowed to appoint a professional architect to the position of superintendent, who would provide expert advice on the feasibility of architectural plans, judge the quality of materials, and report on the progress of construction. The building was to be completed on or before January 1, 1858 at a cost not to exceed $300,000.
Shortly after being created, the Commission accepted the design of Reuben Clark, who they then appointed to the position of superintendent. Joseph Nougues of Sacramento, builder of the Sacramento County Courthouse, received the construction contract. On December 4, 1856 ground was broken on the project, but work ceased eleven days later when the Commission refused to issue bonds. The Board determined that a provision of the 1856 Act providing for a $300,000 indebtedness to finance the project violated Article VIII of the State Constitution. The Board refused to proceed and all construction ceased. Ownership of the capitol site reverted back to the City of Sacramento.
The State did not attempt to construct a capitol again until March 29, 1860, when the Legislature passed a new Act ( Stats. 1860, Chap. 161, p. 128), superseding the never repealed 1856 Act. Again, the capitol was to house the Legislature, Governor, state offices, and the State Library. A new Board of State Capitol Commissioners, composed of the Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, A. C. Monson, and Alfred A. Reddington, was empowered to construct and superintend the work necessary to erect a state capitol on a tract of land bounded by L and N, 10th and 12th streets. The responsibilities of the new Commission were essentially the same as those of the 1856 Commission, with the exception that, while the 1856 Board was required to contract for construction, an 1862 revision of the 1860 Act ( Stats. 1862, Chap. 276, p. 309) authorized the Commission to hire workmen and construct the building themselves. They were authorized to appoint a superintending architect to aid them in judging the quality and durability of materials in the capitol, to oversee workmanship, and to advise the Commission in all technical matters (the position was abolished in 1874, see Stats. 1873-74, Chap. 449, p. 662). In order to obtain the land specified in the Act, the Commission was empowered to hold condemnation hearings, with a judge in attendance, to determine land values and to compensate owners. The entire cost of the construction was not to exceed $500,000.
With the exception of certain minor revisions, the Capitol was constructed under the provisions of the 1860 Act. On March 29, 1870, the composition of the Board was reduced by two members, leaving only the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the State Treasurer ( Stats. 1869-70, Chap. 338, p. 447). This remained the composition of the Commission throughout the rest of its existence. In 1889, the Governor's secretary, who had always acted as unofficial secretary of the Board, was made ex-officio Secretary of the Board of State Capitol Commissioners by a change in section 306 of the political code. In an 1874 Act, revised in 1880 and 1889, the Commission was empowered to appoint a gardener and permanent ground's laborers (see, Stats. 1873-74, Chap. 666, p. 937, Stats. 1880, Chap. 101, p. 107, and Stats. 1889, Chap. 287, p. 449). The gardener was given general control over the Capitol grounds and was to superintend and control the planting and culture of the vegetation, take direct control over the ground's laborers, and make arrests for criminal or disorderly conduct on the Capitol grounds.
Under the provisions of the 1860 Act, the Commissioners chose the neo-federalist design of Miner Frederick Butler from among seven proposed plans on May 19, 1860. Construction commenced on September 24, 1860 and the cornerstone was laid on May 15th of the next year.
The Commission originally intended to leave the actual construction of the Capitol to contractors whose work would be overseen by the superintending architect, who would make periodic reports to the Board. The first contractor, Michael Fennell of San Francisco, however, lacked the funding to complete the Capitol's foundation and basement walls and his contract had to be broken by a special act of the Legislature ( Stats. 1861, Chap. 1029, p. 600). The Commission then let the contract for the construction of the foundation and basement walls to George W. Blake and P. Edmund O'Connor, who also proved incapable of completing the terms of their contract (see, Stats. 1862, Chap. 276, p. 309). After these two failures the Board decided to construct the building themselves and hired laborers in 1862. Contracts were let to provide materials only, rather than for the construction of portions of the building. The authority of the superintending architect was increased by the Board to include, not simply oversight, but direction of the work done on the Capitol.
Work progressed slowly. The building was not initially occupied until December 4, 1869, and even then a great deal of finishing work was left to be done. By February 8, 1874 the building could be considered essentially completed, except for the attic and basement.
The responsibilities of the Commission involved more than simply the construction of the Capitol building itself. Its authority was from time to time extended by the Legislature. The Board was responsible not only for the building, but for the beautification and maintenance of the Capitol grounds as well. On April 4, 1870, the Commission was empowered to erect a Governor's Mansion on a site to be purchased by the Commission. A lot bounded by L and M, 14th and 15th streets was purchased for the purpose (see appendix at the end of this study aid). The then Capitol Architect, A. A. Bennett, was, in addition, made architect for the Governor's mansion. Work commenced on August 26, 1870 and ceased in 1872. The building was never occupied by the Governor, it was deemed unsuitable for residence. In 1874, the Commissioners were ordered to convert it into a state printing office and state armory (see Stats. 1873-74, Chap. 649, p. 903). (For information on the maintenance of the State Printing Office after 1875 see record group, STATE PRINTING PLANT, ETC., BIDS AND PROPOSALS, 1875-1915; note, this record group does not relate to the State Capitol Commission, but to the operations of the Office of the State Printer.)
In 1872, the Commission was authorized to take possession of the blocks between L and M, 12th and 14th streets, and between M and N, 12th and 15th streets ( Stats. 1871-72, Chap. 600, pp. 887-89). (See appendix at the end of this study aid). The new land was cleared and added to the Capitol grounds. As in 1860, the Commission was empowered to hold hearings, with a judge in attendance, to determine land values and to compensate owners. The Commission was required to remove the buildings on the land and plant and beautify it.
Throughout the 1880's and early 1890's the Commission was authorized to make a series of improvements to the Capitol grounds. These improvements included the construction of a fence around the Capitol grounds ( Stats. 1881, Chap. 64, p. 37), the construction of a sidewalk around the Capitol Park ( Stats. 1885, Chap. 12, p. 11), the construction of a new fence around the Capitol grounds ( Stats. 1885, Chap. 13, p. 12), the addition of granite steps to the Capitol ( Stats. 1889, Chap. 193, p. 224), the construction of footpaths in the Capitol Park ( Stats. 1889, Chap. 196, p. 226), the improvement of 10th street between L and N ( Stats. 1893, Chap. 35, p. 49), the installation of tile floors in the Capitol ( Stats. 1895, Chap. 209, p. 277), and the improvement of certain streets running through the grounds ( Stats. 1895, Chap. 212, p. 278).
In 1899, the Commission was again authorized to erect an executive mansion on the Capitol grounds for a total cost of not more than $50,000. Plans were adopted, but because of financial difficulties the building was never constructed. In its place, the Commission was authorized, on March 25, 1903, to purchase the home of Joseph Steffens on 16th and H streets, and to refurbish it as a Governor's mansion ( Stats. 1903, Chap. 279, p. 415).
The last major responsibility given to the Commission was for the renovation of the State Capitol ( Stats. 1905, Chap. 183, p. 177; and Stats. 1907, Chap. 176, p. 205). The Commission was empowered to appoint an architect as supervisor to oversee the work. It chose Albert Sutton of Sutton and Weeks of San Francisco. The alterations occurred between 1906 and 1908 and cost $377,925.
On April 1, 1911, the Legislature created the position of Superintendent of Capitol Buildings and Grounds ( Stats. 1911, Chap. 340, p. 571). Placed in charge of improvements, maintenance of buildings and the preservation of order in the Capitol grounds, the Superintendent was given all the major responsibilities of the Commission. While not explicitly eliminating the Board of State Capitol Commissioners, the Act specifically negated any section of any previous act which conflicted with it, which, in effect, eliminated the Commission. The Act was intended to replace both the Capitol Commission and the Superintendent of the Capitol Building (charged with the security, cleanliness, and the heating of the Capitol). The authority of the two agencies had always overlapped and the new superintendent assumed the responsibilities of both.
The Commission disbanded in 1911.
The Department of Finance assumed the duties and responsibilities of the Superintendent of Capitol Buildings and Grounds when it was created in 1921.
More detailed information is available in the California Blue Book for 1909, pages 16-30 and 703-723. The economic history of the Commission is available in, William C. Frankhauser, A Financial History of California: Public Revenues, Debts, and Expenditures (Berkeley: U. C. Pubs. in Economics, U. C. Press, 1913).

The Commission's Organization

Based on the records in the State Archives, very little can be said about the structure and administration of the 1856 Commission because very few documents have survived. The Commission met and decided on the architectural plan for the Capitol, drew up specifications, chose a contractor, and appointed a superintendent. It was ultimately responsible to oversee construction and to report to the Legislature on the state of construction (although it disbanded before it could report). The superintendent's function was to oversee daily construction and make periodic reports to the Commission. There is no evidence of any other employees beside the superintendent. None of the minute books, or reports of the superintendent exist. The records in the State Archives are composed almost entirely of contractor's proposals for the construction of the building.
Far more of the records of the 1860 Commission survived. During most of its existence the Commission was composed of the Governor, Secretary of State, and the State Treasurer. Meetings usually took place in the Governor's office. The Governor's secretary usually acted as the secretary of the Commission, receiving correspondence and filing papers. Since all the members of the Board were heads of far more important executive agencies that occupied most of their time, meetings were infrequent and short. There is no evidence that the Commission ever divided into subcommittees. With the exception of a few papers from the 1860's, the administrative records of the Commission are limited exclusively to the minute books. These books contain a fairly complete record of what occurred at Commission meetings and contain copies of much of the Commission's correspondence. The minute books form the most valuable source of information in the collection and are the first source a researcher should examine.
The major responsibilities of the Commission included:
  • - Obtaining property for the Capitol and Capitol Park.
  • - Letting out contracts for materials.
  • - Oversight of construction.
  • - Making decisions on technical matters, based on the recommendations of the superintending architect.
  • - Taking legal action against contractors who failed to meet their agreements.
  • - Instructing the State Controller to disburse Capitol funds to pay bills and payrolls.
  • - Ruling on which bills should be paid, based on the advice of the superintending architect.
  • - Ruling on complaints from laborers and contractors.
  • - Receiving suggestions and opinions from the public.
  • - Obtaining reports from experts on the status of construction and the quality of materials; including regular monthly and special reports from the superintending architect and extraordinary reports from engineers on the condition of the building.
  • - Making reports to the Legislature on the progress of construction and the condition of the building; including a biennial report required by law, and special reports when requested by the Legislature.
  • - Proposing to the Legislature possible future projects on the Capitol or the Capitol grounds and estimating the probable cost.
  • - Beautifying and maintaining the Capitol Park.
  • - Maintaining the buildings within the Park, including the State Printing Office (before 1875) and the Agricultural Exhibit Hall.
  • - Granting permission for special uses of the Capitol Park, such as the holding of public concerts.
  • - Organizing special events relating to the construction of the Capitol such as the Cornerstone Ceremony (1861).
To aid it in the construction of the Capitol and the Executive Mansion (1870-74), the Commission was allowed to appoint a superintending architect. The Architect's responsibilities included, a direction of construction, advising the Board on technical matters, making suggestions on how best to confront construction problems, oversight of the quality of work and materials, taking responsibility for the performance of workmen, making recommendations on the payment of bills, overseeing the day to day performance of contractors, and the making of monthly technical reports on the progress of construction. Underneath the Architect was a series of foremen responsible for the performance of workmen in departments, such as carpentry, masonry, etc. No documents exist relating to the foremen.
The following men held the post of superintending architect:
  • Reuben Clark, July 17, 1860-September 4, 1865
  • G. P. Cummings, (first term) January 2, 1866-January 22, 1870
  • A. A. Bennett, October 7, 1870-December 5, 1871
  • G. P. Cummings, (second term) May 8, 1972-February 8, 1874
The position was abolished in 1874, but the Commission occasionally granted the same responsibilities to supervisors of large construction projects. In 1881-1883, William H. Hamilton was made Architect for the construction of a sidewalk and fence around the Capitol; in 1889, C. E. Grunsky was made engineer in charge of improvements to the Capitol Park; and from 1906-1908, Albert Sutton of Sutton and Weeks of San Francisco, was Architect for Capitol renovation. The Architect's monthly reports for the period between 1862 and 1872 provide the best source of information on the progress of Capitol construction. Although at various times the position of Architect was alternately referred to as supervisor, superintendent, architect, superintending architect, and engineer in charge, the position will be referred to in this study aid as Architect, and documents will be filed under that heading.
Also under the authority of the State Capitol Commission was the position of Capitol gardener, whose responsibilities included the care and beautification of the Capitol Park, the supervision of Park laborers, and the maintenance of order on the grounds.
He designed the floral displays in the Park, made purchases of plants, and advised the Commission on the need for future projects (such as the laying down of foot paths in the Park).