Capitol Annex Project: The Facts


Victoria Kastner
Architectural Historian
Hearst Castle’s Official Historian, 1996-2018

I’m standing in Capitol Park, what has been called California’s front yard. It’s not just for the citizens of Sacramento, it belongs to everyone in this state.

And just like the beautiful East Annex, which is threatened with demolition Capitol Park is going to be defaced as well.

I’m Victoria Kastner, and for 30 years I was the official historian at a California State Park of great beauty, Hearst Castle. And it was my job to enforce the historic preservation laws that govern all public buildings within our beautiful state. I’m standing here in front of a public building which is the essence of our state, and that is the East Annex of the State Capitol building and currently it is under great peril.

The East Annex was built by Alfred Eichler, who was the State Architect, and it’s one of his finest works. He became the California State Architect in the mid-1920s and soon after, he built one of his very greatest projects the Tower Bridge. It was finished in 1934 in a style that we call Streamline Moderne.  

Even though it really wasn’t going anywhere it was meant to look like a surging ship or a streamlined vehicle.

You know because it was the thirties. It was a time of excitement and surging activity. So, it was voted ‘The Most Beautiful Lift Bridge in the World’ soon after it was built. So that was early in Mr. Eichler’s career.

The East Annex is late in his career, but it is a building of similar importance and beauty. And though he designed it and finished it in 1952, designing it to carefully mix and blend beautifully to complement, not dominate, but to complement the State Capitol building, to echo its columns and it’s kind of governmental grandeur to tell its story with modern materials aluminum, the beautiful bas reliefs, gorgeous, matched marble, and because of the quality of the workmanship and its importance to our history, it could easily be rehabilitated.

It was designed to be the pendant piece with his Tower Bridge because there’s a corridor a mile long from the Tower Bridge to this East Annex building. And so, he created something very rare, and that is in 1952, amid-century modern building that retained the spirit of the optimistic 1930s Streamline Moderne. 

The State Capitol took 14 years to build and was finally finished, but it needed a lot of protection and care, and what galvanized people to protect and care for it was a proposal in the early 1970s that it be torn down and replaced with two glass skyscrapers onside either of a pond. It was going to look like the UN.

That happened in the 1970s, and people realized how important this seat of government was and this building as a symbol of our government. And so, they rallied together and from 1976 our bicentennial year, until the early 1980s, they upgraded the State Capitol.

They restored it. They brought back its beauty. Well, we’re in a similar situation today.

This very important historic East Annex is slated to be demolished for something even more hideous than those two steel and glass skyscraper boxes would have been in the 70s. A giant glass building that makes no effort to defer to the primary building of the State Capitol. It’s going to be a security hazard. It is going to deface this beautiful Capitol Park.  

But just as the government building was imperiled in the 70s and people were galvanized to act, we can do the same thing. We need to protect this East Annex. We need to make sure that it is rehabilitated. What was initially planned and presented is not the project that they are going forward with. They have added more trees that are going to be killed. They’re moving trees in an incautious way, that is destined to make them die.

We cannot let the egotism and greed of a few affect all of us as citizens. There are rules and laws for how this is to be done, based on the California Environmental Quality Act. And the government officials and our state lawmakers have exempted themselves from following those rules. They’re not attempting to blend into the State Capitol. They’re not attempting to save these magnificent trees.

They want to deface this beautiful park, build an underground garage wantonly kill the history all around us. It is a temporary problem to house administration.

The existing buildings can be where the other members of the staff are housed. The existing underground garage can be the Visitors Center that they want. It is not necessary to spend $1.4 billion of the public’s money, kill the trees which are the essence of this place.

This was created to be a symbol, a small place 40 acres that held all of the wondrous trees of the world.

They’re 150 years old and more, and many of them have already been cut down. And others are slated to die if this big monstrosity of a building, this insensitive Annex, which can’t even be called an annex because it dwarfs the size of the original historic State Capitol, is allowed to be built.

There are laws in place which protect historic buildings that are owned by the people.

There’s a historic building code in California which mandates exactly how to make it modern, put in fire sprinklers, make sure it’s accessible, and yet save our history. 

Every part of our Historic State Capitol will be damaged and permanently defaced by this new proposal.

People will not be able to assemble as they always have. The West Steps, which have long been the area where all citizens of this state could gather, are going to disappear. The essence of our state’s history is not to destroy. It is to protect and to grow, to make sure that we rehabilitate these buildings so that they can have the use for which they were built.

We can be respectful of the history of our past. We can save the beauties of this Capitol Park.

And we can remind the public servants that they work for us, not the other way around. There’s going to be a tremendous amount of destruction. But more than that, this is destruction to our history.

That West Terrace has been the site where we as citizens can gather and protest and make our wishes known. That will disappear.  

This is a slap in the face to history. We must protect the history of our state. The history of our freedom of speech. And the history of our buildings which deserve our protection and care––not our destruction.

This entire compound of our State Capitol and our Capitol Park is on the National Register of Historic Places for a reason. This is the heart of California, and it must be saved.

What they are trying to do by defacing our historic Capitol is taking somewhere and making it anywhere. That building could go anywhere within the state.

It should not be vandalizing our historic State Capitol.