Remembrance of Ray Girvigian

The original California Capitol Bicentennial Restoration team, 1976-1982
Raymond Girvigian 4th from left, Dan Visnich 5th from left, Richard Cowan 10th from left.
Photo Source: California State Capitol Museum

Interview of Raymond Girvigian by Save Our Capitol! Counsel Stephen Cook, with Photojournalist Stan Drury.

Eulogy by Dan Visnich, executive secretary of the California Capitol Historic Preservation Society, on Saturday, June 18, 2022 in South Pasadena, California.

In 1970, Governor Ronald Reagan appointed Raymond Girvigian Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, as the first Historical Architect to the State Historical Resources Commission at the recommendation of the California American Institute of Architects.

The State Historic Preservation Officer serves as the Executive Secretary of this Commission.  

In that capacity, three years later, Ray advocated saving the original California Capitol.

More than a century earlier, in 1869, the Legislature began meeting in the original 1860 Capitol.  

Forty years have passed since the 1982 gala re-opening of the 153-year-old neo-classic Corinthian-styled State Capitol, where travelers from all over the world visit still, and marvel over its restoration.

In 1975, former Assembly Speaker Leo McCarthy and former Senate pro Tem James Mills won the battle to preserve and to restore the original Capitol rather than to allow construction of the 17-story twin towers intended to replace it.

Ray’s concern about the fate of the Capitol caught the attention of preservationists, and particularly of Senator James Mills.

Mills was convinced that the historic Capitol should be restored.

Assemblyman McCarthy joined his cause by campaigning that he, too, would have the Capitol restored if he were to win as Speaker of the Assembly.  

McCarthy did, indeed, defeat Willie Brown as Speaker.

Senator Mills also told the Governor’s Legislative Liaison John Tooker, about his desire to restore the Capitol.

Governor Reagan then publicly declared that the old Capitol should be restored.

In July of 1975, I was assigned by the Senate as its Legislative Liaison to the new Joint Committee on Rules.

Speaker McCarthy’s new JRC Chair wanted to retain the well-known architectural firm Welton Becket & Associates for the project if a viable restoration plan could be devised.  

So, Charlie Poll of the Becket firm contracted with Ray from South Pasadena to write Volume 2, Restoration and Development of the Capitol for the Joint Committee on Rules, the California State Legislature.  

Ray’s massive study for the Becket firm recommended preserving the original Capitol with restoration and partial reconstruction and urged that the Legislature declare it California’s Prime Bicentennial Project.

I was directed in my new position to write a staff report for the Committee members recommending the designation of Welton Becket & Associates as the Legislature’s Architect.

The joint venture contractor team of Heller Continental and Swinerton & Walberg was chosen to restore the Capitol.

I wrote reports to the Senate regarding progress of the project and raised concerns about violations which I saw involving bidding procedures and the Legislature’s continuing to ignore Girvigian’s advocacy for restoration.

The contractor took issue with my work, but I was vindicated by a Legislative Analyst’s Report which corroborated my findings and earned a front-page banner headline in the Los Angeles Times.

More importantly, the Senate put Ray on the Senate payroll after the Becket firm was persuaded to drop him, and me, as Owner’s Representatives.

As a result, the Restoration Project received accolades due to Ray’s work, despite the battles he fought and the tremendous harassment that he endured.

The AIA honored Ray, Chair Emeritus of the Historic State Capitol Commission, with a national award for his work on the California Restoration Project.  

As I worked with Ray, he turned me into a preservationist.

I realized that I was working with a preeminent professional.  

I am convinced that Ray had such a mind, talent, and ability that he could have been an eminent attorney, a stellar college professor, or even an outstanding doctor.

Ultimately, he was destined to become the most influential “historical restoration architect” and the prime mover for the restoration and preservation of the original California Capitol.

He focused his heart and mind on historic preservation.

Ray died with his boots on, struggling to save the Capitol of California from another onslaught.

During the 1970’s, 80’s, and through the end of the century, there were a dozen legislators who were preservationists.  

Today, there are none––although one Senator defending the glass monstrosity told me he was a preservationist.

Currently, the Legislature is determined to deface the west front entrance of the Capitol by constructing a visitor’s center there and destroying the Capitol Annex without investigating if it can be rehabilitated, as is required by law.

The proposed glass annex monstrosity not only would overshadow the historic Capitol, but also would intrude on Capitol Park, causing the destruction of 140 plus trees, many historic from the 1870s, brought in from countries all over the world.

Senator James Mills, who attended the Lifetime Achievement Award Presentation to Ray Girvigian in 2006 by the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation, died March 27, 2021.

Before his death, he joined Ray to oppose this radical scheme, along with former Legislators Alan Sieroty, Quentin Kopp, Bill Bagley, and Sam Farr.  

Also, actively involved in opposition to the Legislature's Annex Project, is Milford Wayne Donaldson FAIA, former State Historic Preservation Officer, and President Obama’s Chair of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.  

Wayne also is the Chair of the California Capitol Historic Preservation Society, of which I am a Founding Member and the Executive Secretary.

From a moral standpoint, according to Wayne, it is shameful for the Legislature to continue with this proposed and escalating $1.6 billion construction project, ignoring and abolishing preservation standards for themselves which others are required to follow.

They can vote for themselves to be above the law.

Despite his grave condition, in January of this year, Ray wrote to the honorable Governor Gavin Newsom, urging him to take a stand to save the Capitol.  

He conferred with attorneys at his bedside regarding the filing of four pending lawsuits against the Department of General Services and the Legislature.

The West Front of the Capitol, Ray told me, is just as much a symbol of democracy as the Nation’s Capitol.

Thus, it seemed strange to us that the Legislature would embark on a venture to change its appearance to resemble what Ray described as an entrance to a Greyhound bus station.  

Democracy is being challenged.

Not only our beautiful restored historic Capitol, but also other examples of Ray Girvigian’s work will remain as an incredible and lasting legacy of Ray’s talent––and tenacity.

Lord God, save our Golden State Capitol and challenged nation.

And may Ray rest in peace.