Texas State Capitol
1100 Congress Avenue, Austin
I arrived in Austin during a motorcycle convention. For much of the drive from Dallas I’d marveled at the numbers of motorcycle riders. Some wore protective gear , others only wore enough to avoid ticketing for indecent exposure -- apparently preferring a quick death in case of accident to a slow broil under the Texas sun.
At check-in, the staff at my hotel handed me a flier that explained things, including an offer to wash the chrome on my motorcycle -- if I had one -- for free. The Writers League of Texas was holding its convention the same weekend as the Republic of Texas motorcycle rally, with more than 45,000 motorcycle enthusiasts expected to attend. And I thought downtown Austin was just crowded because it was the weekend.
I didn’t expect to meet any bikers on a quick sightseeing tour at the state capitol. For those of you not from here, the first thing you’ll notice about the beautiful state capitol of Texas is that it’s pink. Pale dusty pink, sunset pink, rosy almost-red. Depending on the light, the season, the time of day. Built predominantly of pink Central Texas granite, its appearance seems incongruous for a state so concerned to with its macho image. But a picturesque couple asked for my help. The woman explained that holding her camera -- also pink -- at arm’s length just didn’t give a good enough of view of them. They let me take a picture for myself as well, with the beautiful pink dome in the background.
At the time of its late nineteenth-century construction, the capitol was said to be the seventh largest building in the world. That seemed like quite a feat for a state still recovering from the cost of being on the losing side in the Civil War. Not to worry, the state legislators said. We’ll just trade land for it.
And trade they did. The builders got more than three million acres of land in the Texas Panhandle, which became the largest cattle ranch in the world, the XIT. The famous brand -- “Ten in Texas” -- I learned as a schoolchild, refers to the fact that the ranch included all or part of ten counties.
The capitol has undergone several renovations, with the most recent extending underground to avoid competing with the historic façade. It is open for free tours daily except on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Easter. Please see the Texas State Preservation Board’s site, www.tspb.state.tx.us/spb/ for specifics.
(Next Monday -- After this Capitol Fourth, July’s Totally Texas focuses on ways to beat the heat, starting with the Dallas Museum of Art’s reduced price attractions )