Tear It Down
Decrepit Capitol annex needs to go
By Gary Delsohn
A few months ago, I saw a flurry of nostalgic photos on social media from longtime friends and former colleagues working or posing in room 1190 of the state Capitol.
That’s the place in the old Capitol annex where reporters gathered for jousting sessions with governors and other elected officials. Because I spent considerable time there when I covered politics for The Bee and later as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s speechwriter, the photos and social media posts caught my eye.
But I have to confess, I feel no warm sense of nostalgia about the place and agree with political columnist Dan Walters, who wrote: “No one who works in and around the Capitol will be sorry to see the annex disappear. It is not only plug ugly 1950s brutalist architecture at its worst, but dysfunctional to the max.”
Walters is spot on, but he’s wrong about one thing. There are some who want to see the annex saved. At least four lawsuits have been filed contesting the state’s plans to tear down the annex and replace it with a modern, more functional building.
Most of the opposition targets what litigants argue was an inadequate environmental review and the loss of dozens of old trees in Capitol Park that would be removed or relocated to accommodate the annex replacement.
Although the 70-year-old annex has some historical significance, the building hasn’t aged well. Still, there are some in town who would rather see it saved and renovated. Sacramento needs to get over the habit of grieving anytime a building with some historical currency gets torn down and replaced.
Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s worth saving. Buildings aren’t people. When they outlive their usefulness as this one has, getting rid of them is the right thing to do.
The annex has a long list of deficiencies. Aside from being boxy and ugly, it’s not appropriately accessible to people with physical disabilities. Asbestos, lead and mold are found throughout. It’s cramped, antiquated and energy inefficient. The plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems are out of date. It needs to be replaced.
A number of state officials, including the governor and all but a handful of legislators, had offices in the six-story, 350,000-square-foot building. But they’ve all moved to a new structure a few blocks away.
I have many fond memories from working at the Capitol. But Schwarzenegger was right and could have been talking about the entire annex when he referred to the governor’s office as “rinky-dink.”
Now the site is fenced off, trees have been marked for relocation or removal and not much else has been happening while the lawsuits get sorted out.
It would be a good thing if they are settled soon and we can watch the annex disappear and get replaced by something that does a better job representing the capital of the fifth largest economy in the world.
The current $1.2 billion price tag for the complete project, which includes the new annex, an underground visitors center and parking garage, is disconcerting. So, too, is the all-glass façade that one critic rightly called a “monstrosity.”
One very preliminary rendering I saw made me wonder if the architects forgot when they designed the new annex that it would be attached to our elegant old Capitol. Completed in 1874, the neoclassical Capitol is still Sacramento’s most elegant building inside and out.
The proposed annex looks like an ultra-modern hedge fund or internet headquarters. It would look out of place in Capitol Park attached to the original building.
Here’s hoping I’m wrong. But either way, that doesn’t mitigate the need to get rid of the old annex and replace it with something people might actually like to visit.
Nostalgia is nice. Real progress is better. It’s hard enough to convince people state government is working for them when the seat of the enterprise is a dysfunctional mess whose layout resembles a Halloween corn maze. Tear it down and quit fighting about a lost cause.
Gary Delsohn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.