Staircase and Dome: Old Capitol's Centerpieces
Old Capitol's staircase, unlike spiral staircases, starts ascending to the left, turns
right, and finishes with the top step directly above the bottom. This shape is known
as a reverse spiral.
The reverse spiral design was not easy to build. When architect John Frances Rague
walked off the Iowa Capitol project, he took the plans with him. Builders were left
guessing how to assemble the staircase. When they finished, the bottom inside newel
(the final post of a staircase) was ten inches too short. With little money to fix
the problem, builders placed a water cooler next to the newel to balance out the
different heights. The staircase went unchanged for 80 years.
During the 1920s rehabilitation, architects realized that Rague's design called for each
baluster (the supporting post of a handrail) to be a different size. They rebuilt the
staircase, adding steel cables to the inside and metal poles to the outside, to prevent
steps from swaying during heavy use. The current staircase is actually the building's
second, based on the original plans.
Above the stairs is an interior dome. This structure actually lies 40 feet beneath
the exterior gold dome. In the 1920s, the exterior dome was covered with 57,000 square
inches of gold leaf, which cost about $200. Rolled up, the gold would have been the
size of a golf ball.