Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Tale Of Two Capitols

Magnet # 295:  Baton Rouge Steamboat

Material:  Clay

Purchased By:  Me

I spent the third and final night of my time in Louisiana at the state capitol, Baton Rogue.  I had never been there before, but had read up on its somewhat notorious State Capitol and was really looking forward to seeing it in person.  And I was very excited to check out the area between New Orleans and Louisiana's state capitol, better known as Plantation Alley, which I've mentioned before on this blog.

I only saw a bit of Plantation Alley on my way to Baton Rouge, but I would definitely like to go back sometime in the future to tour more of the lovely plantation homes there.  Unfortunately, it was sweltering by my standards - and I'm cold natured - so I only toured a couple of the homes.  I bought plenty of magnets, though, so I may wait to say more about my travels there later.  But I do think any trip a tourist takes from New Orleans to Baron Rouge or vice versa is incomplete without stopping by at least one of these stunning mansions.  If you just stay on I-10, you're doing it wrong.  When I got to Baton Rogue later that day, I decided to drive downtown, as I thought the LSU Museum of Art at the Shaw Center for the Arts was open until late.  It wasn't, but I still had fun traveling up to the observation deck there and having a look at the city and the Mississippi River.  I also had a nice meal downtown before heading back to my hotel, a SpringHill Suites east of downtown that I would definitely book again.  The next day, I made to yet another state capitol - the Louisiana State Capitol.  There are only four state capitols that are skyscrapers buildings and, oddly enough, two of them were the only state capitols I saw on my trip.  Yep, both Louisiana and Florida have pretty tall capitols, and it was fun to compare them.  Louisiana actually has the tallest capitol of any state in the Union, and it's a very attractive Art Deco masterpiece that resembles both the Empire State Building and the Nebraska State Capitol, a high-rise that preceded it.  I must admit, the Louisiana building is not only taller than that of Florida's, it's also much more impressive.  Each of the 48 steps to the front door are carved with a state in order of when they were admitted - Hawaii and Alaska were later added at the top.  And when I entered the building, I found it held marble from all sorts of states, including my home here in Georgia.  And the floor in the Memorial Hall is made with polished lava rock.  There are lovely murals painted over the entrance to the Senate and House of Representative chambers and the images of all of the early Louisiana governors are carved on the elevator doors.  This is a truly opulent state capitol and it was created in only 14 months during the Great Depression.  Tours aren't offered there on a regular basis, but I spoke with an employee about the highlights before making my way around.  There were all sorts of expensive little details all over and the Senate and House of Representative chambers very very nice.  I also traveled all the way up to the Tower Observation Deck on the 27th floor.  It's about half the size of the Observation Deck at the Florida State Capitol and, unlike that one, it's unenclosed and not on the top floor.  The winds were whipping by me while I was up there and I held onto my camera tightly - it was a little unnerving.  There was a gift shop just inside on the same floor and I was able to pick up a few magnets there.  I later headed down to the Old Louisiana State Capitol about a mile away and was also very impressed by what I found there.  That building was modeled after a castle and it was stunning, especially thanks to a spiral staircase under a stained glass dome.  I guess it was a little on the small side compared to the new capitol, but it's hard to believe anyone would want to leave such a nice place.  At least it's still open to the public, now as a museum featuring state history and politics.  Before I headed on, I went back to the Shaw Center for the Arts, where I was able to see LSU Museum of Art before having sushi on the top floor.  I decided to be adventurous and try a completely different kind - a Ragin' Cajun Roll, complete with alligator.  It was really good.  Finally, I headed out of town, pleased with my time there.

If you've never been to Baton Rogue, it really is a great place.  It has some of the flavor of New Orleans, but with a much more laidback attitude.  Plus, I would have to say two of the nicest and most unique state capitols can be found there.  Neither one has a dome or pediment, proving that attractive state capitols don't have to mimic the national one.  And even though it's no longer in use, the Old Louisiana State Capitol is no doubt nicer than some of the state capitol buildings out there that are currently active.  Maybe they could take a cue from the Pelican State.  So if you're interested in visiting New Orleans someday don't forget it has some great neighbors less than an hour away.  I don't think any trip to Southern Louisiana would be complete without checking out Baton Rouge and Plantation Alley.

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