Lakefair is 50 this year. It must've been during the 4th or 5th Lakefair I that I won a little ceramic dog as a result of hitting the required number of balloons with darts, or knocking over wooden pins with a ball. I still have that little dog, and by gosh, I'm going to keep him. Anyway, the exact spot where this prize-winning episode took place was where the Capitol Center Building now stands. Back then it was just a vacant lot.
Sometimes you hear folks describe the Capitol Center Building as "ugly," or an "eyesore." Why, I even felt that way myself until I started researching the history of the place and began to realize what a great asset this structure is to the Olympia area. Both the governments of Thurston County and the State of Washington have had financial fiascos associated with the skyscraper, giving anti-government drum-beaters several years worth of material to complain about. The building has become sort of an unofficial scapegoat in many ways.
But I think the Capitol Center Building should not be torn down, or, as a recent developer has proposed, be remodeled. Keep it just as it is. It is a classic example of the Cesso sullo Paesaggio school of architecture so prevalant around here in the 1960s-1970s.
When one looks into the public architecture of Olympia, all you hear is Wohleb, Wohleb, Wohleb. Yawn. Enough. It is time to look at the public architecture of Olympia from the Cold War era. To do that, you need to know about G. Stacey Bennett (1916-1998).
If you look at a list of the structures in Olympia Mr. Bennett had a hand in designing, you can see he was very influenced by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, hence the use the word "Miesian" one inventory uses to describe the Capitol Center Building.
In addition to the Capitol Center Building, Mr. Bennett was also involved with the design of Goldberg's Furniture (1950) (now Ken Schoenfeld Furniture on 4th and Capitol), the Medical Arts Building on W. 4th Ave. (1966) near the old St. Petes, the Olympia Federal Savings Bank (1967), Pioneer School (1969), and the garage and shop at TESC (1971). These new buildings of the 1960s-early 1970s seemed to be an extension of the sort of designs we saw at the Century 21 exposition in Seattle in 1961-62. In fact, one building from the Seattle World's Fair was even towed down here on the Sound and opened as a restaurant at the end of the port called the Jacaranda.
The Capitol Center Building was built in 1965 for Imperial Properties, an Olympia corporation. Bennett and his partner Robert Olson told the newspaper the building was going to be "modern and open in design with an aluminum and glass exterior." It became Olympia's 2nd tallest structure, after the Legislative Building. It has 9 floors. They were going to build 10, but that's another story. (Sorry, couldn't resist).
There was quite the stir when the Capitol Center Building opened. It was so impressive the word "impressive" is used twice in one sentence in this Oct. 1965 newspaper ad:
"The impressive Capitol Center, now nearing completion, is destined to be the most impressive business address in all of Southwest Washington. The nine-story, two-million dollar building is designed to provide the ultimate in luxurious suites and professional offices for those who seek quarters that will fully reflect their professional achievements."
So, please, don't let them tear it down or change it. Like the twin WPPSS cooling towers on the Chehalis River Valley near Elma that were never used, this building stands as a monument to our failings, to an era of wrecked expectations, to something I can't quite define at this moment because I'm getting hungry now and want to stop typing. But you know what I mean. Save the Capitol Center Building!