The Capitol's dome 150th anniversary - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

The Capitol's dome 150th anniversary

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(CBS NEWS) -If you're yearning for something that rises above the dysfunctional politics of Washington, we have just the thing, 288 feet above, in fact.

Tomorrow marks the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Capitol Dome. It's hard to imagine America without this crowning achievement but when you hear the story of how it was created it becomes hard to imagine that our dome exists at all.

We were given amazing access for this story. And you're about to see the dome like you've never seen it before.

George Washington knew what he wanted—a building so grand that no one could ever move the capitol from his city.

He'd still find it on Jenkins Hill where he laid the cornerstone. And he'd might admire the dome, which was built later, for what it overcame.

Built by men who despised each other, topped by a Statue of Freedom cast by a slave—through war and rivalry the dome kept rising. And, that's American character that runs deep below the skin.

All this was designed by Ayers' predecessor, Thomas Walter who proposed a dome no one had asked for. This is the Capitol that George Washington knew and it's still the center of the Capitol Building today.

Walter won a competition to expand the House and Senate sides to hold all of the politicians coming in from the new states. But then, Walter thought the original dome looked too small so he drew another.

"He posted it on the wall in his office. And members of Congress would often come by and see that. And it just stuck immediately. Didn't even have a cost estimate. Didn't know how they were gonna construct it, how they were gonna build it, and how they were gonna design it. Yet it was so beautiful and so wonderful everyone just knew immediately that they had to do it," says Stephen Ayers.

Walter drafted it after the great marble domes he'd seen in Europe only to discover that the building couldn't support the weight. So he conjured an illusion. Everything, every column, every ornament is cast iron painted to look like stone. The weight was cut in half.


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