The Bismarck Capitol steps as a Skating Rink
After the original capitol building in Bismarck burned down in a fire on December 30, 1930, the current Capitol, the “Skyscraper of the Prairie,” was planned and built. Constructed during the Great Depression, many of the original plans for extra decoration were reduced or even eliminated. For example, a fifty-foot statue intended for the entry plaza in front of Memorial Hall was reduced in size, then ultimately taken out of the plans completely. Decorative etching from the cornice stones of the Legislative wing and from the metal panels between the windows of the administrative tower were also removed from the plans.
The building ended up costing slightly under its two million dollar limit. At 241 feet and eight inches in height, and with eighty percent usable space, the building cost North Dakota 46 cents per cubic foot.
Completed in 1934, the building was unique to the landscape in North Dakota. It was surely an oddity to some, with its height and lack of ornamentation. It was a great, modernized departure from the architecture of the older building. Public opinion of the building may also have been colored by a strike by unskilled laborers who wanted a raise. The strike stopped the project for almost two weeks. Also raising concern was the building’s hefty price tag, coming in the midst of a nation-wide economic downturn.
Nonetheless, on this date in 1934, the youth of Bismarck had made their own decision about the new structure: the stone steps and large, flat landing leading up to the glassed entrance of the Memorial Hall made for a perfect roller-skating rink. They liked it so much that they took to meeting on the steps to race each other and try out different stunts.
Much to the chagrin of Ed Nelson, the superintendent of the capitol building, he had to repair the stone steps, where chunks had been taken out by young dare-devils testing out their skills.
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
The Valley City Times-Record, Oct. 17, 1934, p1