Lileks: No shiny dome, OK. But NoDak has oil

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 21, 2012 - 7:11 PM

It's hard to concentrate on building a replacement for the Metrodome when the Capitol Dome is bouncing chunks off your desk. So the Legislature took up the question of funding repairs.

On the floor, House Majority Leader Matt Dean, an architect by trade, described the beauty of the structure. Then he took a swipe at our Flickertail neighbors: "Has anybody seen North Dakota's Capitol? It's like, State Farm Insurance called, they want their office building back."

State Farm fired back that it had been refitting its buildings with gilded baroque moldings for the last 10 years, thank you very much, and Dean was way out of line. Actually, I made that up. But the governor of North Dakota did take umbrage, accusing Dean of not appreciating Chicago-style architecture.

There's a reason the NoDak building is so severe. It was built in 1934, when the nation was sunk in Depression up to its nostrils. When joblessness is somewhere around 97 percent, getting people to pay for a palace festooned with allegorical statuary is a hard sell.

Besides, tastes had changed. Architects had devised a new style for the Machine Age, clean and utterly rational. There's beauty, too: The Memorial Hall has light fixtures that look like wheat from the Buck Rogers era. Of all the state Capitols, it's the most futuristic -- and unlike most things designed to look like Tomorrow, it's aged well, and commands the prairie with simple, lean authority.

Back to Dean: I called to see whether he regretted his remarks. Sure, it's a mountain out of a molehill, but in a flat state like North Dakota, molehills are mountains.

"Closest I got to it was the freeway. I was driving to Mott on a hunting trip with Rep. Zellers, and I could see it in the front window for an hour and the rear-view window for another. ... by the time we got there, you'd think Zellers had built the thing by hand, he was so proud. So the remark on the floor was meant for him." You see, Kurt Zellers, speaker of the House, is a native of North Dakota, as am I.

As a transplant, I love both Capitols, although we have golden horses on top of the Minnesota Legislature, which begs people to crack about "runaway spending."

One more thing: North Dakota does have two things we don't, namely oil and nuclear weapons. I'd want to stay on their good side. But that's just the native talking.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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