Beginning at its highest point, the chamber's richly carved golden oak ceiling
was designed with deep paneled "pockets" or recesses, creating an acoustically
perfect "debate arena" for the senators.
In order to fully appreciate the interior splendor of the Capitol building,
you need only to look at the Senate Chamber. Designed by Henry Hobson Richardson,
and first occupied in 1881, this room has been acclaimed as one of Richardson's
The walls are covered with beautiful, shimmering 23 carat gold leaf.
A master at using the different materials of the world, Richardson imported Siena
marble from Italy for the large arches above the visitor's gallery, red granite
from Scotland for the pillars, and Mexican onyx to panel the north and south walls.
The ultimate in luxury was attained with red leather and carved mahogany paneling
on the walls below the galleries.
As a tribute to the five architects who worked on the Capitol throughout its
construction - the Senate in 1980, commissioned stone cutter Vincent Leggiadro
to carve the portrait medallions of Thomas Fuller, Leopold Eidlitz, Frederick Law
Olmsted, Henry Hobson Richardson and Isaac Perry into the stone lintels above the
five entrances of the Chamber.
At the front of the chamber sits the Senate's chief presiding officer. Seated on the
top tier of the dais, he is flanked by an aide and the Senate Chaplain. Every
legislative session begins with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. The bottom
tier is for the various Senate staff who track legislation and keep attendance.
At the back of the chamber are two large fireplaces, each with openings six feet high.
Designed initially as sources of heat, they soon became mere decoration when
electricity became a standard feature of the completed building. However,
building on a tradition that began with the English parliament, the fireplaces
were soon serving as quiet meeting areas for senators to "walk into", and discuss
important issues, And, because the chamber's acoustics allowed for virtually every
spoken word to be heard, these "fireplace" chats soon became an everyday occurrence.