For the first time in more than 50 years, the territory’s preeminent government building, the Capitol building – has received new colors, in a project that has been lurking in the wings and was long overdue.
No longer the green barn, the dismissive moniker the Legislature has endured for decades, the refurbished structure is now wearing a new coat of a refreshing light beige.
No one could be happier with the sight than 28th Senate President Louis Hill.
"I’ve wanted to see this for so many years," he said Wednesday. "I’ve always envisioned a much more stately building. It is one of our biggest historic treasures, and we have not treated it with the care and respect it deserves."
The structure has a richly checkered history. The original building, adjacent to Fort Christian, was built in 1828. A wooden structure, it was used as a barracks, quarters for Danish enlisted officers and enlisted men. It included prison chambers, and even a wine cellar.
The present building, a reconstruction of the original in a neoclassical design, was completed in 1874, as the Roman numerals on the building’s front face testify. Significantly, the building was the site of the original transfer of the Danish West Indies to the United States in 1917, an event which is commemorated on the grounds annually.
After 1917 it served as barracks for the U.S. Marines, then later housed Charlotte Amalie High School. In 1956, with federal funds, it was restored and occupied by the Legislature and the Department of Social Welfare.
Hill worked closely with the St. Thomas-St. John Historic Commission in the renovation. Robert Moron, commission vice chair, said it was "difficult" to settle on a new color.
"We went through several layers of previous layers of paint, shades of green, yellow and beige," he said. "It’s hard to get color photos from that time. The board looked at the colors and took three choices to Sen. Hill. We tried splashes of each color on the building."
Hill consulted with his colleagues and what you see now is their decision, a color Moron says is an "oat beige."
Whatever you call it, it’s a vast improvement. Moron said reviews have been good.
"Passerby have said it looks ‘great,’" Moron said. "For some time, people have said the color should be changed from that green."
The commission was really hands-on in the project. Moron said gold gilt paint was used to highlight the roman numerals.
"The commission pays close attention to the details," he said.
The handsome new paint job is topped off by a traditional red tiled roof, finished in the last few days. The roof itself is spectacular, glistening softy in Wednesday’s afternoon sun.
The tiles, Hill pointed out are actually metal, an aluminum-zinc alloy called galvalume.
"It’s a cost-cutting measure," said Hill. The remodeling comes out of a $3 million appropriation from last November.
"That amount isn’t going totally for the current work," Hill pointed out. Part of the funds go toward the St. Croix Legislature building which sustained storm damage last year, and for the new structure on St. John.
Much work was done on the building’s interior last year. New walls and ceilings were installed and asbestos was removed from the roof. The Senate Chambers got a new ceiling, replaced with wood mouldings with inset lighting.
The floor and walls of much of the building were remodeled during the 28th legislature. Work is ongoing on the adjacent offices of the Legislative Legal Counsel, Journal Division, Archives Division and the Legislative Reporters, which will be finished in the same color scheme.
The renovation will have its official presentation Monday when the newly sworn in 29th Legislature holds its first session.