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North Dakota Legislative Assembly Then...and Now! - Evolution of Capitol Buildings

Fire and Destruction

Early on Sunday morning, December 28, 1930, the Capitol's janitor heard a loud cracking noise. Looking around, he found nothing, but when he went outside, he saw flames leaping from the Senate Chambers on the fourth floor. Though he called the fire department immediately, the building was too engulfed in flames to be saved. The fire destroyed most of the building except for the two lower floors of the north wing. It is said the fire was started by oily rags in a janitor's closet.

Below is film of the original North Dakota State Capitol burning on December 28, 1930. The video also includes removal of the building's cornerstone, dynamiting of the Capitol ruins, and the signing of a bill by Governor George Shafer to build the new Capitol.

Duration: 10:18

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State Historical Society of North Dakota (10620-9061-1)

Note: This video file is large. Please be patient as the video buffers initially.


During demolition of the old building and reconstruction of the new building, the legislature met in Bismarck's World War Memorial Building and the City Auditorium.

North Dakota's current Capitol was built during the Great Depression.  The state of North Dakota was seeing financial difficulty and had to combine funds from several sources.  As a result, legislators placed a $2 million ($34 million in 2014) limit on funding for the new building.  As additional funding was needed later in the project, half of the original Capitol campus was sold to defray costs of construction.  Workers were paid 30 cents per hour.  After multiple worker strikes, the Capitol grounds were overseen by martial law.

Architects chose a modern and Art Deco theme focusing on geometric shapes.  This allowed opportunities to inexpensively decorate.  In an effort to save money, it was decided that only the legislative wing and lower two floors of the tower would express these themes.  The 19-story Capitol tower is 242 feet.  The outside dimensions of the tower measure 95 feet by 95 feet.  The legislative wing consists of 3 stories, and is attached to the tower by Memorial Hall. It is the tallest building in North Dakota and is known as the "Skyscraper on the Prairie."

It was expected the building would offer plenty of office space for years to come.  By 1955 state government was outgrowing the building. The State Office Building was built, and the judicial wing has since been added.  Today space is still limited and many agencies are located in office buildings throughout Bismarck.

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Photos courtesy of the State Historical Society and the Legislative Council