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Release: Nov. 20, 2001

Nov. 20, 2001

Fire causes extensive damage to Old Capitol building

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A fire caused extensive damage to the Old Capitol at the University of Iowa this morning, destroying the landmark building's gold dome and causing smoke and water damage to the interior.

Five people working in the building at the time of the fire were all safely evacuated, and eight workers from three different contracting firms who were working on a renovation project on the roof and dome all escaped injury. Two fire trucks arriving at the scene established a perimeter around the site to restrain bystanders. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

“This is a sad day for the University of Iowa,” said President Mary Sue Coleman. “Old Capitol embodies the heart and soul of this university, and watching the dome go up in flames was painful for all of us. However, we want all our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university to know that we will begin immediately to plan to rebuild and restore it.”

By mid-morning, the University of Iowa Foundation had established the Old Capitol Rebuilding Fund, which had already received its first $100 contribution.

At the time of the fire, the Old Capitol dome and exterior surfaces were undergoing an $895,000 renovation consisting, in part, of some 12,000 feet of wooden surfaces. The work involved stripping old paint, repairing broken and rotten wood and recoating the wooden portions of the building. Also included were removal of asbestos, placement of new liners for gutters, repair of flashing installation of attic vents and other work.

Old Capitol was designated a National Historic Landmark in the mid-1970s, when it was restored and converted for use as a museum. Previous building repair projects, relying on funds from the UI Foundation and university building repair funds, took place in 1981 and 1993.

Old Capitol's cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1840. It served first as the territorial capitol until 1846, then as the state capitol until 1857, when the government moved to Des Moines. That same year, the building was deeded to the university and was the first building owned by the UI, serving as a library, chapel, armory, and classroom building. The Old Capitol welcomes some 40,000 visitors each year and hosts many university functions. The Senate Chamber is a popular site for lectures, meetings, and doctoral dissertation defenses.

Old Capitol Information: