Posted: 6:58 PM- With an air of history and hope, Utah rededicated its Capitol on Friday, restoring the 93-year-old building to its original vision and returning the seat of state government to its citizens.
"On this historic occasion, we warmly welcome all Utah citizens. To those who work hard to raise their families and support their communities, we offer a deep sense of gratitude," said Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. "This is your state Capitol. This is the people's house."
More than 2,000 people jammed into the building to witness the invitation-only rededication ceremony, which opened with songs by the International Childrens Choir, clad in bright costumes from around the world.
The more than three-year, $227 million project restored the ornate light fixtures, enormous murals and colors to its original state, and added four towering bronze statues in the corners of the rotunda.
It also strengthened the structure and added 285 base isolators, platforms on which the building now stands allowing it to shift up to two feet in the event of an earthquake. Before the project, a tremor on the nearby fault could have caused the columns in front of the building to buckle and the rotunda to fall in.
"This building can withstand an earthquake but she cannot withstand citizen neglect," said Senate President John Valentine, who challenged Utahns to "Re-dedicate yourselves along with this building. Help others. Re-emerge, not as subject but as citizens, as free people, as strong families, as self-sufficient communities."
Legislative leaders, the state's congressional delegation, Huntsman and other dignitaries were escorted in and the crowd rose as Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who offered the dedicatory prayer, stepped onto the raised stage.
First Lady Mary Kaye Huntsman rang a brass bell that was answered by hundreds more, echoing off the stately dome and marble walls, growing to a crescendo that was joined by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing America The Beautiful.
The Utah National Guard posted the flags and the children's choir sang the national anthem, joined midway by the Tabernacle choir as several spectators wiped tears from their eyes.
"This, by any standard, is an epic day," said David Hart, the architect of the Capitol.
"It is important that we always remember this is more than a building. It is a special place," Hart said. "It is a temple to democracy. It is the physical manifestation of the Constitution and our rights."
Hinckley, the 97-year-old leader of the LDS Church, marveled at the grandeur of the building.
"It's absolutely beautiful and what a tremendous credit it is to the State of Utah," Hinckley said. "This is the official house of the people of the State of Utah. May it be preserved from the elements of nature. May wisdom dictate all that is said and done here."
Huntsman noted that the Legislature will return to the building on Jan. 22, and the building will return to its "full purpose."
"How great it will be to hear once again red-hot debates on transportation funding on a Friday afternoon," he said, "and see students dancing to the strains of the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the junior prom on a Friday night."
Lane Beattie, president of the Senate when the project planning was initiated nine years ago, said that when the project began, many were skeptical "both of our need and ability to do it."
"It's wonderful to have the legacy return," he said. "It's like coming home."