The Nevada Appeal today has a front-page story on the earthquake readiness of several of the historic buildings around town. Many of the town’s most massive buildings are made of stone, quarried from the state prison over a hundred years ago and put together with the best masonry techniques of the day. But stone buildings don’t hold up well in earthquakes, and any of those buildings could have been brought down by a good shake. The Capitol Building, the Old State Printing Office, the Laxalt Building, and the State Museum. All were in danger of falling over with a big enough temblor.
But all of them have since been earthquake-proofed and reinforced, and that’s what this article is about. Some of the buildings simply had steel braces and straps installed to hold the walls in place, so that in a quake the whole structure would move as one piece and not be shaken apart. Other buildings had steel rods drilled through their sandstone blocks as a way of reinforcing the structure. But the Capitol had the most drastic work done. In the late 1970s the whole building was gutted. Gutted right down to the stone walls and dirt floor. Then a new steel and concrete framework was built inside the stone, in essence a brand-new building inside the old shell. It was topped off with a fiberglass dome, all the original trim and moldings were put back in, and now we have a practically earthquake-proof Capitol. These photos, from the State Library’s website, show the dramatic construction work being done.
I know it looks like overkill, but the alternative, bandied about in the 1950s and 60s, was to demolish the Capitol and replace it with post-war office buildings. So possibly they made the right choice.