Legislative chambers, the most important rooms of any Capitol, are usually designed and furnished in grand style. California's Capitol chambers were definitive examples of this for many years, until a gradual series of modernizations slowly chipped way at the grandeur they once exhibited.
During their heyday, the chambers exemplified the democratic values of government by the people, for the people. In both chambers, the Roman Corinthian design of the columns and pilasters reflect the Greek and Roman influences of our democracy.
The décor of the chambers also reflected precedents set in British Parliament. The color red, featured in the Senate Chambers, was historically associated with the House of Lords. In the Assembly Chambers, green was the predominant color, a tradition borrowed from Parliament's House of Commons.
When the Capitol first opened in 1869, a Sacramento Daily Union reporter described the chambers as, "This happy mingling of colors by the painter's brush, this ingenious carving by the skillful worker in wood, that horn of plenty, all tend to impress the mind with pleasurable and patriotic emotions." By the 1970s, however, all the details described by the reporter were replaced with white paint, fluorescent lights, and lowered ceilings.
When the restoration of the Capitol began in 1977, what remained of the original legislative chambers was restored while other elements were recreated based on historical photographs and physical evidence. For example, the original plaster pendants that hung from the ceilings were recreated from a photograph and pieces of an original found under a floor. Bronze and crystal wall sconces were reconstructed, and original furniture was restored and in some cases, reproduced. The elaborate Wilton carpet's intricate design was also reproduced based on the original pattern visible in an 1870 photograph.
Today, visitors can witness the Assembly and Senate proceedings from the balconies that overlook the restored chambers. The chambers are designed like a theater with the floor as the "stage" and the public overseeing the workings of government from the gallery. The gallery is an architectural feature that symbolically reflects the democratic process, enabling the public to observe their elected officials in action.
For more information on how the Legislature functions, visit the Assembly Chamber and Senate Chamber tour stops in the California's Capitol: A Reflection of Democracy virtual tour in this website.