The Ah Factor

Linda Burton posting from Honolulu, Hawaii – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – kids love capitols. Why else would granddaughter Kayla make a statement like “I love this day!” as we returned to our room footsore and damp and too tired to think? We hadn’t been to Disneyland. We hadn’t been shopping for the latest “fads for girls.” We had been to the Hawaii State Capitol. We figured out the trolley lines (Red is the Historic Route), covered up our cameras with the bottom of our shirts (rain mist blew through the open trolley and wet us good); and off we went. Clang, clang, clang went the trolley; rain, rain, rain on our face; walk, walk, walk to the entrance, and then Kayla took off, Nikon around neck; squatting, standing, leaning, snapping shots of everything – the sky through the upward sweeping opening-instead-of-a-roof; the blue ceramic tiles circling in the center; the stones taking volcano shape on the side; images intended to evoke a feeling, show a certain attitude. Birds flew up, down, landed and skipped along the pavement at our feet; everyone we passed nodded and smiled. This was a happy place; how can I explain?

My friend Jim (author of 50 State Capitols, The Architecture of Representative Government) has observed how the architecture of a building actually influences behavior. We get a little more reverent, a little more inspired, when we’re inside certain significant structures. And if architecture affects the very young so powerfully too, then I continue to maintain that our state capitols are jewels to be treasured, honored, and—excuse the word but there is no better one – flaunted. Show’em off, I say. They have the “Ah Factor.”

I was touched when the Capitol Guide in Boise stated to the 4th graders standing in the Governor’s Ceremonial Office “If you were Governor, this is where you’d sit to sign bills into laws.” What a thought to put into the mind of a child! And I was touched today in Honolulu when Beverly invited my 4th-grader Kayla to “sit there, in the Governor’s Chair.” She perched behind the large curving koa desk; back of her head was the state seal of Hawaii, King Kamehameha I on the left; the Goddess of Liberty on the right. “If you were Governor of Hawaii,” I said to her, “this is where you’d sit.”

Beverly pointed to the portraits around the room – William Quinn, governor of the territory and then first governor as Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959; John Burns, who led the vision for the new capitol building which was completed in 1969; George Ariyoshi, the first American of Asian descent to be elected governor of a US state; John Waihe’e III, the first Native Hawaiian to be elected governor of a US state; Benjamin Cayetano, the first Filipino American to serve as governor of a US state; Linda Lingle, the first female governor of Hawaii and first governor of Jewish descent. “A lot of firsts,” she said, “we pride ourselves on our diversity here.” Current Governor Neil Abercrombie is a former New Yorker of English/German/Irish descent, arriving in Hawaii a month after statehood to study at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Possibilities. Imagination. Ah. Perhaps that’s what Kayla felt as she surveyed the room from the Governor’s leather chair; as she took these photos of governors who have served. She looked thoughtful, to be sure.

And then there was the Heaber family. We went to the 4th floor next to get a stamp for our Hawai’i State Capitol books. Just ahead of us a family of four walked in, glowing and bragging; good reason, too. “This is our 50th State!” Mom Donna announced. “We’ve been to all the capitols now.” They posed in front of the state seal, the parents and two teen-aged sons with bust-a-gut grins. “We started this ten years ago,” explained Donna, “traveling in our motor home as time allowed. We thought it was important for the kids to see. We’ve been to the national capitol too, and Puerto Rico, on the chance.”

Good job, Heaber family of San Jose, California. What a gift you have given your kids, and yourselves. The Ah Factor, times 52.