Former Ship, Former Capitol - California’s oldest state capitol building is still opening its doors

Updated: Apr 5, 2019

By Matt Larson

Photo Credit: Benicia Historical Museum

Just a bridge’s journey outside of West County you can find the very first California state capitol building, restored to pretty much exactly how it existed in 1853. Preserved today as the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park, you can visit California’s third official seat of government, and learn quite a bit about the history of our state while you’re at it.

The original capitol was in San Jose, then to Vallejo, then to Benicia, and finally now in Sacramento. But there was no official state capitol building in San Jose or Vallejo. Vallejo was in the process of building one, but this was during the time of the gold rush, so importing building materials was not a high priority for transportation services as gold was one everyone’s minds, so they’d rather send people than construction materials.

As Vallejo was struggling to get their building completed in time, it’s believed that Tom Larkin (a friend of General Vallejo’s who pretty much owned half of Benicia at the time) decided to spearhead the secret construction of a capitol building in Benicia. “A lie was made up that it would be city hall, because everyone wanted the capitol!” said Victor Edmonds, of the docents at the Benicia Capitol State Historical Park. But where to find building materials? Well, during this time, if there was a ship nearby without anyone caring for it, its parts were yours for the taking.