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Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Fireworks explode over the state Capitol after the rededication ceremony Friday. The building was closed for three years for restoration and seismic upgrades.

The Utah State Capitol was decked out Friday for its second dedication as a home for the people of Utah.

Red and blue bunting decorated the railings in the rotunda. Walls and floors were clean and bright. Once-dim artwork was visible and vibrant.

The historic structure, first dedicated in 1916, has been closed the past three years for restoration and seismic upgrades. Utah dignitaries appeared proud to reopen the building as they gave remarks during an hourlong rededication that focused on the Capitol's retrofitting and its role as a center for democracy in the state.

"This is the official house of the people of the state of Utah," Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said during his prayer to rededicate the structure. "May it be preserved from the elements of nature. May wisdom dictate all that is said and done here. May the people whose building it is feel free to wander its halls and marble staircases, admiring its resplendent beauty."

President Hinckley was asked to rededicate the building in a nod to its first dedication, at which Joseph Fielding Smith, then president of LDS Church, blessed the Capitol. Other speakers also mirrored that first ceremony, with Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. giving remarks and prayers offered by religious leaders from northern and central Utah.

But unlike the first dedication, where a reported 30,000 visitors attended, only invited guests were allowed inside the Capitol on Friday. Those in attendance said the highlight of the event was the music, which began with songs by the brightly dressed International Children's Choir and ended with a stately and slow rendition of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Cathedral of the Madeleine Choir School.

First lady Mary Kaye Huntsman helped lead a stirring bell-ringing ceremony inside the Capitol, as hundreds of area bell choirs lined the rotunda and rang bells to celebrate "return and renewal." The audience also joined in the ceremony by ringing small copper-colored bells given as souvenirs.

"This, by any standard, is an epic day," said David Hart, architect of the Capitol and the dedication's opening speaker. "Now as we rededicate the Capitol and reopen it to the public, it is important that we always remember that this is more than a building. It is a special place. It is — the people's house."

In a symbolic gesture, Hart gave an oversized key to the Capitol to the governor and first lady. The architect also urged Utah residents to care for and respect the newly opened Capitol, which was restored after nearly nine years of planning, preparation and construction work.

A total of 4,771 construction workers participated in the retrofitting, which included the placement of 265 base isolators under the Capitol's foundation to help steady the structure during an earthquake. Additionally, about 200 colors of paint were used to re-create historical paint schemes in the building, and 5,022 pieces of new terra cotta were placed in the dome.

Gov. Huntsman said he was happy to return the building to the state after the years of work. "How great it will be to hear once again red-hot debates on transportation funding on a Friday afternoon and see students dancing to the strains of the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the junior prom on a Friday night," he said. "How fitting it will be for us all to again welcome presidents and prime ministers, protestors and petitioners...to the people's house." After the event, attendees were invited to a reception in the basement, where drinks and food were served. People commented on how open, bright and clean the building looked as they munched on shrimp and other finger foods. "It's just elegant," said Maylene Waldhouse, daughter of Leeland Cummings, who served 45 years as clerk of the Utah Supreme Court. "It just shines. They changed a lot since I used to play here."

Beginning today, the Capitol will be open for a weeklong series of open houses from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. The public is invited to attend and explore the building. Lectures and activities will be held during the open houses.

E-mail: nwarburton@desnews.com