Architecture / History / Louisiana / Travel

The Kingfish’s Ego In Art Deco

Capital FI

A few hundred yards east of a lazy bend in the Mississippi River sits the capitol of Louisiana – all 34 stories and 450 feet of it. A conspicuous building in any city, it absolutely dominates the Baton Rouge skyline – not unlike the man who built it. 

Huey Long

It’s impossible to discuss the capitol building without also mentioning Huey Long, aka “The Kingfish.”

The imposing white limestone tower is a classic design with Art Deco details depicting the history and industries of the state. The interior’s main hall and two houses of congress are elegant, with beautiful stonework and intricately painted ceilings. 

Hall

Senate

The new capitol building, completed in 1932, was an important project which Long was willing to fight for. To appreciate its significance, it should be remembered that the stock market had crashed three years earlier, and the Great Depression was underway. At a time when most states were struggling to keep their economies afloat, The Kingfish was spending millions of dollars to build the biggest capitol building in the US. The Louisiana Congress didn’t agree, but after a few of Long’s strong-arm tactics, the funding was approved.

Huey Long is one of the most enigmatic politicians in recent history. From a modest background, he rose to be Louisiana’s youngest governor, then senator, and later became a US Presidential hopeful. He was an outspoken populist whose state-wide social reform works made him exceptionally popular with voters, but his Robin Hood tactics also made him the enemy of the wealthy and corporations.

He accomplished amazing things and raised the standard of living for many Louisianians, but his legacy of good works must be examined alongside his methods. And opinions vary.

“Long, by any number of measures, may represent the gold standard in the abuse of American political power, making many subsequent public officials who were actually caught for their misdeeds look like lunchbox thieves. Still, legions of Louisianians revere Long as a populist hero.”Chicago Tribune

huey-long

And Long himself said he bought legislators “like sacks of potatoes, shuffled them like a deck of cards.” He gave himself the nickname “Kingfish.”

“I’m a small fish here in Washington.
But I’m the Kingfish to the folks down in Louisiana.”
–Huey Long

Even songwriter Randy Newman had an opinion of Long’s work. In his song “Kingfish” he sang:

Who built the highway to Baton Rouge?
Who put up the hospital and built you schools?
Who looks after shit-kickers like you?
The Kingfish do.

It’s ironic that inside the capitol, one of his most enduring achievements, the circle of his life was completed. For on September 10, 1935, just off the main hall, Long was shot. Two days later he was dead. 

Huey Long Assassination

The irony continued for me when I realized that from the rooftop deck of the statehouse, inside the bullseye of the capitol garden pathways, a statue of Long stands atop his grave and gazes at the building he fought so hard to build.

Capital Garden

Huey Long remains a controversial figure in Louisiana history because he can be admired and abhorred at the same time. But there’s no denying that he was one of a kind. For anyone interested in knowing more about Huey Long and his life, Richard White’s book Kingfish: The Reign of Huey P. Long covers it nicely. 

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

Governor's Elevator

27 thoughts on “The Kingfish’s Ego In Art Deco

    • Andrew, an extravagance like this is exactly what makes Long such an enigma. His popular campaign slogan was “Every man a King, but no one wears a crown.” But this personal elevator looks like royal treatment to me. ~James

  1. I’d be willing to bet that he wasn’t any more corrupt than many other politicians of the times, just much more blatant about it. Despite his methods, he really did accomplish quite a bit for LA.

    • There were far fewer controls in those days Laura, and corruption was rife, but Long took it to a new level. In the process, he modernized Louisiana and made life better for most people of the state. Once you leave the interstate in south Louisiana, it’s hard to drive more than a few miles without crossing a Kingfish-built bridge. An interesting character for sure. ~James

  2. We do need to make it to Louisiana someday soon. Your posts on this state have made me move this visit up a few rungs on the life list. Great story! 🙂

  3. What a unique character! To get anything good or interesting done, you need to be a little controversial, I suppose. Love all the photographs. What a legend The Kingfisher leaves. ~(*_*)~~

    • Tess, Huey Long left not only a legend, but a significant legacy of good works. He helped so many poor people in the state, and improved their quality of life considerably. He knew what he wanted, and didn’t mind kickin’ a few butts to get it. But, who liked or disliked him probably depended on who was getting kicked. ~James

  4. Wonderful story and photos. Sometimes the best travel isn’t too far away 🙂

    I spent a good deal of time in TX/LA since I retired from the oil industry. I was always fascinated by how unique the culture and history was from the rest of the U.S. I never did get to see this beautiful building. But it is better with your history to go along with it….

    • Thanks Jeannee. Interestingly, I too am retired from the awl bidness (geophysicist), and lived in NOLA for a couple of years. This was my second trip to the capitol, and with a few more years on the odometer, I found that I could appreciate it more the second time. If you get a chance, it really is a pretty cool building, and worth the short trip to Baton Rouge. Huey Long is just one in a long line of corrupt LA politicians, but he certainly perfected the art in his short time. I just wonder what would have happened if he’d become president … yikes. ~James

    • Thanks Pam. This building is massive (as per plan), but the art deco details, both inside and out, are wonderful. I’m sure that it must have caused all sorts of cheers and consternation at the time it was built. ~James

  5. What a beautiful capital in Baton Rouge! Your story about Huey Long should encourage many of your readers to explore his legacy further. I would add that a big part of The Kingfish’s legacy is the capital building itself. Even built with scarce Depression dollars, it rivals some of the opulent churches and cathedrals I have written about on the ABC Tour. The pictures add so much. Thank you for another enlightening tale. – Mike

    • Thanks Mike. It really is a beautiful building. The interior was just as interesting as the exterior, and luckily, the day we visited both houses of congress were open to the public. I became interested in Huey Long when I lived in New Orleans. Long was a character in every sense of the word. He did more for Louisiana’s poor and uneducated than any politician before or since. He really is responsible for modernizing LA when it desperately needed it. But you wouldn’t have wanted to be in his cross hairs. He was a cruel egomaniac that took no prisoners. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if he had become US President. ~James

    • Thanks Joanne. South Louisiana (and New Orleans in particular) was a gumbo of influences from its early days, and the French most of all. From the Creoles to the Cajuns, the French contributed a great deal to the culture, and it continues to this day. Laissez le bon temps rouler! ~James

  6. Long definitely was likable and as crooked as they get. I certainly wouldn’t appreciate his politics today, but he is fascinating to see him from a history book.

    • Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog Ted. There have always been (and will always be) crooked politicians, but Huey Long set the bar very high. When I lived in New Orleans I read quite a bit about his history, and found him a fascinating character. And even though he had a Ponchartrain-size ego and a Machiavellian mind, he did so much good for the people of Louisiana, it’s hard not to have a tiny bit of respect for him. BTW, I took a look at your blog, and wanted to say Bravo for your Mercy Chefs work. Well done. ~James

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