Come springtime, Capitol Complex becomes prom photo central
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - More than crabapple trees and daffodils are blooming at the statehouse on weekends this spring.
Couples decked out in all colors of the rainbow are showing up with photographers in tow before they head to their proms.
With a golden dome glistening and tulips blooming across the lawn, the Capitol Complex is the perfect natural backdrop.
"When it comes to the Capitol grounds, it's obvious because of the beautiful setting we have, that we have people coming for wedding pictures, prom pictures," said Diane Holley-Brown, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration.
"Some even have their weddings here because of the beauty of the Capitol, especially at this time of year."
The Capitol is a public place, so no permission is required to take photos on the grounds.
The building is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Visitors also are welcome to take photos inside.
"It's encouraged because it's beautiful. We get compliments all the time from visitors out of state and from our citizens," Holley-Brown said.
Mary Ann Long, who has worked as a tour guide for the Capitol building and the Governor's Mansion for eight years, has watched visitors snap photos from various vantage points - the top of the steps and balconies, the rotunda area and the fountains.
"Their favorite is the ground rotunda, with the white circle," Long said. "They flow their gowns out, and the photographer can go up on the second floor and take a photo looking down."
Many brides choose to visit in the fall, when red, yellow and orange leaves are falling or in the springtime when trees and flowers are blooming.
"Hundreds and hundreds of folks come in to take photos around the complex," she said.
"Graduation photos are taken around the lawn. And proms are astronomical - we have buses coming from around the area. They come in by the busload."
On fair-weather Saturdays - the busiest day for photo taking - visitors can be seen on both the north and south sides of the Cass Gilbert-designed building.
Many take advantage of the flowerbeds and trees around the grounds.
"We always tell them to go to the deck of the Culture Center. On the left-hand side, there's a fabulous picture of the dome.
"Folks from all over the world come here. They see our dome on the Internet, and they're just in awe of the Capitol."
Sometimes Long is asked to snap the shutter as the visitors pose.
She recalls one group as especially rewarding.
"I had one group - students from China. On a Saturday, I did a tour for them. My husband was helping take photos, the most we ever did. We took photos for a good half hour," she said.
"That's my job. My job is to make people happy and feel welcome. It's very rewarding."
Prom season is her favorite time of year.
"I like it because of the beautiful gowns. I like to work Saturdays when they come in; it's awesome to see young people come in and enjoy the Capitol.
"Most are well-behaved ladies and gentlemen. It's amazing to see kids at that age be so grown up and respectful of the building."
With visitors buzzing around outside, it makes for a busy scene when lawmakers are in town and in their typical frenzy inside.
"With the Legislature in session, it is a very, very busy place. We double the number of people here on a daily basis," Holley-Brown said.
"Especially with prom season, many people are here during the weekends . . . I can tell just by looking at the newspaper and social media; I can recognize the backdrop in most of the pictures."
Those wishing to hold events at the Capitol must seek permission. Setting up tables or promoting something - particularly during the legislative session - also requires permission.
Holley-Brown said film crews occasionally call. Whether they're seeking local footage or shooting for a larger production, they are required to go through the West Virginia film office.
But the "people's Capitol" welcomes all visitors, Long said.
"You learn to work through. It can be wall-to-wall people," she said. "We still do school tours at that time. They all seem to leave with a smile.
"If there's a wedding and we have a tour, we do not interrupt. During the legislative session, we work around it.
"It's all part of the job. Our job is to make sure that when people walk into the building, they have a good feeling about the Capitol."
In 2012, about 17,500 people took Capitol tours, according to Caryn Gresham, deputy commissioner for the Division of Culture and History. In some years, more than 20,000 have done so.
Long wants them all to have a good experience.
"I say if you let them leave with a smile, you've done your job well. We are the hosts of the Capitol," she said.