It was the inspired vision of Speaker Matthew J. Ryan who began the restoration campaign to return the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building to its original beauty. For years the building had been host to a string of abuses and neglect, which obscured its original beauty and sometimes altered its historic appearance. Speaker Ryan's objective was to develop a plan whereby the building would be preserved and protected for future generations of Pennsylvanians.
Upon his arrival at the Capitol as a freshman representative, Speaker Ryan noticed a marble fireplace, chopped up and protruding from the top of a dumpster. He wondered how anyone could justify discarding a historic piece of the building in this manner. The fireplace came from a room in the Capitol and been discarded because it did not fit the "decorating scheme" of an anonymous state legislator. The act was thoughtless, but it left an indelible picture in the mind of freshman Representative Ryan, who vowed that when he had the opportunity he would do something about the wanton destruction and deterioration of the building.
When Matthew Ryan became Speaker of the House he, with the unending support of former Speaker K. Leroy Irvis, saw the chance to do something to permanently end the abuses and deterioration within the main Capitol building. Speakers Ryan and Irvis recognized that any campaign of preservation, to be truly successful, had to rise above the partisan votes and petty arguments of daily political debate. A dialogue was developed that created House, Senate, Supreme Court, and Gubernatorial appointees with the task of formulating a unified, long-term preservation plan. On the eve of Pennsylvania's tercentenary celebration and the seventy-fifth anniversary of the building this group engaged the assistance of then Governor Dick Thornburgh, who also supported the creation of a bipartisan legislative service committee to restore the Capitol.
In 1982 the Capitol Preservation Committee's legislation became law. Since that time the Capitol Preservation Committee has undertaken and completed more than one hundred projects to restore the building to its 1906 appearance.
Speaker Ryan was proud of the campaign of Capitol restoration, seeing it as a legacy that would long surpass his tenure in the House. Among the items that he always kept in his district office desk was a page from a 1999 House journal, quoting a member who applauded Matt for his role in the building's preservation. It stated:
I have been here when they butchered this building with cheap wood paneling, drop ceilings, and cheap lights. I'm glad to see; through Matt Ryan and the Capitol Preservation program that we have changed that direction, and that we have gone through the historic preservation program to keep the integrity of these buildings for others to follow. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Speakers Ryan and Irvis loved Pennsylvania and its citizens, and their farsightedness in preservation of the State Capitol is something that all Pennsylvanians now and in future generations can be proud.