This impressive building, seat of New York State government since the 1880s and a jarring contrast with the starkly modern Empire Plaza and agency buildings that rise around it, was the first massive and problematic project in the area. It took more than three decades (beginning at the end of the 19th c.) and five architects to build, and cost more than $25 million, making it the most expensive government building of its time. One of the last load-bearing structures to be built, with no steel reinforcements until the top floor, and constructed of solid granite masonry, it was to have been crowned by a cupola, but the governor at the time, Theodore Roosevelt, had had enough and proclaimed it finished in 1899. Its grandest features are the Great Western Staircase -- the so-called "$1-million staircase," a riot of elaborate stonework that contains more than 1,000 carved small faces (most are anonymous, but there are 77 "famous" visages, such as Andrew Jackson and Henry Hudson) -- and the vibrant William de Leftwich Dodge ceiling murals of battle depictions in the Governor's Reception Room. Free walk-in tours last about 45 minutes; it's wise to phone ahead to confirm the schedule.