For more than 85 years, the West Virginia Capitol building has housed the iconic crystal chandelier, illuminating the rotunda for generations of lawmakers and visitors who pass below -- its presence a fixture in the statehouse.
But now, it’s been taken down.
Time and water damage has taken its toll over the years, corroding the wires that support the Capitol’s inner dome, making it sag. It’s not obvious, but the inner dome is actually a false ceiling suspended from cables, hanging between the main dome and the four thousand pound chandelier below.
“Part of the problem we’ve had with the dome; water as it rains does not necessarily stay on the outside of the dome,” noted John Myers, Secretary to the West Virginia Department of Administration, “It does come into the interior part. But there are drains made to take that water away; over a period of 60, 80, 100 years, those drains have deteriorated to the point that water is now leaking into the interior dome.”
A company called Acu-Bright specializes in chandelier cleaning and restoration. They’ve been charged to care for the fixture until it can be returned to its home under the dome.
"We're gonna take off all the crystal panels; protect them, pack them up; take the framework apart, then we're gonna take the inside of the body where all the lights and the framework that holds the lights out; then we're gonna remove the column, take all those brass pieces out, take down the pipe, so now it's ready for people to put up the scaffolding, and nothing will get damaged," explained Keith Campbell, owner of Acu-Bright.
The crystal in the rotunda chandelier is known as Czechoslovakian crystal; a high quality glass that’s known for its brilliance but also lead content. The base component in crystal is silica, the same as in regular glass -- but crystal is partially composed of lead oxide. This gives it greater clarity and sparkle.
The age and uniqueness of the rotunda chandelier’s more than ten thousand pieces make repair and replacement almost impossible.
"You just can't get parts for these types of fixtures anymore," Campbell noted.
Once Campbell’s team is done dismantling and packing up the chandelier, it will be transported to an undisclosed location where it will be examined, cleaned, rewired and stored until its return in two years.
Secretary Myers says the main rotunda will eventually be blocked off and scaffolding will be erected so that restoration can begin.
So for now, the rotunda is dark, lit by only a few work lights and scattered beams of sunlight from the porticoes above.
Below, lawmakers pass underneath, occasionally glancing up into the void where the chandelier used to be.
Special Thanks to John Myers, Secretary to the Department of Administration; Keith Campbell, President of Acu-Bright; William Barry, General Service Division; Diane Holley-Brown, Director of Communications, Department of Administration; and Perry Bennett, West Virginia Legislative Photography.