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TOPIC: Changing Ceiling Lightbulbs in Auditoriums

Changing Ceiling Lightbulbs in Auditoriums 18 Feb 2005 03:24 #9871

  • MovieGuy
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Ok, many of the forum members seem to be operating old movie palaces, or had worked at one in the past. My question pertains to replacing bulbs in the ceiling fixtures. Our theatre has many 8+ foot ceiling fixtures that are made out of frosted etched glass panels, with trap doors on each end. Basically, they are rectangle in shape, but kinda V shaped containing six sockets for bulbs. How the hell did they ever change out burnt bulbs back in the early days?? In order for me to even reach the ceiling fixtures in the balcony area I have to rent scafolding. How did they ever manage to change out the bulbs in the main auditoriums?? You can't use a pole to access them. You have to open the end piece and reach in to change out the bloody bulbs! Doesn't look like anything was attached to the ceiling to "lift" a human up there. I'm kinda baffled. I get the creeps changing the balcony bulbs. However, I did get gutsy last year and climbed the exterior vertical sign and replaced 100's of bulbs. Mind you, that was with using a rock climbing harness and cables.
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Re: Changing Ceiling Lightbulbs in Auditoriums 18 Feb 2005 07:27 #9872

  • RedDawg
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I will venture to say that at least for the internal ceiling fixtures, if you can access the space between the ceiling (usually suspended and having narrow catwalks) and the roof, you will find that the fixtures have "quick disconnects" (plug & socket) for the electrical circuit(s) and a relatively easily disengaged mounting arrangement. Look around for a rope (replace if old) or chain that will attach to the fixture, make sure nobody is underneath, and depending on the fixture's weight, lower it, with help if necessary, and replace the bulbs conveniently from floor level. Replace them ALL. Any still burning are probably near the end of their life, and are guaranteed to burn out within one week after you hoist the sucker back into place and secure it.

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[This message has been edited by RedDawg (edited February 18, 2005).]
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Re: Changing Ceiling Lightbulbs in Auditoriums 18 Feb 2005 07:51 #9873

  • outaframe
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They probably used a very tall stepladder which may have been made to fit the floor slope... In theaters with a live stage this might have been part of the rigger's duties... Otherwise, it was probably the janitor's job... It seems that a few generations back it wasn't all that rare to find a daredevil who considered working at heights just part of the day's work... I have a turn-of-the-century courthouse across the street, topped with a flagpole base more than a hundred feet in the air... There is a small open platform with a steel ladder leading to it... It was once just a daily job for one of the janitors to raise the flag in the morning, and take it down at sunset... In recent years the flag is left up all the time, and when time comes to change it, they have to call in a steeplejack to do the job... We are either bigger "chickens" than our forefathers, or much more into self preservation...
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Re: Changing Ceiling Lightbulbs in Auditoriums 18 Feb 2005 08:18 #9874

  • Mike Spaeth
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Very easy ... purchase one of those "Little Giant" ladder systems where each side extends independently ... so you can compensate for the slope of the floor.
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Re: Changing Ceiling Lightbulbs in Auditoriums 18 Feb 2005 10:34 #9875

  • rodeojack
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I once worked in a couple of '40s theatres that were set up something like RedDawg describes.

In the attic, there were catwalks that would take you past the ceiling fixtures. Their power cords had disconnects & the fixtures had the safety pins that others have described here. In our case, the fixtures had hand-crank winches that would lower them to ground level on cables. With that setup, you could conveniently maintain your lights even if only one or two were burned out.
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Re: Changing Ceiling Lightbulbs in Auditoriums 18 Feb 2005 11:16 #9876

  • Avco
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The ceiling fixtures we had at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Used a hand-cranked winch system to lower the fixtures to ground level. We later would lower the fixture about half way and use two decks of scafolding to finish the job. Because it took forever to lower 9 fixtures to the ground. The lobby fixtures we had over at the Warner Hollywood Theatre we used ladders. The auditorium cove lights had a special walkway around the whole auditorium in the upper ceiling area.
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Re: Changing Ceiling Lightbulbs in Auditoriums 18 Feb 2005 11:56 #9877

  • jimor
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MovieGuy describes a common state of affairs, especially in regard to the high ceilings of the movie palaces. Your wonderment as to why they are so inaccessable is owing to the state of mind of the designers at the time, and somewhat due to the lack of choices. Most architects specified winches in the attics to lower the fixtures to the floor; a tedious job, but one inherently safer than setting up ladders, but when it comes to lower ceilings or even bracket fixtures high on the walls, ladders were expected, and they WERE difficult and dangerous to use! I know that at the former TOWER movie palace here, a guy leaned his ladder against the lobby chandelier and it fell, reportedly killing him in the process of relamping it. To relamp the ORIENTAL's wall niches, one guy set up rope harnesses and rapelling gear suspended from the truses in the attic so as to work between the ornamental plaster wall and the brick outer wall to get to the three colors of bulbs above the niches' drapery line. For obvious reasons, these lamps in the six giant niches are rarely replaced any more; the young, slim guy that did it no longer works there. He told me that he worked alone, and I marveled that nothing happened such that he fell between the walls from that point 20 feet above the floor, but between the walls, where he may have remained for good if no one knew he was there in that 16-inch-wide space!

And when MovieGuy describes the awkward means of entering a fixture to relamp, he is stating the common state of affairs! The makers of the fixtures were the same as all makers: interested in cheapest way to maximum profits, so they didn't see any need to design the fixtures especially for relamping, since that was not their job but that of the janitors who did relamping, not the executives who approved the design of the fixtures -- and that only from an aesthetic and PRICE point of view, of course. Some of the fixtures were so elaborate with panels of glass and dozens of strings of crystals, that it was a real chore to relamp without somehow damaging the things (or merely scraping the skin off of one's hands)! And given that light bulbs lasted around only 500 hours, it was a case often where a lone man was employed ONLY to do relamping, since by the time he got done at one end of the theatre, the bulbs were burning out on the other end! And scaffolding was often used in places were there could be no attic above the ceiling; such as above the grand staircase of the former WARNER here, where a fan room is above and therefore must have a concrete fire rated floor that cannot be pierced, so that caused the dome of the ceiling below it to have a cove with 80 bulbs accessable only from below, above the steps 40 feet below. You can imagine now why those bulbs are never replaced these days, though a new owner would be wise to install cold cathode white neon tubing in that cove, since if properly made, it should be able to remain lit for 50 years without showing any change. Movie theatres were beautiful, but no one ever called them practical.
Jim R. (new E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) member: www.HistoricTheatres.org
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Re: Changing Ceiling Lightbulbs in Auditoriums 18 Feb 2005 13:12 #9878

  • MovieGuy
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We do not have a catwalk, crawl space or attic above the theatre. That special ladder (Little Giant) that is currently available won't reach the ceiling lights, I've checked out their website.

Jim, in addition to the bad style ceiling fixtures, we have urns on the side walls that are a bitch to chage out too! Although you can place a ladder up to them, you actually need to crawl , or should I say wedge yourself into the side area to reach the bloody sockets. Its easy to replace the urns in the balcony area, but it must have been a pain to change out the bulbs in the original auditorium. The theatre was split into two in the 70s, and into three in the early 80s. Givve me a call if you are ever in West Bend, and I'll give ya the tour.
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Re: Changing Ceiling Lightbulbs in Auditoriums 20 Feb 2005 04:50 #9879

  • jimor
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Hello MovieGuy: I will try to contact you via your E-mail address listed on your profile page, but I hope it is up to date, since mine is not, even though I submitted a correction via E-mail to Mike (since there is no automatic way I can correct it), but nothing ever happened. I’m at: jimor2 (at) yahoo.com (I avoid the @ sign here to conceal my address from the robots that scour the web every night looking for E-mails to add to spammers’ lists.)

As to the urns and relamping, there may be no inexpensive way around your dilemma. I once designed a way for a theatre to mount a high-up-there wall fixture to extend by means of an arm to then lower to the floor, but that does not sound workable for your urns. Perhaps the only way to help there is to use the longest lasting source available at reasonable cost: compact fluorescents, if they will fit. Aside from the considerable energy savings, they produce little heat, so will reduce the smudge patterns of grime carried by the convection currents of air rising above hot bulbs. Of course, a suitably colored neon helix designed to custom fit the cavity of the urn would be the best solution and would last decades if properly evacuated, pumped and bombarded, but sign shops do everything in a rush, and therefore a neon artists would do a better job to which he could sign his name and reputation, but such are EXPENSIVE. Aside from these, the other light sources are either too dim even in quantity to reflect much light (LEDs), or to large and hot (HIDs) to use in such confined spaces, even if they do last much longer. There are “long life” incandescents, but they will give you at most 20,000 hours, which is about 4 years at 12 hours daily under ideal conditions. We will talk more about this when I can take you up on your kind offer of a tour.
Jim R. (new E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) member: www.HistoricTheatres.org
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Re: Changing Ceiling Lightbulbs in Auditoriums 20 Feb 2005 12:36 #9880

  • Ken Layton
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Fluorescent lamps should never be used with a dimmer. It even says so on the packaging.
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Re: Changing Ceiling Lightbulbs in Auditoriums 21 Feb 2005 02:53 #9881

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Ken is right; if one wants to dim a fluorescent, he must match the fixture/lamp and the dimmer electronically. There are special fluorescents made to be dimmed, but they require special dimmers. Note that electronic dimmers such as those small enough to mount in a wall socket, are not the same as the dimmers on the old switchboards back stage, which are resistance plates which do not alter the waveform of the current, which electronic dimmers do and which are therefore damaging to most motors and electroincs unless specifically designed for them. An incandescent light bulb doesn't much care what kind of waveform it gets, but all other devices do. So, if your fixture uses incandescents, be sure to disable (bypass) the dimmers before you install fluorescents; and for any other kinds of lights, check with an electrician or electronics technician.
Jim R. (new E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) member: www.HistoricTheatres.org
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Re: Changing Ceiling Lightbulbs in Auditoriums 21 Feb 2005 18:09 #9882

  • MovieGuy
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Not to worry about dimming the lights in the urns, No control, except an on/off switch. We use either a R30 red flood, or small red 25/40 watt bulbs on the sides. The flood is in the center socket.I am planning on replacing the bulbs with red fluorescent lamps, that is, the next time they burn out.
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Re: Changing Ceiling Lightbulbs in Auditoriums 21 Feb 2005 18:12 #9883

  • MovieGuy
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Jim, the e-mail account attached to my profile is dead. I've attempted to change it, but have had no luck. I'll email you today with the "good" address.
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