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Riviera chandelier ready to shine after 'spa' treatment

The chandelier stands 15 feet tall with 15,000 pieces of crystal shining brightly as it hangs in the main auditorium of the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda.

But as the years pass the crystals lose their luster and the chandelier’s 140 light bulbs burn out. Cleaning it can be a chore, said the volunteers who described the five days spent grooming the brass beauty as a labor of love.

The process began Saturday, as the steel cable holding the chandelier was lowered in stages by two workers operating a crank located in the theater’s attic.

The chandelier stops at four levels to allow workers access to each of the fixture’s three tiers. The last time the chandelier was cleaned was some 10 years ago, said Neil Lange, a member of the Riviera board of directors.

He won’t soon forget it.

“It was grimy and greasy from years of smokers. We had to build a gutter trough and use almost straight ammonia to cut through the grunge,” said Lange, who was accompanied by his father Donald Lange, who is 97.

Cleaning the crystals alone would take 20 hours, the Langes estimated. Each crystal strand is removed, labeled and dunked in a cleaning solution. Each strand is hand-washed and dried by Donald Lange.

The chandelier once graced the former Genesee Theatre, one of the three lobby chandeliers in the giant building at 1600 Genesee St., said Neil Lange. The Genesee was one of a bevy of theater houses built in the city in the first half of the 20th century. The Genesee opened in 1928 and closed in 1970. It reopened in 1979, and was demolished in 1985.

The chandelier was purchased for $1,000 by the Riviera in 1974, after it was taken down from the Genesee, said Neil Lange.

The chandelier’s spa time did not stop with a wash and shine. Derek Heckler, Riviera design specialist, replaced each of the 140 60-watt light bulbs, 75 percent of which were burned out. The bulbs were replaced with tungsten filament LEDs, said Heckler.

The chandelier's 140 60-watt light bulbs, 75 percent of them burned out, were replaced with tungsten filament LEDs which are twice as bright, energy-efficient and give off no heat.  (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

“It took me quite a while to find the ones that would work for this theater. The cheapest light doesn’t always work aesthetically,” said Heckler. “The cool thing about the ones we bought is that they dim like regular bulbs, and as they dim, they get warmer in color. It’s another way of creating ambiance.”

The 8.5-watt LEDs – in white, red, blue and green – double the brightness, are energy-efficient and emit no heat, said Heckler.

Heckler called the replacement process a “trial by fire.”

“I bought a whole bunch and tested which ones dimmed the smoothest and possessed the color temperature shift,” Heckler explained. “The ones I chose brought white to warm white.”

The chandelier should be back in place by Thursday, ready to sparkle on Friday when “Strange Magic: The ELO Experience” takes the stage at 8 p.m.

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