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What it takes to screw in a light bulb at the Capitol

Changing light bulbs in California's State Capitol building dome isn't a job for the faint of heart.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — If you are viewing on the ABC10 app, tap here for multimedia.

The first light bulb in the California State Capitol was installed in July of 1895. Today, thousands of light bulbs illuminate the historic building, and changing them is a big job.

Inside the historic building, 128 bulbs light up the inner dome. And when one burns out, electrician Eugene Adame is there to change it.

"I've been working at the Capitol for about seven years," said Adame. "Heights don't bother me."

From the floor to ceiling, the bulbs are more than 100 feet off the ground. To get make the change, Adame takes the elevator up four floors, then climbs a maze of stairs to the outer dome balcony.

"The view is pretty good up there," Adame said.

Credit: Pedro Garcia
The view from outside of the dome at the California State Capitol building.

Access to the upper and inner dome has been close to the general public since World War II, and for good reason. One misstep and you could fall through an access window.

"I have to wear a harness when the window is open," Adame explained.

Just in case you are wondering, it takes two people to change a light bulb in the Capitol dome. That’s why Adame enlisted the help of electrician Blanca Barragan. She helps place a specially made safety cage in the window.

"This way there is no chance you can fall," said Barragan.

Credit: Pedro Garcia
Looking down from the top of the outer dome of the California State Capitol building.

Fortunately, changing the bulbs isn't a common event. This is the first one that's blown out in the two years since a change to energy-efficient bulbs. The bulb that Adame and Barragan install is expected to last five years or more.

You can’t see it from the inside of the Capitol, but the inner dome was originally built of bricks. Ken Cooley is an assembly member, as well as Chair of the Assembly Rules Committee, and he also knows a thing or two about the Capitol.

"I was the top rules chairmen when they re-built this building," said Cooley.

The State Capitol was built in 1874, then re-built to meet modern earthquake standards in the 1970's.

The state capitol is 247 feet tall. As you climb the spiral staircase to the copula, you will probably notice a "no graffiti" sign. Then you will notice how many people have ignored it.

"You have Jerry Brown's name on the top of the stairs. He was the governor that funded the restoration of the State Capitol," said Cooley.

Up until the 1980's, developers in Sacramento were not allowed to build taller than the capitol copula, and that made the capitol a prime target for lightning.

"In 1986, there was a big storm and lightning took a big chunk out of the building," Cooley said.

Nobody felt the lightning bolt, but the mark is still visible from the upper dome balcony.

From top to bottom, the California State Capitol building is covered in symbolic art telling the State's rich history, and thanks dedicated workers like Eugene and Blanca, it all shines brightly.

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