leisure 07.23.12

Night Light
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Douglas Leigh (1902-1999) was known for masterminding kinetic billboard ads that included the Times Square smoking Camel sign and one for Pepsi with a block-long waterfall. After his successes in Times Square, he decided to brighten up some of the city beyond the theatre district.

Mr. Leigh knew that the Empire State Building, opened in 1931, was short of tenants as a result of the Depression. He had the idea of getting Coca-Cola to take the top floors and proposed that the tower have changing lights that would serve as a weather forecast. Coke would package bottles with a small guide to decipher the colors. By late 1941, Coke had agreed, but following Pearl Harbor, the lights of the city were darkened and the deal fell by the wayside. After the war, they decided to use a different, simpler lighting scheme.

Three decades passed before Mr. Leigh had another crack at the Empire. In 1976, he was made chairman of City Decor to welcome visitors for the Bicentennial. This time, he suggested to the ESB's owners that the lights be colored red, white and blue. It was an instant success and they were left that way until the end of that year. Mr. Leigh then offered the idea of tying the lights to different holidays, rather than the weather, which is the fundamental scheme still in effect today.

What Color is the ESB?

The Illuminating Engineering Society has a terrific free publication called the Nightseeing Map, in which they chart 'the most spectacular lighting designs of NYC.' The usual suspects are included, but so are notable facades and interiors you might not have considered in terms of night light– Pratt's Central Wing School of Architecture, for one – as well as hotels, stores, museums, churches and synagogues. You may end up appreciating New York at night in a whole new way. [Image: David Sundberg]

Surf the Milky Way at the Hayden Planetarium's Summer Skies and Telescope Party, July 31, 7:30pm, $15. Or get yourself a telescope from Clairmont Nichols, 1016 1st [55th/56th] 212.758.2346, which carries the major brands.

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