Empire State Building to glow red on Chinese anniversary

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On Wednesday evening, the top of the Empire State Building will temporarily glow bright red – a tribute to the 60th anniversary of the Communist Revolution in China.

Predictably, the decision by Empire State Building officials has more than a few in a snit. The folks over at the Fox News website are running an item on a "protest" of the light show – though the protest in the article seems to have been mostly nudged along by the folks at Fox News – and Twitter is alive with worried tweets.

So is the lighting of the top of the Empire State Building anything new? No. A cursory search of the lighting schedule for 2008 and 2009 turns up all manner of tributes. In Oct. of last year, for instance, the building was lit in hues of Purple, Orange, and White – a nod to the Cat Fanciers' Association, and CFA-Iams Cat Championships. Next week, the building will turn blue and blue, in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

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(Before you ask – no, we're not drawing any inferences between cats, the Academy of Dramatic Arts, and Communism.)

In fact, the tower lights have a pretty interesting history of their own. In 1932, a searchlight beacon mounted on the top of the building told New Yorkers that Franklin D. Roosevelt has been elected president of the United States. In 1977, a complete lighting system was installed, which utilized 204 fixtures, metal halide lamps, and 310 fluorescent lamps.

That array lit the building all the way from the 72nd floor to the base of the TV antenna.

Finally, in 1984, the Empire State Building burst into the digital age. Here's a description of the current system, from the building's official site:

Designed by Douglas Leigh, 880 vertical 75 watt fluorescent tubes in the mast and 220 horizontal fluorescents at the base of the mast can now be changed at the flick of a switch. Installed in each face of the mast are four vertical banks of eleven 8 foot panels positioned one on top of another. Each of the 176 panels contains five tubes and each tube is a different color: red, green, blue, yellow, and white. Additionally, at the base of the mast, there are 44 newly installed panels of horizontal fluorescents, also containing 5 tubes each, totaling 220 tubes. A new ring of 32 high pressure sodium vapor lights, 70 watts each, above the 103 rd floor, was installed to create a golden "halo" effect around the top of the mast from dusk to dawn.

In 2006, the Monitor ran an interview with Bill Tortorelli, then the chief-electrician at the Empire State Building.

"I remember when Frank Sinatra died - Old Blue Eyes, fellow paisano - so we made the building blue," Tortorelli said. "And when the Pope came to visit, we made it gold - yellow - and it almost felt like a prayer to me, if you believe in prayer."

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