Pinball Wizards in the Sky

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

New York City has two of the world’s most famous illuminated towers, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, and in recent years, it has added a few more: the Bear Stearns tower at 383 Madison Ave., One Beacon Court at 151 E. 58th St., and the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle.

The Eighth Avenue corridor in Midtown is highlighted by the glowing pyramid top of World Wide Plaza, designed in 1989 by David Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. That huge tower has been joined recently by two smaller towers whose tops are also lit at night: the Link at 310 W. 52nd St., a 43-story residential condominium building designed by Costas Kondylis and completed at the end of last year; and the Marc, a 45-story rental apartment building at 900 Eighth Ave., designed in 2003 by Frank Williams & Associates.

William Van Alen’s Chrysler Building and Shreve, Lamb & Harmon’s Empire State Building were rushed to completion in 1930 and 1931, respectively. At about the same time, another great Art Deco-style, spire-topped, illuminated skyscraper, the American International Group building at 70 Pine St., designed by Clinton & Russell, Holton & George, was under construction.

The changing light schemes eventually employed at the Empire State Building are echoed, but not coordinated with, the Clock Tower Building on the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 24th Street, designed by Napoleon LeBrun & Sons in 1909 and now being converted into residential condominiums.

Two other important buildings that are now illuminated are the great Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway, designed in 1913 by Cass Gilbert, and the Crown Building on the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, designed in 1921 by Warren & Wetmore.

I.M. Pei’s torchères on the Four Seasons Hotel at 57 E. 57th St. have “down” wash lights that make the tower look like a soaring rocket.

Times Square, of course, has long served as the razzle-dazzle, throbbing heart of the city’s nightlife, which Tokyo’s Shinjuku section began rivaling some years ago. The bright lights of Times Square, however, have been hemmed in by the many new towers that now surround it.

While the world’s attention is focused now on the spectacular new architecture of Beijing and its Olympic Games, the prize for most astounding night skyline must go to Chongqing, formerly Chungking, along the Yangtze River.

There, visitors can find an imitation Chrysler Building, which doesn’t hold a candle to our fabulous original but is one of several lit towers, many with flamboyant tops outlined like neon butterflies. A helicopter documentary on the Chinese television network CCTV about Chongqing can be viewed at

The Chongqing Nocturne is a sensational, psychedelic site. New York City should adopt Chongqing’s roofscapes for many of our public housing developments, which could use an infusion of color to enliven and add sparkle to these dull buildings. We need pinball wizards.

Mr. Horsley is the editor of

The New York Sun

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