5. What the Lights on the Empire State Building Mean

Empire State Building lights
The Empire State Building lit up in tie-dye colors for a Grateful Dead Tribute

The lights on the Empire State Building can represent anything from a holiday, to a charity, to a tribute, a social movement, and more. The first light to shine atop the Empire State Building was a beacon that announced Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been elected President of the United States in November 1932. In 1964, floodlights were added in nine colors and in November 2012, the tower got a major upgrade. The original floodlights were replaced with 1200 LED lights bringing the ESP over 16 million color possibilities!

While the public can’t determine the colors of the spire, unlike if you have the secret app for the spires of One Bryant Park or 4 Times Square, the Empire State Building’s lights are changed frequently, making it a fun thing to look for. Just this past Saturday, the building put on a white sparkle with the rotating number 90 to celebrate its anniversary, and it will turn magenta on Thursday for Teacher Appreciation Week and Blue and Yellow next Sunday in honor of Europe Day. In the last year, the Empire State Building has lit up in appreciation of New Yorkers during the pandemic, pulsed in red for frontline workers, and turned red and white to celebrate the NYPL’s 125th anniversary. You can see the calendar of spire colors on the Empire State Building website.

An environmental note: New York City Audubon sponsors the dimming of at least half a dozen skyscrapers during migration season. During bird migration season, the lights are turned off at midnight to prevent birds from crashing into the building — an action New York Audubon sponsors for over a dozen New York City buildings.