The Coney Island Parachute Jump has certainly had its ups and downs. Thirty-seven summers have passed since the closing of the world-renowned Parachute Jump ride. Since then, darkness of night has rendered the tower nearly invisible, until now. The Jump began a bright, colorful chapter in its history last month when the 260' structure became illuminated via an artist-programmed “skin” of six different colored-light programs.
Following structural refurbishment, the lighting project began in 2005. Lighting designer Leni Schwendinger of Leni Schwendinger Light Projects Ltd was commissioned to illuminate the tower, and a design process began that would create a world-class icon for a revitalized Coney Island. Its landmark colors were to be enhanced and echoed during the evening and night, and choreographed lighting sequences would imply motion expressing the rise, fall, and floating of parachutes.
The 170-ton Parachute Jump tower was constructed for the 1939 New York World's Fair as an amusement ride, modeled after paratrooper training towers. In 1941, the Jump was relocated to Coney Island's Steeplechase Park but was closed permanently in 1969. Having received official landmark status in 1988, the NYC Economic Development Corporation assumed responsibility for the structure and began refurbishing it in 2000, abating the lead paint and restoring its landmark yellow and red colors.
“Since the Parachute Jump will never again operate as an amusement ride, the lighting design had to evoke the slow climb 200' in the air, the feeling of being ‘on top of the world,’ and the excitement of the 15-second descent back down to earth,” Schwendinger says. “This was an opportunity to meld 21st-century lighting with a 20th-century industrial structure, and it was challenging. Six electronically programmed scenarios mark the days of the year, and the controller has to know if it is a holiday, a full moon, off-season, or bird migratory months, in which case the lights turn off at 11pm rather than midnight.”
An on-site mock-up was orchestrated to design an LED luminaire pointing in several directions. Named “The Trident,” in honor of the Coney beachfront, the fixture is composed of a calibrated set of three one-watt red LEDs applied to the tower's stalk and canopy in a regular pattern. The equipment was comprised of an ETC Expression 3/Emphasis controller, 17 Martin Exterior 600 color changing floodlights, and 150 custom-designed Phoster Lighting, Inc. LED luminaires. Lighting was provided by 4Wall Entertainment Lighting. Schwendinger's lighting design team included Stephen Bickford, Courtney Hewitt, Charles Cameron, and Mark Simpson. Programming was done by Paul Hudson, with rehearsal programming by Alex Fogel. Consultants for the project were Ron Fogel & Associates.
The six different moods are Off Season/Tide Cycles, composed primarily of undulating white, pale blues, and cyans, representing a “reflection” of light off the ocean waves. On Season/Weekdays is a fiery sequence of reds, ambers, and pinks, with a moment of golden sparks to quietly commemorate Coney Island's historic fires. For On Season/Weekends, an hourly visual countdown visually “chimes” during the boardwalk season's weekends. Each hour, starting at 8pm, the red LEDs and white floodlights strike. Full Moon represents the monthly wax/wane cycle marked by opalescent whites on full moon evenings. Americana is composed of red, white, and blue with a finale reminiscent of fireworks to commemorate national holidays. Kaleidoscope performs on holidays, celebrations, and the seasonal equinox and solstices. Purples, reds, magentas, and blues create a visual prism of light.
The light performances start one-half hour before sunset with visual chimes every hour on the hour, going dark at midnight, except during fall, winter, and the bird migratory season, when the lights are programmed to turn off at 11pm, as a part of the “Lights Out New York” initiative.