Although natural sunlight is warm and comforting, there is just something exceptionally alluring and magical about vibrantly lit objects framed by the inky black of a night sky. When people walk down a dark street and catch a glimpse of a bright, flashing billboard they often pause, momentarily transfixed by the lights dancing before their eyes – it almost has an otherworldly power.
Perhaps that is why some of the world’s most cosmopolitan and populous cities – including New York City, Los Angeles, and Tokyo – feature extensive light billboards. Locals and tourists alike are drawn every night to the colorful illumination of these towering billboards that serve as a crowning jewel to major cities.
Times Square, New York City
If you’re traveling to New York City, odds are you have a visit to Times Square penciled into your schedule. Many people have said that Times Square, also called the “Crossroads of the World”, is the real heart of the city – and its heartbeat can be seen with every flash of the gigantic light billboards. It also serves as a dramatic symbol of the fast-paced life of those who reside within the City That Never Sleeps.
Of course, even glittering Times Square had relatively humble origins. The area was once named Longacre Square. It was given the title Times Square only after the New York Times newspaper moved their main office there in 1904. This proved to be a very lucky event for the area. The relocation of the New York Times served as a catalyst for the growth of commercial real estate in the square.
Times Square saw its very first electric billboard in 1917. The sign was an illuminated and mechanically animated advertisement for Wrigley’s gum and it was designed to resemble an oversized pack of spearmint gum. The sign incorporated a total of 17,500 lights and was an incredible eight stories high.
And the rest is history – the burgeoning popularity of Times Square meant that it was a highly desirable location for advertisers. Many more businesses followed the example of Wrigley’s and created light billboards. Today, Times Square has somewhere around 250 lighted billboards.
Downtown Los Angeles
For many people, Los Angeles is much more than a city – it represents the promise of prosperity, where even the most outrageous dreams can be realized. This image of a reality-defying Los Angeles is helped along by the larger than life light billboards that sparkle in its downtown area.
By far, the most well known and arguably the very first lighted billboard in Los Angeles was the famous Hollywood sign. The sign was built in 1923 by Harry Chandler, a publisher for the Los Angeles Times, and it was meant to serve as an impossible-to-miss advertisement for his real estate development. Originally, the sign read “Hollywoodland” since that was the actual name of the residential area Mr. Chandler was promoting.
There is also photographic evidence from the construction of the sign that indicates the giant “marquee” was fully lit with electric lights from the very beginning. That means the Hollywood sign has been lighting up the night sky since 1923 and likely served as inspiration for the hundreds of light billboards that now dot the Los Angeles landscape.
The United States is not unique in its love of brightly lit billboards. Tokyo, Japan has embraced the power and awe of lighted billboards as well and the city’s architecture incorporates liberal splashes of these shining beacons throughout its streets.
Tokyo’s obsession with lighted billboards is powerfully demonstrated by the Shibuya fashion district which is lined with massive, electronic advertisements for the latest and greatest fashion trends. The vibrant, active lighting gives Tokyo the appearance of always being host to a party.
Following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011, Tokyo was forced to ration its power which meant many of the trademark billboards went dark for a time. Residents were not only saddened by the loss of nighttime illumination, they also found that the streets weren’t as safe without the towering lights – demonstrating that light billboards are not only valuable for their aesthetics but also for the lifestyles they make possible.
Today, these towering billboard lights have evolved along with technology. Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Tokyo have long since established new and generative improvements by establishing LED lights; illuminating the night sky takes on a whole new meaning.
License: Creative Commons
License: Creative Commons image source
License: Creative Commons image source
Amy White is a freelance blogger for companies seeking to boost search engine ranking through thoughtful guest postings. In her free time she enjoys reading and writing. For businesses and stage designers seeking quality artful lighting designs, she recommends LED Neon Flex.