The space shuttle Endeavour passes by the Santa Monica Pier on Friday before heading to LAX. (Photo by Brandon Wise.)

For the past few weeks, the mood of the Pacific Park Ferris Wheel has matched the seasonally appropriate May Grey/June Gloom with simple white lights providing limited illumination on the world famous landmark. However the wheel, if not the weather, now has a newly colorful outlook.

The wheel has undergone a $1 million renovation of its lighting package that includes the installation of 174,000 new LED lights along the 40 spokes and two hubs. Pacific Park briefly tested the new system Thursday night and is inviting the public to see the new display starting Friday night.

Upgrading the lights coincides with the park’s 20th birthday and the wheel’s 20 gondolas provided a platform to celebrate both events. The entire wheel went dark earlier this month and each night one more gondola was illuminated with simple white lights. Each gondola lighting coincided with a factoid about the park’s history and the display became a countdown to the new lights and a weekend birthday party.

Nathan Smithson, marketing and sales manager at Pacific Park, said visitors noticed the change and while it was an effective way to highlight the work, the park is eager to have it’s flagship attraction return to full form.

“One thing we’re really excited about is the color,” he said. “Before, we could make eight colors, now we can make any color and have 16.7 million value combinations.”

In addition the new programming and display software upgrades increase imaging speed from 3 to 24 frames per second to display dynamic, custom, computer-generated lighting entertainment.

Smithson said the change helps the wheel evolve into an interactive landmark that can do more to reflect the interests of residents and visitors. He said the old lights couldn’t create a purple to commemorate the death of Prince, nor could it accurately match Laker gold.

“For opportunities to respond to other events in the community, we now have more flexibility and we can respond to the community to match what they’re doing,” he said.

The new lights also increase energy efficiency. The wheel was already more efficient than the standard incandescent bulbs, and the new lights provide an 81 percent energy saving over traditional lights.

Each light on the new wheel is an individually sealed package that protects the lights from the salty air and other environmental hazards on the pier. The result is a lighting system that should last for decades.

Pacific Park’s birthday celebration runs through Memorial Day weekend. Beginning Friday and running through Monday with the first 200 guests riding the Ferris wheel each day will get a free custom made Lappert’s birthday cake flavored ice cream cone at Scoops Ice Cream and Treats. Pacific Park will also showcase the Ferris wheel’s new high-tech lighting capabilities each evening with a custom display of birthday patterns and designs.

editor@www.smdp.com