Sunday 12 August 2012

Times Square: The Crossroads of the World

Photo of crowd at Times Square awaiting Jack Dempsey fight in 1921 courtesy

Located at Broadway and 7th in Midtown Manhattan, it was originally called Longacre Square.  However, when the New York Times headquarters moved to the area in 1904, it was renamed Times Square.  "Times Square quickly became New York's agora, a place to gather to await great tidings and to celebrate them, whether a World Series or a presidential election", quotes James Traub in The Devil's Playground. 

In 1921, crowds gathered to watch the highly publicized fight between Jack Dempsey and Charpentier.  Coupled with sports events came the gambling. 

Bustling nightlife: By 1925, Times Square has become a destination for locals and tourists alike looking to dine at a fine restaurant and see a show in one of the many theaters on Broadway

Times Square circa 1925 courtesy

One Times Square was an early New York skyscraper along with the Flat Iron Building.  By the 1930's the skyline started to change with the additions of the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building.

In 1945 Times Square was the site of the famous photograph of an American sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day.  A ticker tape parade traced its way down New York City's streets to celebrate the end of World War II.

Photo of V-J Day in Times Square in August of 1945 courtesy

The postwar years saw the erection of many glass and steel office towers in Midtown Manhattan. 
By the 1950's, prices in the area had started to rise.  For musicians to rent a studio it cost $500.  Apartment prices started to rise and artists fled to the suburbs like Brooklyn.  Whites also fled to the suburbs and more minorities moved into the neighbourhood.

Eventhough prices were high, standards were low from 1960's to the mid-1990's in Times Square where go-go bars, sex shops and adult theatres appeared on every corner.  Times Square was a veritable red light district -- not the place to bring a family.

Vibrant: Times Square robed in neon lights in 1966

Times Square circa 1966 courtesy

However, in the mid 1990's, Mayor Rudolph Guiliani spearheaded a campaign to clean up New York City by increasing security, closing adult theatres, relocating "undesirables" and opening more tourist friendly attractions.  Times Square became a cleaner, safer place to visit.  ABC Studios relocated there, filming "Good Morning America" among other shows.  Disney started to buy up land and buildings.  Disney is also credited with saving Broadway, investing and producing many hit plays including The Lion King. 

The New Year's Eve Ball Drop, a tradition since 1904, saw 2 million attend in 1999, a crowd that would rival that of V-E Day in 1945.  In 2003, the giant jumbotrons that light up Times Square went dark due to the Northeast Blackout that August.  By 2011, Times Square was declared a smoke-free zone, with a heavy penalty for those not enforcing the law.

Visit Times Square today and you will feel the vibrancy of the city.  Businessmen rub shoulders as they head to the office in the day or theatre-goers as they head to a play at night.  Even after the sun goes down, you still feel safe there.  See a play, hop a bus, visit a shop, dine in a restaurant.  It's worth the trip!

Image courtesy

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