Times Square – Crossroads of the World
Exhibit by: Allyson Rupp
This exhibit explores Times Square, located in Midtown Manhattan in the heart of New York City. As the world’s most visited place (with annual visits estimated to be 39 million people a year), Times Square has an amazing sense of place and has earned the nickname “Crossroads of the World.” Times Square is also an excellent example of how places can be transformed as it has undergone many transformations during its interesting history.
New York City’s Times Square is a world-renowned gathering place for New Yorkers and citizens from around the world. This famous landmark is a must-see destination for visitors that come to New York. Tourists and locals come to see Broadway shows and become audiences for numerous television shows produced there. People also come to Times Square to shop at mega-stores, see the lights and the sheer spectacle of this famous square; and of course, take pictures to prove they were there.
The boundaries of Times Square are generally considered to be the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Broadway that spans the distance from West 42nd Street to West 47th Street. The Times Square District is defined by seven subway stops as identified on the map below. The district includes such famous landmarks as the Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, the Ed Sullivan Theater and numerous other theaters on and off Broadway. However, the concept of Times Square radiates from One Times Square.
History of Times Square
In 1811, New York City planners established a grid pattern for streets. This pattern was applied to all of the streets in Manhattan except for Broadway. Broadway’s diagonal form helps establish Times Square’s unique sense of place.
Times Square was originally named Longacre Square. It was a neighborhood with residences for low income people, small factories and various types of adult entertainment.
In 1904, New York’s Mayor renamed it “Times Square” after the New York Times newspaper relocated its new headquarters building at One Times Square. The tradition of celebrating the New Year at One Times Square began with a fireworks display from the building’s rooftop.
Three years after the New York Times moved into the neighborhood, Adolph Ochs, the newspaper’s publisher, established the electric ball drop to ring in the New Year. That same year, the New York Subway System opened its first line which crossed Times Square and further transformed the area.
Times Square billboards began in 1917 when the first large electric display billboard was installed. In 1928, the first running electric sign was constructed and displayed the announcement that Herbert Hoover had been elected President of the United States. Times Square billboards have become such an attraction that New York City zoning laws require buildings be covered by billboards.
Broadway and Theater District
The theater district is located between 41st and 53rd Street and between the Sixth and Ninth Avenues in Midtown Manhattan. It wasn’t until the 1920’s and on into the 1930’s that theaters started to consolidate on Broadway.
When the Great Depression crippled the economy there was a sharp decline in theater attendance. Many businesses failed and had to close. Times Square began to transform into an area dominated by businesses offering strip tease and peep shows.
After the end of the World War II, Broadway and the Theater District again became popular and successful. However, at the end of the turbulent 1960’s, Broadway and Times Square itself had seen better days. By the mid-1970’s, Times Square near Broadway had become a distasteful area with much crime and drug trafficking. It was not a popular destination, and tourists generally avoided Times Square all together.
Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center
As Times Square and Broadway declined, only a few blocks away two other legendary tourist attractions continued to be successful. The Radio City Music Hall, home of the Radio City Rockettes, was founded in 1932 and has been visited by over 300 million people.
The Rockefeller Center opened in 1933. It was a dream of John D. Rockefeller to create a city within a city. Because it was constructed during the Great Depression, over 40,000 people were employed during a time when jobs were very scarce. Rockefeller Center or “30 Rock,” as it is popularly known, is a landmark within the Times Square District and a major tourist attraction.
Both of these major attractions have been anchors of the Times Square area. In order to improve the value and attractiveness of the area, New York City needed
The Times Square Transformation
Beginning in 1977 with changes to laws and enforcement practices, New York City tried reducing crime which was the main reason for the decline in Times Square’s popularity. However, progress in transforming Times Square back to a tourist destination slowed during the 1980’s.
In 1993, New York City made a major policy decision to reclaim Times Square through an initiative titled “war on crime;” the clean-up of Times Square. As a result, Times Square’s crime rate was substantially reduced on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth, which was identified as the worst block for crime in the city. This effort brought Times Square back to life both economically and as a major tourist attraction.
As visitors began to come back to Times Square, major corporations began locating in Times Square. The Walt Disney Company opened a Disney store in Times Square. This signaled that Times Square was a safe place for families to visit, and as a result more family-friendly businesses were attracted to the area. Because Times Square was now a lot safer than in the early nineties, it once again became a magnet for tourists and a center of New York’s social scene.
Times Square Today
Times Square is a constantly buzzing magnet for tourists and remains one of the most visited places in the world. It is the news capital of the United States and a major entertainment hub with CBS, NBC, ABC and other major media headquarters all located in the Times Square District. Of course, it remains the annual place for one of the biggest New Year’s celebrations on the planet.
For most of its existence, Times Square wasn’t much more than a large traffic intersection. However, it is now undergoing another transition. Times Square is being transformed into a pedestrian-friendly square with car-free plazas and people-friendly spaces that will replace much of the asphalt. The redevelopment project – dubbed Times Square Transformation – begin in 2012 and is expected to be completed in 2016.
Broadway Theater History- http://www.newyork.com/resources/broadway-and-theater-history
History of Events in Times Square- http://www.timessquarenyc.org/visitor-tips/history/town-square/index.aspx#.Uvu-tKyx4cA
Times Square History-http://www.city-journal.org/html/9_4_the_unexpected.html
Times Square Boundaries (Photo)-http://transitionalnewyork.blogspot.com/2011/06/subway-stations-activity-zones.html
Times Square, 1857 (Photo)-http://www.570seventh.com
Unless specifically referenced, all images are personal photos.