“Times Square!” Just the sound of that name evokes images of massive crowds, neon signs, and Dick Clark’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” Known as “The Great White Way,” it sits at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue and runs from 42nd to 47th streets. With over a 100 million visitors per year, it is one of the world’s busiest pedestrian areas, as well as the heart of the Broadway theater district.
When Manhattan was first settled by the Dutch, three small streams converged at what is now tenth avenue and 40th Street (a perfect spot for a settlement). The tiny hamlet that sprouted up here soon became a center for carriage making. The area just south and west was known as “Longacre” (this will be shown to be important in a moment). Around the time of the American Revolution, this area belonged to John Morin Scott, a General in the New York Militia, who used the property for breeding horses and farming. By 1892, as the area was developing its carriage industry, the city began calling it “Longacre Square.” With commerce increasing, residential inhabitants were pushed north and Longacre Square earned the nickname of “Thieves Lair” because of the rowdiness that was developing. At the turn of the 19th century, this became the property of John Jacob Astor, who made a fortune buying and selling lots to hotels and real estate firms. In 1904, New York “Times” publisher, Adolph Ochs, moved his newspaper operations here and persuade the mayor to rename it “Times Square.” The newspaper moved its offices in 1913 to larger quarters just one block west. The Old Times Building is now known as “One Times Square” and is famous for its “Times Square Ball Drop” on New Year’s Eve ( the first one occurring on December 31, 1907). The same year that the “Times” offices moved, the first road across America, the Lincoln Highway, had its eastern terminus at the southeast corner of Times Square.
“The Great White Way” grew dramatically after World War I as a cultural hub of theaters, music halls, and upscale hotels. But the Great Depression changed the atmosphere of the Square quickly. Residents moved uptown enmass and were replaced by saloons, brothels, and vaudeville stages, giving the area an image of a “seedy” neighborhood. Between the 1960’s and 1980’s, this seediness look became even worse. In 1990, the state of New York took possession of six of the nine historic theaters in the district and began restoration efforts. Two years later, the Times Square Business Improvement District (later to be known as the Times Square Alliance) began a serious effort to revitalize the area, resulting in new office buildings, hotels, and tourist attractions moving in. Among these were the ABC television studios (home of “Good Morning America”), as well as the Hershey’s and M&M stores. While the rest of America was putting restrictions on animated neon and LED signs, Times Square was unique in encouraging them, creating its now iconic image.
Times Square has been featured countless times in literature, television, films and videos, and, with over 300,000 visitors per day, is the most visited place in the world (greater than each of the Disney Theme Park’s worldwide). As two of those daily visitors, we were amazed by its look and activities.