Before and after the American Revolution, the area belonged to John Morin Scott, a general of the New York militia where he served under George Washington. Scott’s Manor House was at what is now 43rd Street, surrounded by countryside used for farming and breeding horses. In the first half of the 19th century it became one of the prized possessions of John Jacob Astor, who made a second fortune selling off lots to hotels and other real estate concerns as the city rapidly spread uptown.
In 1904, New York Times publisher Adolph S. Ochs moved the newspaper’s operations to a new skyscraper on 42nd Street at Longacre Square. Ochs persuaded Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr. to construct a subway station there, and the area was renamed "Times Square" on April 8, 1904. Just three weeks later, the first electrified advertisement appeared on the side of a bank at the corner of 46th Street and Broadway.
The New York Times, according to Nolan, moved to more spacious offices across Broadway in 1913. The old Times Building was later named the Allied Chemical Building. Now known simply as One Times Square, it is famed for the Times Square Ball drop on its roof every New Year’s Eve.
Also in 1913, the Lincoln Highway Association, headed by entrepreneur Carl G. Fisher, chose the intersection of 42nd Street and Broadway, at the southeast corner of Times Square, to be the Eastern Terminus of the Lincoln Highway, the first road across America, which originally spanned 3,389 miles (5,454 km) coast-to-coast through 13 states to its Western Terminus in Lincoln Park in San Francisco, California.
As the growth in New York City continued, Times Square quickly became a cultural hub full of theatres, music halls, and upscale hotels.
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
—James Traub, The Devil’s Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square
Celebrities such as Irving Berlin, Fred Astaire, and Charlie Chaplin were closely associated with Times Square in the 1910s and 1920s. During this period, the area was nicknamed The Tenderloin because it was supposedly the most desirable location in Manhattan. However, it was during this period that the area was besieged by crime and corruption, in the form of gambling and prostitution; one case that garnered huge attention was the arrest and subsequent execution of police officer Charles Becker.
The general atmosphere changed with the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Times Square acquired a reputation as a dangerous neighbourhood in the following decades. From the 1960s to the early 1990s, the seediness of the area, especially due its go go bars, sex shops, and adult theatres, became an infamous symbol of the city’s decline.
In the 1980s, a commercial building boom began in the western parts of the Midtown as part of a long-term development plan developed under Mayor Ed Koch and David Dinkins. In the mid-1990s, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (1994–2002) led an effort to "clean up" the area, increasing security, driving out pornographic theatres, drug dealers and "squeegee men", and opening more tourist-friendly attractions and upscale establishments. Advocates of the remodelling claim that the neighbourhood is safer and cleaner. Detractors, on the other hand, argue that the changes have diluted or "Disneyfied" the character of Times Square and have unfairly targeted lower income New Yorkers from nearby neighbourhoods such as Hell’s Kitchen.
In 1990, the state of New York took possession of six of the nine historic theatres on 42nd Street, and the New 42nd Street nonprofit organization was appointed to oversee their restoration and maintenance. The theatres were renovated for Broadway shows, converted for commercial purposes, or demolished.
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