Times Square is a major commercial intersection and neighborhood in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, and stretching from West 42nd to West 47th Streets. Brightly adorned with billboards and advertisements, Times Square is sometimes referred to as The Crossroads of the World, The Center of the Universe, and the heart of The Great White Way. One of the world’s busiest pedestrian intersections, it is also the hub of the Broadway Theater District and a major center of the world’s entertainment industry. Times Square is one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions, drawing an estimated fifty million visitors annually. Approximately 330,000 people pass through Times Square daily, many of them tourists.
Formerly Longacre Square, Times Square was renamed in 1904 after The New York Times moved its headquarters to the newly erected Times Building, the site of the annual ball drop which began on December 31, 1907, and continues today, attracting over a million visitors to Times Square every New Year’s Eve.
Duffy Square, the northernmost of Times Square’s triangles, was dedicated in 1937 to Chaplain Francis P. Duffy of New York City’s U.S. 69th Infantry Regiment and is the site of a memorial to him, along with a statue of George M. Cohan and the TKTS discount theatre tickets booth.
When Manhattan Island was first settled by the Dutch, three small streams united near what is now 10th Avenue and 40th street. These three streams formed the "Great Kill" (Dutch: Grote Kill). From there the Great Kill wound through the low-lying Reed Valley, known for fish and waterfowl and emptied into a deep bay in the Hudson River at the present 42nd Street. The name was retained in a tiny hamlet, Great Kill, that became a center for carriage-making, as the upland to the south and east became known as Longacre.
Before and after the American Revolution, the area belonged to John Morin Scott, a general of the New York militia, in which he served under George Washington. Scott’s manor house was at what is currently 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.
By 1872, the area had become the center of New York’s carriage industry. The area not having previously been named, the city authorities called it Longacre Square after Long Acre in London, where the carriage trade in that city was centered and which was also a home to stables. William Henry Vanderbilt owned and ran the American Horse Exchange there until the turn of the 20th century.
As more profitable commerce and industrialization of lower Manhattan pushed homes, theaters, and prostitution northward from the Tenderloin District, Long Acre Square became nicknamed the Thieves Lair for its rollicking reputation as a low entertainment district. The first theater on the square, the Olympia, was built by cigar manufacturer and impresario Oscar Hammerstein I. "By the early 1890s this once sparsely settled stretch of Broadway was ablaze with electric light and thronged by crowds of middle- and upper-class theatre, restaurant and cafe patrons."
In 1904, New York Times publisher Adolph S. Ochs moved the newspaper’s operations to a new skyscraper on 42nd Street at Longacre Square, on the site of the former Pabst Hotel, which had existed on the site for less than a decade. 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 north end later became Duffy Square.
The New York Times, according to Nolan, moved to more spacious offices west of the square 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.
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 the United States, which originally spanned 3,389 miles (5,454 km) coast-to-coast through 13 states to its western end 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 neighborhood in the following decades. From the 1960s to the early 1990s, the seediness of the area, especially due to its go-go bars, sex shops, and adult theaters, became an infamous symbol of the city’s decline.
As early as 1960, 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenue, was described by The New York Times as "the ‘worst’ [block] in town", Times Square in that decade, as depicted in Midnight Cowboy, was gritty, dark and desperate, and it got worse in the 1970s and 1980s, as did the crime situation in the rest of the city things were worse still. By 1984, an unprecedented 2,300 annual crimes occurred on that single block, of which 460 were serious felonies such as murder and rape. At the time, since police morale was low, misdemeanors were allowed to go unpunished. William Bratton, who was appointed New York City Police Commissioner in 1994 and again in 2014, stated, "The [NYPD] didn’t want high performance; it wanted to stay out of trouble, to avoid corruption scandals and conflicts in the community. For years, therefore, the key to career success in the NYPD, as in many bureaucratic leviathans, was to shun risk and avoid failure. Accordingly, cops became more cautious as they rose in rank, right up to the highest levels." As the city government did not implement broken windows theory at first, the allowance of low-profile crime was thought to have caused more high-profile crimes to occur. Formerly elegant movie theaters began to show porn, and hustlers were common. The area was so abandoned at one point during the time that the entire Times Square area paid the city only $6 million in property taxes, which is less than what a medium-sized office building in Manhattan typically would produce in tax revenue today in 1984 dollars.
In the 1980s, a commercial building boom began in the western parts of Midtown as part of a long-term development plan developed under Mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins. In the mid-1990s, Rudolph Giuliani led an effort to clean up the area, an effort that is described by Steve Macekin in Urban Nightmares: The Media, the Right, And the Moral Panic Over the City: Security was increased, pornographic theatres were closed, and “undesirable” low-rent residents were pressured to relocate, and then more tourist-friendly attractions and upscale establishments were opened. Advocates of the remodeling claim that the neighborhood is safer and cleaner. Detractors have countered that the changes have homogenized or "Disneyfied" the character of Times Square and have unfairly targeted lower-income New Yorkers from nearby neighborhoods 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 non-profit organization was appointed to oversee their restoration and maintenance. The theatres underwent renovation for Broadway shows, conversion for commercial purposes, or demolition.
In 1992, the Times Square Alliance (formerly the Times Square Business Improvement District, or "BID" for short), a coalition of city government and local businesses dedicated to improving the quality of commerce and cleanliness in the district, started operations in the area. Times Square now boasts attractions such as ABC’s Times Square Studios, where Good Morning America is broadcast live, an elaborate Toys "Я" Us store, and competing Hershey’s and M&M’s stores across the street from each other, as well as multiple multiplex movie theaters. Additionally, the area contains restaurants such as Ruby Foo’s, a Chinese eatery; the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, a seafood establishment; Planet Hollywood Restaurant and Bar, a theme restaurant; and Carmine’s, serving Italian cuisine. It has also attracted a number of large financial, publishing, and media firms to set up headquarters in the area. A larger presence of police has improved the safety of the area.
The theatres of Broadway and the huge number of animated neon and LED signs have been one of New York’s iconic images, as well as a symbol of the intensely urban aspects of Manhattan. The prevalence of such signage is because Times Square is the only neighborhood with zoning ordinances requiring building owners to display illuminated signs. The neighborhood actually has a minimum limit for lighting instead of the standard maximum limit. The density of illuminated signs in Times Square rivals that in Las Vegas. Officially, signs in Times Square are called "spectaculars", and the largest of them are called "jumbotrons." This signage ordnance was implemented in accordance with guidelines set in a revitalization program that New York Governor Mario Cuomo implemented in 1993.
Notable signage includes the Toshiba billboard directly under the NYE ball drop and the curved seven-story NASDAQ sign at the NASDAQ MarketSite at 4 Times Square on 43rd Street and the curved Coca-Cola sign located underneath another large LED display owned and operated by Samsung. Both the Coca-Cola sign and Samsung LED displays were built by LED display manufacturer Daktronics. Times Square’s first environmentally friendly billboard powered by wind and solar energy was first lit on December 4, 2008. On completion, the 20 Times Square development will host the largest LED signage in Times Square at 18,000 square feet. The display will be 1,000 square feet larger than the Times Square Walgreens display and one of the largest video-capable screen in the world.
In 2002, New York City’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani, gave the oath of office to the city’s next mayor, Michael Bloomberg, at Times Square after midnight on January 1 as part of the 2001–2002 New Year’s celebration. Approximately 500,000 revelers attended. Security was high following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, with more than 7,000 New York City police officers on duty in the Square, twice the number for an ordinary year.
Since 2002, the summer solstice has been marked by "Mind over Madness", a mass yoga event involving up to 15,000 people. Tim Tompkins, co-founder of the event, said part of its appeal was "finding stillness and calm amid the city rush on the longest day of the year".
On February 26, 2009, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that traffic lanes along Broadway from 42nd Street to 47th Street would be de-mapped starting Memorial Day 2009 and transformed into pedestrian plazas until at least the end of the year as a trial. The same was done from 33rd to 35th Street. The goal was to ease traffic congestion throughout the Midtown grid. The results were to be closely monitored to determine if the project worked and should be extended. Bloomberg also stated that he believed the street shutdown would make New York more livable by reducing pollution, cutting down on pedestrian accidents and helping traffic flow more smoothly.
The pedestrian plaza project was originally opposed by local businesses, who thought that closing the street to cars would hurt business. The original seats put out for pedestrians were inexpensive multicolored plastic lawn chairs, a source of amusement to many New Yorkers; they lasted from the onset of the plaza transformation until August 14, 2009, when they were ceremoniously bundled together in an installation christened "Now You See It, Now You Don’t" by the artist Jason Peters, and shortly afterward were replaced by sturdier metal furniture. Although the plaza had mixed results on traffic in the area, injuries to motorists and pedestrians decreased, fewer pedestrians were walking in the road and the number of pedestrians in Times Square increased. On February 11, 2010, Bloomberg announced that the pedestrian plazas would become permanent.
By December 2013, the first phase of the Times Square pedestrian plaza, at the southern end of the square, was complete, in time for the Times Square Ball drop of New Year’s Eve 2013. The project will be complete by the end of 2015. Snøhetta is responsible for the renovations.
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