Someone needs to tell this woman that there are easier ways to make a living…
Image by Ed Yourdon
(more details later, as time permits)
Times Square, in case you cared, was not always known as Times Square. Until 1904 it was known as Longacre Square; it got that name because, back in the mid-1800s, it was a center for carriage-making in New York City, and was considered to be similar to a carriage-making district in London known as Long Acre. Later on, it was nicknamed the "Thieves Lair," because of its reputation as a low entertainment district. The first theater on Long Acre Square was built by cigar manufacturer Oscar Hammerstein — and by the 1890s, it was thronged by crowds of restaurant and cafe patrons, and middle- and upper-class theater aficionados. It was the year 1904 when Mayor George G. McClellan yielded to the pressure from New York Times owner and publisher, Adolph Ochs, and renamed the intersection of 42nd Street, Seventh Avenue, and Bloomingdale Road with its current name — Times Square — in honor of the Times Building.
Most visitors and tourists, of course, know nothing about this; nor do they know that the intersection of Broadway and 42nd Street is the eastern terminus of the Lincoln Highway, which was the first road (5,869 miles long) across the United States — covering a total of 14 states, 128 counties, and over 700 cities, towns and villages. Indeed, most New Yorkers don’t know any of this history either, and their eyes would probably glaze over if you explained it all to them. It’s sad, too, because most people think that Times Square is a garish invention of the modern age, and that it sprang into existence with the arrival of … oh, I don’t know … the Beatles.
All that history notwithstanding, Times Square underwent another major transformation back in February 2009, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that traffic lanes along Broadway, between 42nd and 47th Street, would be transformed into pedestrian plazas between Memorial Day and the end of the year. The plaza was originally supplied with inexpensive multicolored plastic lawn chairs … but you won’t see any of those in this Flickr set, because they’ve all been replaced with relatively sturdy metal furniture (though, like the tables and chairs in Bryant Park, none of it is chained or bolted into place; people can move things around to suit their immediate needs). On Feb 11, 2010, Mayor Bloomberg announced that the pedestrian plazas in Times Square would remain permanent; and now there is a similar plan underway to experiment with a pedestrian plaza on 34th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.
I was vaguely aware of this development, and I’ve occasionally seen the tables, chairs, and pedestrian plaza while traveling around the city. But it was cold in February, and there really weren’t all that many visitors. Now it’s spring, and it’s warm, and the tourists have begun to arrive. So I took the subway down to Times Square this past weekend, and spent an hour or two wandering around, mostly between 42nd and 47th Street, to see how people were using this newly-transformed part of the city.
Aside from the people hustling theater tickets and guided tours, as well as a preacher or two, I didn’t really see any New Yorkers. Almost everyone was a tourist — either from some other part of the country, or from some other part of the world. I heard a dozen different languages, saw a dozen different fashion styles, and observed a dozen different reactions to the huge signs (known locally as "spectaculars" and "jumbotrons") advertising the products of Coca-Cola, Samsung, and other huge companies. ABC’s Times Square studios are located here, Good Morning America is broadcast from here; and there are more movie theaters and Broadway theaters than most people can cope with during a single visit.
In my case, there was no need to try to see everything or experience everything in one swell foop; I simply thought it would be interesting to capture a cross-section of the visitors to this small part of the city in which I live. Once you’ve seen it all, you can decide for yourself if it’s someplace you want to visit…