Times Square, the most bustling square of New York, is known for its many Broadway theaters, cinemas and electronic billboards. It is one of those places that make New York a city that never sleeps.
By the end of the nineteenth century, New York City had expanded up to 42nd street, and the area was becoming the center of the city’s social scene. In 1904, the New York Times built the Times Tower on 43rd street just off Broadway to replace its downtown premises. The square in front of the building was called Longacre Square, but was soon renamed Times Square. The name is now used for the area between 40th and 53rd street and 6th and 9th avenue.
New York Times Headquarters
The inauguration of the New York Times’ new headquarters at 1 Times Square was celebrated with a fireworks display, starting a New Year’s Eve tradition which still continues today. The first famous ball-lowering from the 1 Times Square’s rooftop pole was held on New Year’s Eve 1907.
Theater District and Billboards
At the start of the First World War, Times Square was the center of the Theater District and attracted throngs of visitors. This made the square an ideal place for billboards. In 1917 the first large electric display billboard was installed. Eleven years later, the first running electric sign was lit for the first time, to announce Herbert Hoover’s victory in the Presidential elections. The billboards have become such a tourist attraction for the area, that the zoning now requires the buildings to be covered with billboards!
In the thirties, the Great Depression led to a sharp decline in theater attendance. Many businesses had to close down, and they were quickly replaced by strip teases and peep shows. The area continued to attract visitors though and after the Second World War, the Theater District was booming again. At the end of the sixties, the area started to go downhill and by the mid-seventies, tourists avoided Times Square, which had become a seedy, crime-ridden and drug-infested place.
In the 1980s, redevelopment proposals were submitted, with little result. This changed a decade later, when the Walt Disney Company opened a Disney store on Times Square. This attracted more family-friendly businesses to the area, leading to a so-called ‘Disneyfication’. The area was now – like most of New York City – a lot safer than in the early nineties, and Times Square once again became a magnet for tourists and a center of New York’s social scene.
Times Square Today
Today, Times Square is a constantly buzzing tourist magnet; the square is even one of the most visited places in the world.
For most of its existence, Times Square wasn’t much more than a large traffic intersection, but has been redeveloped into a pedestrian-friendly square with large car-free plazas replacing much of the asphalt. The redevelopment project – dubbed Times Square Transformation – started in 2012 and was completed in December 2016.
Many people come to Times Square for the ambiance and the billboard spectacle, but there are also many restaurants and shops – well over 100 – in the area, including some crowd-pullers such as the Disney Store and a large Toys”R”Us. But Times Square is best known for its entertainment, and plenty of visitors come here to attend a Broadway show. Times Square is also home to MTV’s headquarters, and ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ is broadcast in front of a live audience from its office at 44th and Broadway.
Paramount Building and Visitors Center
The most famous building at the square is undoubtedly the iconic Paramount Building. The building was home to the Paramount theater, where stars such as Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra performed in their heyday. Unfortunately, the theater was demolished, and the Paramount building is now merely an office tower.
Another former theater, the Embassy Theater, is now the home of Times Square’s own visitors center. Here you can get information about events and Broadway shows. There’s also a small museum that tells the history of Times Square.