We recently announced the latest addition to our tours, which will explore the remnants of Gritty OId Times Square of the 1970’s. Back then, the neighborhood was an exciting, dangerous and racially and sexually diverse place, frequented by both locals and tourists. Today, most of Times Square has been carefully obliterated by generic hotels, soulless office buildings, and Walt Disney musicals, but there are still a few vestiges of its seedy past—if you know where to look.
Buy tickets to an upcoming tour of the Remnants of Gritty Old Times Square here:
Gritty Old Times Square
So let us take you back to the halcyon days when 42nd Street was the Deuce, Eighth Avenue was the Minnesota Strip, the Great White Way was a red light district, and the Crossroads of the World was XXX-rated. This tour is led by Robert Brenner, a native New Yorker and licensed New York City tour guide. Brenner, who squandered his misspent youth in the fleshpots of Times Square, witnessed firsthand the demimonde in all their sordid glory. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he lived to tell the tale—and is unashamed. Here, he highlights the legacy of one person who helped to change the landscape of the neighborhood:
His name was Martin “Marty” Hodas. He was known as the King of the Peeps, who transformed Times Square by building a porno empire and becoming a multimillionaire in the process.
While Hodas didn’t invent peepshow machines – they’ve been around since the time of Thomas Edison – he was the first one to introduce them to Times Square in 1996. For years, the Mayor’s Office had maintained that you needed a movie theater license to operate a peepshow. Hodas successfully challenged that legal assumption and installed his first machine at Carpel Books, an adult bookstore located at 259 W. 42nd St.; today, it’s a Chevys Fresh Mex.
Chevys Fresh Mex. Image via Google Maps
After a week, the owner of the bookstore called Hodas and told him his machine was broken. When Hodas examined the machine, he saw it was so stuffed full of quarters that the mechanism had jammed. He knew then that he had a hit on his hands.
Hodas, who ran his porno empire out of an office located at 113 W. 42nd St. – presently, an anonymous office tower – set up dozens of peepshow machines throughout Times Square. He hired gorillas to haul all of his quarters in locked steamer trunks to a Chemical Bank branch (what is now Duane Reade) on the northwest corner of 8th Ave. and 42nd St. to deposit. At its peak, an amazing 85% of all quarters deposited at that branch came from Hodas’ machine. He also expanded into other ventures: massage parlors, topless bars, live model photography, and eventually started his own movie studio to produce “loops” for his peepshows somewhere on W. 14th St. — the exact location of which is a closely guarded secret. If landlords objected to his businesses, he simply bought the buildings.
Image via Google Maps
Unlike most pornographers, Hodas wasn’t publicity shy. He gave interviews to the press, and was always good for a quote on “the smut biz.” He also wrote aggrieved letters to the New York Times—which the Times published—claiming he was an honest businessman just giving the public what it wanted.
With his empire on the rise, Hodas eventually became known as “the King of the Peeps.” He grew so big that he attracted the attention of the Feds, and in 1975, he was convicted of income tax evasion after underreporting his quarters. He went on to serve a year in prison, but when he got out, he sold off his holdings and retired, having had enough of the “smut biz.”
Despite his fame and influence on Time Square, however, Hodas died quietly in 2014. In fact, there was no obituary in the New York Times, or an analysis of his impact on the neighborhood – only a modest posting in his local newspaper.
Next, check out The Top 10 Secrets of Times Square NYC and the 10 Most Blinged Out Signage in NYC’s Times Square.