Times Square, then Long Acre Square in 1905
We’ve been doing a bit of research about Times Square these days, in a forthcoming book about the history of Broadway that we’re working on. The Library of Congress has as great repository of vintage photographs and we’d thought we’d share the striking evolution of Times Square from 1905 to today.
Image via Cryptome
The Empire Theatre, now the AMC Empire 25 in Times Square has a colorful history, with an interior designed by Thomas Lamb who created many of New York’s impressive theaters like the Loews Mayfair Theater nearby, the now abandoned RKO Keith’s Theater in Flushing, and many along Broadway. Today, the theater is one of the centerpieces of the revitalized 42nd Street but it doesn’t actually sit in its original location. In fact, the whole building was lifted from its foundation and moved 168 feet westwards in 1997. The 3,700 ton structure was converted into the entrance way to a new retail complex. The original Thomas Lamb interior is now the lobby of the AMC Theater and if you keep your eyes open, there are many fun historical details that have been left.
In 1973, things were pretty dicey in New York City. The economy was tanking, crime was up, and Times Square was nothing like it is today. In fact, in 1973 the Office of Midtown Planning and Development was created by Mayor John Lindsay to begin the “cleaning up” of Times Square and vicinity. First on the list of attack were massage parlors, seen as a breeding ground for the prostitution industry that was openly operating on street corners. Lindsay proclaimed that “phony massage parlors [were] nothing more than fronts for houses of prostitution.”
This map by the Office of Midtown Planning and Development locates the massage parlors, spas, “presumed prostitution hotels,” single room occupancy hotels (SRO), peep shows, live burlesque shows, and adult book and video stores in Midtown.
Mosaic of 6 entry boards for the Municipal Art Society competition. (Credits: William F Schacht & Cassandra Mcgowen, Richard Haas & Judith DiMaio, Gilbert Gorski, Frank Lupo & Daniel Rowen, Lee Dunnette, Jaime Gonzales-Goldstein & Martin Maurin, George Ranalli, Paul Bentel & Carol Rusche)
Now through January 2015, the Skyscraper Museum is presenting the exhibit Times Square 1984: The Postmodern Moment. The exhibit takes visitors back to the seedy, crime ridden, nostalgic Times Square of the late 1970s early 1980s. In 1984, the Municipal Art Society and the National Endowment for the Arts organized an alternative “ideas competition” for Times Square with a $10,000 prize, in reaction to a critically panned proposal by Philip Johnson and John Burgee. The request for proposals drew more than five hundred entrants and widespread press attention. The New York Times recently highlighted this new exhibit in a slideshow highlighting 20 of the boards museum director Carol Willis was able to track down.
Image by Peter Dougherty via NYCSubway.org
We’ve mentioned the abandoned level below Times Square before in our piece about abandoned subway levels and platforms in New York City. But this is the first time we’re featuring some images of what it looked like when it was operating and after some years of abandonment.
The New York City subway carries many secrets, like any extensive system that was built over time. But the NYC subway also comes with it quite a bit of lore–from its urban explorers who have explored every nook of its vastness, the technological feat it was to build in some of the toughest Manhattan schist, and its evolution from high-class experiment to mass ridership.
No list of subway secrets can be complete, so we see this article as an evolving entity. We’ve started with our favorite secrets but encourage you all to comment and Tweet at us (@untappedcities) with other hidden gems. Special thanks to Matt Litwack, author of Beneath the Streets: The Hidden Relics of New York’s Subway System for contributing his finds to this piece.
Disused platform and subway entrance at Chamber Street