While the biggest complaint New Yorkers may have about Times Square today is the tourists, just over 20 years ago, a trip down 42nd street was a completely different experience, as many New Yorkers will remember. The “Great White Way” has undergone many changes in the past century and though recent changes have been more subtle, the 1990s were a transformative decade as Times Square shed its risqué past for a more family-friendly environment.
As part of a cleanup project led by Mayor Rudy Giuliani, places that were known for their seedier entertainment, such as the Victory and Empire theaters, were reclaimed and redesigned. The goal was to turn the gritty Times Square that was into a place that welcomed people of all ages.
If the transformation wasn’t clear by the shift in the theaters’ audiences, it was visible with all the construction throughout the decade. Theaters were demolished or completely renovated to both preserve their history and provide venues for the new Times Square. Families were now flocking to the new and safe Times Square. Yet not everyone was happy–many complained that the area had lost its excitement and its authenticity.
One result of the changes brought to Times Square was the boost in theater audiences. In 1997 alone, over 10 million people went to see one of the many new shows, such as The Lion King, in the new theaters of Broadway.
See how Times Square transformed during the 1990s in these photos by Gregoire Alessandrini:
Selwyn Theater, 1993
Times Square Theater
42nd Street Destruction, 1997
42nd Street Construction