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.
According to wonderful book, Manhattan in Maps 1527-1995 the proliferation of massage parlors that started in the late 1960s was partly due to the actions of City Council itself–which had “ended the licensing requirements that had limited massage parlors from becoming fronts for brothels” in 1967. In 1973, City Council passed a massage parlor bill requiring masseuses to be licensed, which required 800 hours of training at an accredited massage school. If not, the masseuse would need a “fifteen-dollar permit from the Department of Consumer Affairs certifying her ‘good moral character.'”
By the end of 1973, most of the unlicensed massage parlors had been closed, hundreds of arrests had been made for prostitution and selling pornographic material. And by 1984, there were conceptual competitions to re-envision Times Square. By the late 1990s, new development was radically transforming Times Square, as evidenced by the move of this 3,700 ton movie theater 168 feet to accommodate the new vision.
Take a tour of gritty Times Square with Robert Brenner, a native New Yorker and licensed New York City tour guide. Brenner squandered his misspent youth in the fleshpots of Times Square. He witnessed firsthand the demimonde in all their sordid glory. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he lived to tell the tale—and is unashamed: