Photograph by Gregoire Alessandrini
While some New Yorkers may still avoid walking through Times Square, it’s for drastically different reasons than why many avoided the area in the 1970s. The thriving theater district of New York City experienced a steady decline from the Great Depression to an all time low in the 1970s. It was during this time that 42nd Street became known as “The Deuce.” Eighth Avenue was called the Minnesota Strip (due to the high volume of prostitutes who walked it) and Times Square was New York’s red light district, a seedy mecca of porn shops, peep shows, drugs, crime and hot sheet hotels. This era of Times Square has most recently been depicted in HBO’s series The Deuce.
In the 1980s, work began to transform Times Square into the flashy and comparably wholesome retail and entertainment destination it is today. But some New Yorkers are nostalgic for the days before Times Square became “Disney-fied” and lucky for those people, there are still remnants of Times Square’s sordid past hiding in the shadows of today’s blinking signs and giant LED screens. From a children’s theater that used to be a XXX-porn house to a police station in a smut shop, check out 10 remnants of gritty old Times Square you can still see today.
1. The Elk Hotel
The Elk Hotel was one of Times Square’s last pay-by-the-hour hotels. The hotel offered single rooms for $40 per night ($45 for a double) and hourly rentals as low as $5 per hour. In line with the low rates, amenities were sparse. There were no televisions, phones, or air-conditioning and bathrooms were communal (two per floor).
In the early 20th-century the hotel was owned by an Irish family and served as a first home to many immigrants who came through Ellis Island. Many hot sheet hotels would pop up in the Times Square district throughout the century, though the Elk would be one of the few able to skirt redevelopment. Other hotels, including the Evans on West 38th Street and the Woodstock on 43rd, have since been demolished or remodeled. Today, the fate of the Elk Hotel is unknown as it stands locked and graffitied on 42nd Street.
Read on to discover more remnants, and see them for yourself on an upcoming Remnants of Gritty Old Times Square walking tour!