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Thread: Times Square: A Century of Change

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    Default Times Square: A Century of Change

    March 14, 2004

    Common of Earthly Delights


    In the early 20th century, opulent dining was the real theatrical entertainment of Times Square, and Murray's Roman Gardens was fabulousness itself.

    Today, Madame Tussaud's stands on the choice piece of real estate that Murray's Roman Gardens once did.

    Times Square is surely the most familiar and most frequently reproduced fragment of urban real estate on the planet. Even those of us who are too young to have known Times Square in its age of glory -- even many people who have never been to New York, for that matter -- carry in their heads a nocturnal black-and-white image of glowing signs for Camel cigarettes and the Bond Clothing store, of humpbacked taxis coursing through the X-shaped crossroads of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, of crowds of men in dark suits and fedoras gazing up at the news zipper on the Times Tower. They're nostalgia magnets, these pictures. We look at them and think, That was life. The hats, the crowds, the shows, the bars -- yes, here was life in the center of the city that was the center of the world. And as Times Square is in so many ways the incarnation of urban life itself, so nostalgia for Times Square is nostalgia for a lost idea of urbanness, or of urbanity -- for a time, before the advent of television and the suburbs, and before riots and drug wars, when everyone knew that city life was the best life of all.

    Of course, cities themselves aren't dying -- quite the contrary. Urban downtowns are being brought back to life by baseball stadiums and refurbished harbors and train-stations-become-gallerias. And surely there is no single place that demonstrates the renaissance of the old downtowns more impressively than Times Square itself, which passed through pornography and pathology to emerge, once again, as the capital of popular culture, with the nation's busiest McDonald's and the world's biggest Toys ''R'' Us and the corporate headquarters of Viacom and Reuters and Conde Nast. Today, as 50 years ago, the establishing shot of almost any coming-to-the-big-city movie is a pan along the wildly blinking canyon of Broadway.

    But the old images linger in the imagination. Knowing what Times Square was, can we accept the carnival of global marketing that it has become today? Can we reconcile ourselves to it -- and to urban life in the era of what the architect Rem Koolhaas has called the generic city? Times Square will turn 100 on April 8, at least if you count from the day when Mayor George McClellan officially renamed the area immediately to the north of the splendid new limestone needle that housed the offices of The New York Times. And all the commemorations will inevitably raise a single question: What are we to make of this Times Square in light of all the other Times Squares?

    In the tightly bounded space of an old city, history presents itself archaeologically, each generation building directly atop the one before. In Times Square, which runs from 42nd Street to 51st or so and from Eighth Avenue to an undefined boundary somewhat east of Seventh Avenue, you can study cultural history by picking through the bones of any one of a dozen sites. Take, for example, the space now occupied by Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum on the south side of 42nd Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, the most hallowed block in Times Square. Photos of the block from the last years of the 19th century show the portion of the street immediately to the east occupied by a laundry, a Baptist church and a library; grim-looking tenements take up the plot now filled by Madame Tussaud's. Times Square, then known as Longacre Square, was a neighborhood of rooming houses and whorehouses and small factories.

    But the theater district, which had been creeping up Broadway throughout the 19th century, was now lapping at 42nd Street. And then in 1904, the subway system, long in planning, finally opened its initial branch line, which ran from City Hall to Grand Central, across 42nd to the new Times Tower and then up the West Side. It was the subway, carrying the great mass of immigrants who had flooded into New York, that made Times Square Times Square -- a place where rich New Yorkers hellbent on pleasure mingled with the shirt-sleeved masses from the outer boroughs and the larger world. On the north side of 42nd Street near the subway was Oscar Hammerstein's rattletrap Victoria Theater, where for a quarter you could see Buster Keaton or Houdini, not to mention midget acrobats and performing geese. And directly across the street was the gorgeous Art Nouveau extravaganza of the New Amsterdam Theater. By 1910, 42nd Street was lined with splendid theaters and restaurants; the stacked billboards at the corner had given way to immense electric signs. The transformation of the neighborhood must have seemed breathtaking to New Yorkers of that era -- an emblem of the astounding changes that had overtaken the city itself.

    The truly theatrical entertainment of the early years of the century was not actually theater, which was mostly hackneyed and derivative, but dining, which was magnificent. Gentlemen ate enormous meals in the opulent setting of Times Square's ''lobster palaces.'' And in 1906, Murray's Roman Gardens, the most brazen of them all, rose in place of the dingy tenements. Murray's was fabulousness itself -- a dazzling, loopy setting that used the ancient Roman theme to conjure a world of fleshly, and pre-Christian, delight. In the far corner of Murray's main dining room, a terraced fountain crowned with a Roman temple rose clear to the ceiling; water tumbled over the parti-colored mosaic of the fountain steps. According to an enthralled account published at the time, ''The ceiling is decorated to represent a blue sky in which electric stars twinkle, while by an ingenious arrangement of optical apparatus, the effect of clouds sweeping over the sky is produced.'' Here is the charming and elaborate tomfoolery of Las Vegas 90 years in advance of the Paris casino. It must have been a wonderful amalgam of opulence and play, a fun house for grown-ups.

    And sexy -- the lobster palaces offered a frank sexuality that would have been unthinkable, at least in public, a decade earlier. Sex was incorporated into the overall air of elegant pleasure-taking. Murray's featured nude goddesses and nymphs, recumbent nudes and seated nudes. In the foreground of a trompe l'oeil vista of the Bay of Naples, seen as if from the veranda of a great Pompeian mansion, a woman apparently fresh from bathing stretched her glorious naked figure. These suggestions were not meant to be subtle, for the lobster palace was a place for assignations in the new, fluid social world of Broadway. A gentleman of means might join a chorus girl for a late-night supper known as ''the Bird and Bottle,'' the bird in question being both the dinner and the girl. And Murray's thoughtfully offered ''24 luxuriously furnished and richly appointed bachelor apartments.''

    Neither gout nor Comstockian outrage could dent the lobster palaces, but Prohibition, which took effect Jan. 16, 1920, killed them almost overnight. By the middle of the decade, Murray's and the whole glorious culture of eating and drinking in Times Square had vanished, and in their place had come the naughty, bawdy, gaudy world of the speakeasy. Movies had been a big deal on 42nd Street since 1915, when ''The Birth of a Nation'' had its premiere at the Liberty; several of the theaters had adopted a movie-only policy by the mid-20's. The whole culture of Times Square was evolving downward, toward the mass audience pouring through the subway turnstiles. Times Square was becoming that democratic agora that we now recall with such longing. When the Caen stone of Murray's facade came down in the mid-20's, it was swiftly replaced by Hubert's Museum.

    The ''dime museum'' was a low-class visitor from the tacky world of lower Broadway, a sideshow world of freaks and shrunken heads and lectures on occult phenomena. Owing to its location in the exact center of the universe, Hubert's became the noblest specimen of the breed, the locus classicus of the honky-tonk Times Square of the Depression years, beloved of A.J. Liebling and Joseph Mitchell. The latter wrote a long and tender profile of Hubert's bearded lady. (''Some of Miss Barnell's genuine but less gifted colleagues are inclined to think that she is haughty, but she feels that a woman with a beard more than a foot long has a right to be haughty.'') The visitor to Hubert's paid at a little booth in the back before descending to the basement, and then waited for the tattered velvet curtain to part over one of the tiny chest-high stages to reveal the United Nations Dancing Girls; Congo the Jungle Creep, a wild-haired savage who actually hailed from Haiti; Sealo the Seal Boy, with flippers for arms; or Albert-Alberta, half-man, half-woman. But the act that sealed Hubert's reputation was Professor Heckler's Flea Circus, whose tiny stars, often daintily decked out in miniature frocks and waistcoats, juggled, raced chariots, pushed a carousel and, in one case, played a tune on a xylophone said to be made of discarded fingernail parings.

    By the postwar years, 42nd Street was swarming with soldiers and hookers and hopheads and goggle-eyed bobby-soxers and the fearless bottom-divers of American culture -- the ''apocalyptic hipsters,'' as Allen Ginsberg, himself an impassioned habitue, called them. Hubert's, which to Liebling and Mitchell had conjured the irrepressible eccentricity of the carnival midway, became for a new generation of alienated souls the One True Place, an underground fastness of the marginal and the grotesque hidden away from the all-devouring world of consumerism and plenty. Lenny Bruce worshiped at the altar of Professor Heckler. And Diane Arbus passed countless hours photographing the midgets and the fake magicians and Congo the Jungle Creep. In 1966, Arbus wrote a rapturous obituary after the curtain finally rang down on Hubert's. ''We had our awe and our shame in one gulp,'' as she put it.

    Even in 1966 the sidewalks of Times Square still seemed rife with the ''floating existences'' Baudelaire celebrated as the antidote to smug bourgeois urbanism. But within a decade that netherworld had passed beyond the limits of celebration. The eccentric street characters had disappeared, and in their place came drug dealers, ''bottle gangs,'' pimps, con artists. The old theaters showed shoot-'em-ups and adult films; the novelty stores became sex shops. In 1978, the basement room that had once been home to Professor Heckler's Flea Circus came back to slimy life as Peepland, a video peep emporium -- ''a Disneyland in hell,'' as one student of the demimonde described it. Most of the titles can't be quoted here, but ''Two Nuns and a Donkey'' and ''Mice Torture'' convey the general flavor. The old glamorous sexiness had curdled into something furtive and demented. Times Square still meant something, as it always had, but now the meaning was ''urban collapse.''

    By this time, 42nd Street's depravity had become an unendurable embarrassment to city fathers. After several false starts, New York City and State put together a plan that offered generous subsidies to encourage the construction of office buildings on the corners of 42nd and Broadway, condemned 42nd Street from Broadway to Eighth, shuttered the porn shops and theaters and leased much of the property to private developers. The plan received the almost unanimous support of the city's political and corporate elite, very much including The New York Times, which even lent its editorial support to the demolition of the venerable, if now thoroughly tacky, Times Tower.

    But it turned out that many New Yorkers were deeply attached not so much to 42nd Street as to their memories of it, and the prospect of a bulldozer redevelopment of this glorious necropolis provoked a flood of anguished criticism. In 1993, planners turned for a new vision of the street to the architect Robert A.M. Stern and the designer Tibor Kalman, who laid out a series of design principles meant to foster ''an enhanced version'' of the old 42nd Street rather than ''a gentrified theme-park or festival market.'' Their idea was to build on the street's ''richly layered, collaged look'' by adding another layer of signs and lights and thus create a neo-honky-tonky 42nd Street. And when Disney agreed to take over the raddled New Amsterdam, and Madame Tussaud's leased space to the west, the Stern-Kalman vision became a reality. Forty-Second Street, and with it Times Square, was reborn into a very different era.

    Times Square was always a place for commercial, rather than avant-garde, culture: if the sound of the cash register made you uncomfortable, you were better off downtown. But ''commercial'' was not necessarily a euphemism for ''conventional,'' for in days of yore Eugene O'Neill was every bit as popular on Broadway as George S. Kaufman. We would say today that Times Square was the nation's capital of popular culture; in the 20's, the critic Gilbert Seldes coined the term ''the lively arts'' to refer to the popular art forms then being brought to their perfection in and around Times Square, including vaudeville, electric signs, ragtime and jazz and the revue.

    Times Square is still the national, and indeed the global, capital of commercial culture, but the lively arts have largely given way to the arts of mass production. The restaurants and shops of Times Square are local sites of global retail and entertainment businesses, and the office buildings that line Broadway serve as headquarters for some of those very companies. The artistic products extruded from these corporate tool-and-die factories are not inevitably featureless and mediocre -- Disney, for example, is responsible for the charming, ingenious and wildly popular production of ''The Lion King'' playing at the New Amsterdam. What is true, however, is that the intense particularity and peculiarity that inspired Times Square's great mythologizers to write about the place as if it were a walled village are now mere artifacts -- nostalgia magnets. One site of mass culture tends to resemble another. Las Vegas and Times Square had very little in common 40 years ago; now they bear a strong family resemblance.

    Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, in fact, happens to have a branch in Vegas (as well as in London, Amsterdam and Hong Kong); the Tussauds Group, which also operates theme parks, a castle and the London Eye, bills itself as ''Europe's No. 1 visitor attraction business.'' Madame Tussaud's is Times Square's museum, as Hubert's was half a century ago. It's a lot more expensive than Hubert's was -- $25 a head -- but also a lot bigger, cleaner and more professional. It is also fair to say that Madame Tussaud's attracts a very different audience from Hubert's: families and older people, who love to drape themselves for a snapshot around Donald Trump or J. Lo. The Times Square Madame Tussaud's has Gandhi, Churchill, Lincoln and the other flawlessly executed historical figures that the original in London was famous for, but the real center of attention is a gathering of celebrities in evening dress called ''Opening Night Party'' -- Donald and Ivana (separately, of course), George Steinbrenner, Sarah Ferguson, Nicolas Cage, the network news anchors. It's a tableau of the media culture that Times Square now celebrates and sustains.

    I suppose there's also some emblematic significance in the fact that Hubert's was the theater of the weird while Madame Tussaud's is dedicated to the simulacrum, or what Umberto Eco called ''the absolute fake'' -- the replica that seems more real than the original. Here the very idea of the integrity of the particular -- even of inspired phonies like Congo the Jungle Creep -- has drained away. Here is an apt symbol for a new generation of urban critics, like Michael Sorkin, who writes that ''the new city replaces the anomaly and delight'' of the old ''with a universal particular, a generic urbanism inflected only by applique.'' For those who loathe the new Times Square, a category that includes plenty of urbanites as well as urban theorists, this clean, shiny and hard-edged 42nd Street offers the textbook example of ''Disneyfication'' -- the methodical corporate engineering of the fun experience.

    It's all true, and yet it's not the only truth. The chaotic, kaleidoscopic aesthetic dictated by Stern and Kalman may be a simulacrum, too, and yet as a theme park of honky-tonk urbanism 42nd Street has an ineradicable vitality. There are even moments when you can feel something like love -- O.K., awe -- for this glittering Vegas-like cavern. Take the Seventh Avenue I.R.T. to Times Square on a warm weekend night, as New Yorkers have for 100 years, and exit on the north side of 42nd Street, where a knot of teenage kids, black and Hispanic, hang out (no bourgeois urbanism there). Sighting down toward Eighth Avenue, the street looks like the inside of a giant arcade game, glowing red and blue and green. The buildings, with their inane products and cardboard food, seem to subside behind the wildly flashing signs, just as Stern and Kalman hoped they would. The sense of arid corporate calculation also subsides beneath the great tides of humanity eddying up and down the block. The street is a fiesta, a commercial carnival.

    Now walk west toward Eighth Avenue. An impromptu audience, gathered in a semicircle, watches a spray-painter make moons and pyramids and skyscrapers on his little square of oak tag. A pedicab cycles past with a passenger, charging a hundred times the going rate in Calcutta, and then a great white limo slides by like a submarine before it plunges beneath the waves. Farther along, another crowd waits for the late show at B.B. King's, and a less patient line of teenagers wait to be patted down before gaining entrance to the Broadway City Arcade, the bright white lights running around its jukebox facade. (The arcade, alas, closed last month.) Three cops on horseback keep watch. Sketch artists sit on folding chairs, waiting for customers for their portraits and caricatures. More cops; more swirls of tourists; more teenage boys, leaning against the wall, staring out at the passing show, enjoying a night out for the price of subway fare. During the day, 42nd Street can seem vapid; at night, you wonder how it can contain the kids, the tourists, the cops, the vendors, the traffic, the noise, the lights and the sense of possible violence that sometimes lies just below the surface. It is, in short, the barely restrained energies of the crowd, and the noise and the blur of the traffic, and the huckstering along the sidewalk, that save Times Square from the Disneyesque.

    I can't really say that I'm reconciled to this Times Square. I still feel a jolt of disgust, and despair, when I walk past the giant food court, with Applebee's and California Pizza Kitchen and whatnot, that looms immediately beyond Madame Tussaud's. Must there be Applebee's -- and McDonald's and Sanrio and the Yankees store? Can't there be anything at least a little bit odd? And couldn't the city and state have insisted on smaller, and perhaps fewer, office buildings? But I recognize that this 42nd Street, and this Times Square, is every bit as true to its moment as the place was 40, 60, 80 years ago -- that whatever else it is, it's inevitable. And something else -- that this place, too, is provisional and transitory. The last word on Times Square will never be written.

    James Traub is a contributing writer for the magazine. His book ''The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square,'' from which this article is adapted, will be published later this month.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  2. #2




    How the old Times Square was made new.

    Issue of 2004-03-22
    Posted 2004-03-15

    This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the decision to take an hourglass-shaped traffic funnel between Forty-second Street and Forty-seventh Street on Broadway, which had been called Longacre Square, and rename it after the New York Times, which had just built its office there. This was less an honor than a consolation prize. The other, then bigger and brighter newspaper, the New York Herald, had claimed the other, then brighter and better square, eight blocks south, which still bears its ghostly name. Nine years later, in 1913, the Times scurried off to a prim side street and a Gothic Revival bishop’s palace, where it has been lifting its skirts and shyly peeking around the corner at its old home ever since.

    No other part of New York has had such a melodramatic, mood-ring sensitivity to the changes in the city’s history, with an image for every decade. There was the turn-of-the-century Times Square, with its roof gardens and showgirls; the raffish twenties Times Square of Ziegfeld and Youmans tunes; the thirties Times Square of “42nd Street,” all chorus lines and moxie; the forties, V-J “On the Town” Times Square, full of sailors kissing girls; the wizened black-and-white fifties Times Square of “Sweet Smell of Success,” steaming hot dogs, and grungy beats; and then the sixties and the seventies Times Square of “Midnight Cowboy” and “Taxi Driver,” where everything fell apart and Hell wafted up through the manhole covers. No other place in town has been quite so high and quite so low. Within a single half decade, it had Harpo Marx in the Marx Brothers’ valedictory movie, “Love Happy,” leaping ecstatically from sign to sign and riding away on the flying Mobilgas Pegasus, and, down below, the unforgettable image of James Dean, hunched in his black overcoat, bearing the weight of a generation on his shoulders.

    Now, of course, we have the new Times Square, as fresh as a neon daisy, with a giant Gap and a Niketown and an Applebee’s and an ESPN Zone and television announcers visible through tinted windows, all family retailing and national brands. In some ways, the Square has never looked better, with the diagonal sloping lines of the Reuters Building, the curving Deco zipper, even the giant mock dinosaur in the Toys R Us. There are, of course, people who miss the old Times Square, its picturesque squalor and violence and misery and exploitation. Those who pointed at the old Times Square as an instance of everything that capitalism can do wrong now point to the new Times Square as an instance of everything that capitalism can do worse. Where once Times Square was hot, it is now cold, where once varied, now uniform, where once alive, now dead. Which just proves, as with the old maxim about belief, that people who refuse to be sentimental about the normal things don’t end up being sentimental about nothing; they end up being sentimental about anything, shedding tears about muggings and the shards of crack vials glittering like diamonds in the gutter.

    And yet, whatever has been gained, something really is missing in the new Times Square. The forces that created it, and the mixed emotions that most of us have in its presence, are the subject of James Traub’s “The Devil’s Playground” (Random House; $25.95), which is both an engaged civics lesson and a work of social history. The book begins with an ironic moment—Traub takes his eleven-year-old son to the new Forty-second Street to see the old “42nd Street”—and then spirals back into history, moving decade by decade over the past century.

    Traub, a writer for the Times, hates city myth but loves city history: on every page you learn something about how the city really happened, and how it really happens now. He is particularly good at wrestling complicated history into a few tight pages. He gives the best account we have of the original sin of New York: the birth, in 1811, of the iron street grid almost before there were any streets. The decision to lay a crisscross of numbers over the city without any breaks for public squares, plazas, or parks—a deliberately brutal nod to the governing principle of commerce—is why we still, sadly, call any awkward and accidental space created by the diagonal of Broadway intersecting an avenue a “square.”

    Traub also has a gift for filtering social history through a previously invisible individual agent. As always, the vast forces of mass culture turn out to be the idiosyncratic choices of a few key, mostly hidden players. The character of the signs in Times Square, for instance, was mostly the invention of O. J. Gude, the Sign King of Times Square. Gude, a true aesthete with a significant art collection, was the first to sense that the peculiar shape of Times Square—a triangle with sign-friendly “flats” at the base and the apex—made it the perfect place for big electric national-brand signs, or “spectaculars,” as they were called, even before the First World War. In 1917, when Gude put up a two-hundred-foot-long spectacular, on the west side of Broadway between Forty-third and Forty-fourth, featuring twelve gleaming “spearmen” who went through spasmodic calisthenics, it was as big an event in American pop culture, in its way, as the opening of “The Jazz Singer,” ten years later. Gude also had the bright idea of joining the Municipal Art Society, the leading opponent of big signs, and later helped shape the zoning ordinances that essentially eliminated big electric signs anywhere in midtown except in Times Square.

    Times Square is famous for what used to be called its “denizens”—Damon Runyon, George S. Kaufman, Clifford Odets, A. J. Liebling—and Traub writes brief lives of a lot of them. But the history of the place isn’t really a history of its illuminati; it’s a history of its illuminations. Though social forces and neon signs flow out of individuals, they don’t flow back into individuals so transparently. George S. Kaufman, to take one instance, was exclusively a creature of the theatre; if, like the galleries in SoHo in the nineteen-nineties, the Broadway theatre had in the thirties picked up and moved to Chelsea, Kaufman would have followed it blindly and would never have been seen on Forty-second Street again. Even Runyon has about as much to do with the history of Times Square as P. G. Wodehouse does with the history of Mayfair: his subject is language, not place, and in all of Runyon’s stories it would be hard to find a single set-piece description of Times Square, a single bulb on a single sign. Individual artists help make cities, but cities don’t make their artists in quite so neatly reciprocal a way. Dr. Johnson’s “London” is a poem; “The London of Dr. Johnson” is a tour-bus ride.

    Traub gives no false gloss to the decay of Times Square; it was really bad. The neighborhood declined to a point where, by the mid-seventies, the Times Square precincts placed first and second in New York in total felonies. (Harlem had a third as many.) These were crimes of violence, too: a rape or an armed robbery or a murder took place nearly every day and every night. Stevie Wonder’s great 1973 song “Living for the City” has a spoken-word interlude in which the poor black kid from the South arrives on West Forty-second Street and in about five minutes is lured into the drug business. This was a song, but it was not a lie.

    Traub’s account of the area’s transformation is lit from behind by another, still longer and larger one—Lynne B. Sagalyn’s masterly “Times Square Roulette: Remaking the City Icon,” just issued in paperback (M.I.T.; $29.95). Sagalyn teaches real estate at the University of Pennsylvania, and her book, the fruit of more than a decade of scholarly labor, is as mind-bendingly detailed an account of the relations of property and culture as one can find outside Galsworthy or Trollope. It’s full of eye-opening material, if one can keep one’s eyes open long enough to find it. Sagalyn’s book is written, perhaps of necessity, in a prose so dense with city acronyms and cross-referential footnotes that it can defeat even the most earnest attention. Nonetheless, its material is the material of the city’s existence. Reading it is like reading an advanced-biology textbook and then discovering that its sole subject is your own body.

    Traub and Sagalyn agree in dispelling a myth and moving toward a history, and the myth irritates them both—Traub’s usual tone of intelligent skepticism sometimes boils over here into exasperation. The myth they want to dispel is that the cleanup of Times Square in the nineties was an expression of Mayor Giuliani’s campaign against crime and vice, and of his companion tendency to accept a sterilized environment if they could be removed, and that his key corporate partner in this was the mighty Disney, which led the remaking of West Forty-second Street as a theme park instead of an authentic urban street. As Traub and Sagalyn show, this is nearly the reverse of the truth. It was Mayor Koch who shaped the new Times Square, if anyone did, while the important private profit-makers and players were almost all purely local: the Old Oligarchs, the handful of rich, and mostly Jewish, real-estate families—the Rudins, Dursts, Roses, Resnicks, Fishers, Speyers, and Tishmans, as Sagalyn crisply enumerates them. Mayor Giuliani, basically, was there to cut the ribbon, and Disney to briefly lend its name.

    The story follows, on a larger scale than usual, the familiar form of New York development, whose stages are as predictable as those of a professional wrestling match: first, the Sacrificial Plan; next, the Semi-Ridiculous Rhetorical Statement; then the Staged Intervention of the Professionals; and, at last, the Sorry Thing Itself. The Sacrificial Plan is the architectural plan or model put forward upon the announcement of the project, usually featuring some staggeringly obvious and controversial device—a jagged roof or a startling pediment—which even the architect knows will never be built, and whose purpose is not to attract investors so much as to get people used to the general idea that something is going to be built there. (Sometimes the Sacrificial Plan is known by all to be sacrificial, and sometimes, as in “The Lottery,” known to everyone but the sacrifice.) The Semi-Ridiculous Rhetorical Statement usually accompanies, though it can precede, the Sacrificial Plan, and is intended to show that the plan is not as brutal and cynical as it looks but has been designed in accordance with the architectural mode of the moment. (“The three brass lambs that stand on the spires of Sheep’s Meadow Tower reflect the historical context of the site . . .” was the way it was done a decade ago; now it’s more likely to be “In its hybrid façade, half mirror, half wool, Sheep’s Meadow Tower captures the contradictions and deconstructs the flow of . . .”) The Staged Intervention marks the moment when common sense and common purpose, in the form of the Old Oligarchs and their architects—who were going to be in charge in the first place—return to rescue the project from itself. The Sorry Thing itself you’ve seen. (At Ground Zero, Daniel Libeskind supplied the sacrificial plan, and now he is pursuing all of the semi-ridiculous rhetoric, in the forlorn hope that, when the professionals stage their intervention, he will be the professional called on.)

    The only difference in the Times Square project was that, because of its size, it all happened twice. (Actually, there were two dimensions to the remaking of Times Square—the West Forty-second Street projects, and the reclaiming of the Square itself—but each depended on the other, and, though administratively distinct, they were practically joined.) The first Sacrificial Plan appeared in the late seventies, and was called “the City at Forty-second Street.” Presented by the developer Fred Papert, with the support of the Ford Foundation and with proposed backing from Paul Reichmann, of Olympia & York, it envisioned a climate-controlled indoor-mall Forty-second Street, with a five-hundred-thousand-square-foot “educational, entertainment, and exhibit center,” and a 2.1-million-square-foot merchandise mart for the garment trade, all strung together with aerial walkways and, lovely period touch, equipped with a monorail. Mayor Koch wasn’t happy about the plan; “We’ve got to make sure that they have seltzer”—that it’s echt New York—“instead of orange juice,” he said. But mostly he worried because someone else would be squeezing the oranges.

    Still, the plan did what such plans are meant to do: establish the principle, civic-minded rather than commercial, that something had to be done here, and the larger principle that whatever was done should be done on a large scale—the old, outdoor theatre-and-arcade Forty-second Street could be turned into “a consumer-oriented exposition center with people moving across 42nd Street by means of pedestrian bridges,” as one early draft of the rhetoric put it. As the initiative passed from the developers to the Koch administration, a further principle was established. The transformation could be made only by large-scale condemnation of what was already there, and the city and state together proposed a new way to link up private and public: the developers would get the right to build on condition that they paid directly for public improvements. The price of your tower on top was a cleaner subway station below.

    Still more significant, and what should have been seen as a portent in the first Sacrificial Plan, was the felt need to pull away from the street completely. This was not simply snobbery but self-preservation;Forty-second Street wasn’t dying but raving. The porno shops on West Forty-second Street weren’t there because the middle class had fled. They were there because the middle class was there. The people who bought from the porn industry were the office workers who walked by the stores on the way to and from work, and the tourists who wanted to take back a little something not for the kids. The XXX video rooms and bookstores and grind-house theatres were going concerns, paying an average of thirty-two thousand dollars a year in rent; peep shows could gross five million a year. Though the retailers were obviously entangled with the Mafia, the buildings were owned by respectable real-estate families—for the most part, the same families who had owned the theatres since the thirties, the Brandts and the Shuberts. Times Square was Brechtville: a perfect demonstration of the principle that the market, left to itself, will produce an economy of crime as happily as an economy of virtue.

    This—the crucial underlying reality in the Forty-second Street redevelopment—meant that the city, if it was to get the legal right to claim and condemn property in order to pass it over, had to be pointing toward some enormous, unquestioned commercial goal, larger or at least more concrete than the real goal, which was essentially ethical and “cultural.” For once, the usual New York formula had to be turned right around: a question of virtue had to be disguised as a necessity of commerce. On Forty-second Street, a group of perfectly successful private businessmen in the movie-theatre business were being pushed aside in favor of a set of private businessmen in the tall-building business, and the legal argument for favoring the businessmen in the tall-building business was that they had promised that if you let them build a really tall building they would fix up the subway station.

    This produced the Second Sacrificial Plan, of 1983: Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s immense four towers straddling either side of Times Square on Forty-second, each with a slightly different pedimented top. The Semi-Ridiculous Rhetorical Statement invoked for this plan was that the pedimented tops “contextualized” the big buildings because they recalled the roofline of the old Astor Hotel, a victim of development twenty years before. They were by far the biggest and bulkiest buildings that had ever been proposed for midtown; Sagalyn gasps at the sheer zoning outrage of it. They had to be that big to establish their right to be at all. The Brandt family, which owned many of the theatres, sued and lost. “The Durst family interests put their name on five lawsuits,” Sagalyn reports, “but the rumors of their financial backing of many more are legion.” (The Dursts owned various individual lots along the street, which they intended to put together for their own giant building.) After ten years, they lost, too. Forty-seven suits were launched, and the plan withstood them all. The Johnson models, fortresses designed to withstand a siege of litigation, had triumphed. But nobody really wanted to build the buildings.

    In the interim between the First Sacrificial Plan and the Second, however, something had changed in the ideology of architecture. A new orthodoxy had come into power, with an unapologetic emphasis on formal “delirium” and the chaotic surface of the city. In Rem Koolhaas’s epoch-marking manifesto “Delirious New York” (1978), the buzz, confusion, danger, and weirdness of New York were no longer things to worry about. In fact, they were pretty much all we had to boast of. To an increasing bias in favor of small-scale streetscapes and “organic” growth was added a neon zip of pop glamour. The new ideology was Jane Jacobs dressed in latex and leather.

    By what turned out to be a happy accident, this previously academic, pop-perverse set of ideas had influenced minds at the Municipal Art Society—the very group that had fought against the idea of signs and signage in Times Square at the turn of the century. In 1985, after the appearance of the Johnson plan, the Municipal Art Society, under the impeccable direction of the white-shoed Hugh Hardy, took on as its cause the preservation of the “bowl of light” in Times Square and “the glitz of its commercial billboards and electronic signs.” After being digested in various acronymic gullets, this campaign produced not only new zoning text (sections ZR81-832 and ZR81-85, as Sagalyn duly notes) but, as an enforcement mechanism, an entirely new unit of measurement: the luts, or “Light Unit Times Square.” (Each sign had to produce a minimum luts reading; the lighting designer Paul Marantz gave it its name.)

    And so the Municipal Art Society became the major apostle of a continuing chaotic commercial environment in Times Square, while the big developers had to make the old Beaux-Arts case for classical order, lucidity, and space—for “trees and clean streets . . . museums and sidewalk cafés,” in the plaintive words of the developer David Solomon. Eventually, in the early-nineties decline, Prudential, which had been holding on to the development on West Forty-second Street, was forced to sell its rights at a discount—to the Durst family, which had been leading the litigation against the plan all along but which, as everyone could have predicted, was there at the finale to develop and build, including 4 Times Square, the big building in which these words are being written.

    None of this, however, could have created the new Times Square had it not been for other, unforeseeable changes. The first, and most important, was the still poorly explained decline in violent crime. (Traub tours the Eighth Avenue end of Forty-second with one of the district’s privately financed security officers, who points out that there is still plenty of prostitution and drug-trafficking but very few muggings or assaults; even chain-snatching and petty theft are now rare.) This decline allowed for the emergence of the real hyperdrive of the new Square, the arrival of what every parent knows is the engine of American commerce: branded, television-based merchandise directed at “families” (that is, directed at getting children to torture their parents until they buy it). The critical demographic fact, as a few have pointed out, is the late onset of childbearing, delayed here until the habit of New York is set and the disposable income to spend on children is larger. When Damon Runyon was writing, the presence of Little Miss Marker in the Square was the material for a story. Now Little Miss Marker runs the place.

    Of all the ironies of the Times Square redevelopment, the biggest is this: that the political right is, on the whole, happy with what has happened, and points to Times Square as an instance of how private enterprise can cure things that social engineering had previously destroyed, while the left points to Times Square as an instance of how market forces sterilize and drive out social forces of community and authenticity. But surely the ghosts of the old progressives in Union Square should be proudest of what has happened. It was, after all, the free market that produced the old Times Square: the porno stores were there because they made money, as part of a thriving market system. Times Square, and Forty-second Street, was saved by government decisions, made largely on civic grounds. Nothing would have caused more merriment on the conservative talk shows than the luts regulations—imagine some bureaucrat telling you how bright your sign should be—but it is those lights which light the desks of the guys at the offices of Clear Channel on Forty-second Street, and bring the crowds that make them safe. Civic-mindedness, once again, saved capitalism from itself.

    And yet you don’t have to have nostalgia for squalor and cruelty to feel that some vital chunk of New York experience has been replaced by something different, and less. Traub ends with the deconstructionist Mark Taylor, who trots out various depressions about the Society of Spectacle to explain the transformation, all of which are marvellously unilluminating. Times Square may be spectacular—that is what its signmakers have called their own signs for a century—but in the theoretical sense it’s not a spectacle at all. It’s not filled by media images that supplant the experience of real things. It’s a tangible, physical, fully realized public square in which real people stare at things made by other people. The absence of spectacle, in that sense—the escape from the domination of isolated television viewing—is what still draws people on New Year’s Eve, in the face of their own government’s attempts to scare them away. (Dick Clark, of course, is a simulacrum, but he was born that way.)

    Traub toys with the idea that the real problem lies in the replacement of an authentic “popular” culture, of arcades and Runyonesque song-pluggers, with a “mass” culture, of national brands and eager shoppers. But it’s hard to see any principled way in which the twenty-foot-tall animatronic dinosaur at the new Toys R Us howls at the orders of mass culture, while O. J. Gude’s dancing spearmen were purely Pop. The distinction between popular culture and mass culture is to our time what the distinction between true folk art and false folk art was to the age of Ruskin and Morris; we want passionately to define the difference because we know in our hearts that it doesn’t exist. Even fairy tales turn out to be half manufactured by a commercial enterprise, half risen from the folkish ground. The idea that there is a good folkish culture that comes up from the streets and revivifies the arts and a bad mass culture imposed from above is an illusion, and anyone who has studied any piece of the history knows it.

    All the same, there is something spooky about the contemporary Times Square. It wanders through you; you don’t wander through it. One of the things that make for vitality in any city, and above all in New York, is the trinity of big buildings, bright lights, and weird stores. The big buildings and bright lights are there in the new Times Square, but the weird stores are not. By weird stores one means not simply small stores, mom-and-pop operations, but stores in which a peculiar and even obsessive entrepreneur caters to a peculiar and even an obsessive taste. (Art galleries and modestly ambitious restaurants are weird stores by definition. It’s why they still feel very New York.) If the big buildings and the bright signs reflect the city’s vitality and density, weird stores refract it; they imply that the city is so varied that someone can make a mundane living from one tiny obsessive thing. Poolrooms and boxing clubs were visible instances of weird stores in the old Times Square; another, slightly less visible, was the thriving world of the independent film business, negative cutters, and camera-rental firms.

    There is hardly a single weird store left on Broadway from Forty-second Street to Forty-sixth Street—hardly a single place in which a peculiar passion seems to have committed itself to a peculiar product. You have now, one more irony, to bend east, toward respectable Fifth Avenue, toward the diamond merchants and the Brazilian restaurants and the kosher cafeterias that still fill the side streets, to re-create something that feels a little like the old Times Square. (Wonderful Forty-fifth Street! With the Judaica candlesticks and the Japanese-film rental and the two-story shops selling cheap clothes and stereos, lit up bright.) Social historians like to talk about the Tragedy of the Commons, meaning the way that everybody loses when everybody overgrazes the village green, though it is in no individual’s interest to stop. In New York, we suffer from a Tragedy of the Uncommons: weird things make the city worth living in, but though each individual wants them, no one individual wants to pay to keep them going. Times Square, as so often in the past, is responding, in typically heightened form, to the general state of the city: the loss of retail variety troubles us everywhere, as a new trinity of monotony—Starbucks, Duane Reade, and the Washington Mutual Bank—appears to dominate every block. We just feel it more on Broadway.

    Do we overdraw Times Square history, make it more epic than it ought to be? Piccadilly and Soho, in London, and Place de Clichy, in Paris, are similar places, have known similar kinds of decline and similar kinds of pickup—but without gathering quite the same emotion. We make Times Square do more work than it ought to. Other great cities have public spaces and pleasure spaces, clearly marked, and with less confusion between them. When Diana died, it was Kensington Palace, not Piccadilly, that got the flowers, and in Paris it is the Champs-Élysées, not Place de Clichy, that gets the military parade on the fourteenth of July. Which returns us, with a certain sense of awe, to the spell still cast by the original sin of the 1811 grid plan. We make our accidental pleasure plazas do the work of the public squares we don’t have. This is asking a lot of a sign, or even a bunch of bright ones lighting up the night.

  3. #3


    March 28, 2004

    Crossroads of the Whirl


    Interactive: The System's Hub

    Yes, it’s in our front yard. And yes, it carries our name.

    But there are good reasons to highlight the Times Square station, one of the largest, most complex and oldest in the city, opened in 1904 by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company. With 53,434,864 fares collected last year, it is the busiest station in the system. It is the setting for what may be the most important work in the Arts for Transit program, a 53-foot-long mural by Roy Lichtenstein. It is undergoing an ambitious, three-phase reconstruction that has already cost $257.3 million.

    And it may be the only subway station so closely identified — right down to its name — with the rise, decline and renaissance of the neighborhood it serves.

    “No station on our route is liable to be more active and important,” August Belmont, the president of the IRT, said in 1904 as he described the simultaneous construction of the subway stop and the new Times Building above and below it. Omitting mention of his own financial ties to the newspaper, Belmont said: “Owing to the conspicuous position which The Times holds, it being one of the leading New York journals, it would seem fitting that the square on which the building stands should be known as ‘Times Square’ and the station as ‘Times Station.’

    The Times’s pressroom was directly below the station. “It is possible in the early morning hours to load the successive editions on subway cars for the most rapid general distribution,” the newspaper said in 1905 as it settled into a building it occupied for eight years before moving around the corner. An archway leading to the Times Building can still be seen on the shuttle platform, as can a door to the Knickerbocker Hotel.

    Times Station was a local stop at first, using platforms that now serve the shuttle. It occupied an elbow in the original route, which followed the Lexington Avenue line to 42nd Street, turned west and then turned again to follow Broadway uptown. Track 4 still branches off into the West Side tunnel.

    The station grew tremendously in 1918 with the completion below 42nd Street of the IRT’s Seventh Avenue line and the opening of Broadway service by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, later Brooklyn- Manhattan Transit (BMT). The 42nd Street leg became the crossbar shuttle in an Hshaped system.

    In 1927, the IRT opened the terminal of its Queensboro line, which “established beyond all competition Times Square’s claim to being the greatest station in the world, in point of traffic volume,” The Times said.

    But soon came the darkest moment in the station’s history, during the evening rush of Aug. 24, 1928, when two cars of a downtown Seventh Avenue express train derailed just south of the platform. Sixteen people were killed and more than 100 injured.

    The final significant addition to the 42nd Street complex came in 1932 with the opening of the Independent (IND) station on Eighth Avenue, linked to Times Square by a 600-foot-long pedestrian tunnel under 41st Street.

    Times Square’s deterioration can be charted by the fate of the 42nd Street subway arcade, which opened in 1936 as a spacious, shop-lined amenity. By the time officials closed it in the 1960’s, it was “the hole,” a roost of derelicts, pickpockets and thugs.

    More recently, as the square rebounded, the station has been rebuilt. Phase 1, completed in September 2002, involved the Seventh Avenue platforms, mezzanines, stairways and new elevators. Phase 2 takes in the Flushing and Broadway line platforms, the Eighth Avenue passageway, mezzanines, escalators and elevators. It is to be finished in mid-2006. Phase 3, to follow, will tackle the shuttle.

    Eventually, The Times will move to a new headquarters across Eighth Avenue from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, leaving New York City Transit with the chance to rename the station, perhaps after one of the nearby Condé Nast publications: Vanity Square or GQ SQ. Then again, after more than a century, the Times Square habit may be hard to break.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  4. #4


    NY1 News
    April 7, 2004

    Times Square Celebrates 100th Birthday

    The confetti was falling in Times Square for another big bash Wednesday, but this time the celebration is a birthday. The Crossroads of the World is 100 years old.

    Times Square was "born" in 1904, when Mayor George McClellan renamed Long Acre Square after the new headquarters of the New York Times on 42nd Street. That’s also the year the New Year’s Eve tradition – which now draws over half a million people – was started.

    “As we enter our second century, Times Square is as full of life, as full of business and as full of tourism as it has ever been,” said Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the publisher of the Times.

    Times Square has certainly seen its ups and downs. The area catered to the upper class when the first buildings went up, but in the late 1800s it turned into dangerous neighborhood known for its brothels.

    Times Square flourished after the turn of the new century, as the migration of theaters uptown and the bright lights turned Broadway into the Great White Way. The musicals, plays, films and Vaudeville made it the nation’s premiere entertainment district.

    The vice returned in the 1960s and 1970s, as skyrocketing crime and peep shows defined the area. But thanks to a commercial revitalization over the last two decades that has cleaned up the crime and sex, Times Square is thriving once again, welcoming 26 million visitors a year.

    “Broadway and Times Square are, when you talk to anybody around this country or around the world, that’s what New York is,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who helped cut a New York-sized, three-foot-tall cake for Wednesday’s party.

    Times Square may be the only tourist attraction where the main draw is advertising. The huge, dazzling signs have been a signature of the square for a century.

    “It’s never dark,” said one of the many tourists walking with necks craned upwards. “Where we’re from, it’s pitch black [at night]. But here, you look out and it feels like daylight. The city that never sleeps.”

    Times Square’s centennial is officially Thursday, but events will continue for the next nine months, culminating in the 100th New Year’s Eve celebration.

    Copyright 2004 NY1 News

  5. #5

  6. #6


    April 8, 2004

    100 Years Ago, an Intersection's New Name: Times Square


    One hundred years ago today, New York City renamed the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue. The headline the next morning told the story: "Times Square Is the Name of City's New Centre."

    Those nine words appeared on Page 2 of The New York Times on April 9, 1904, the morning after Mayor George B. McClellan signed the resolution changing the name of Long Acre Square. Beneath the headline was a map with "Times Square" in large letters and the new landmarks of what had been a horse-and-buggy neighborhood - Long Acre Square had been named after London's carriage district.

    One new landmark was The Times's not-yet-completed headquarters, a Gothic fortress that was being built between Broadway and Seventh Avenue and 42nd and 43rd Streets. An advertisement for the building on April 10 boasted that it would "probably be the tallest skeleton structure in New York, measuring 430 feet in all."

    The Times did not move to Times Square until January 1905. From the old headquarters on Park Row in Lower Manhattan, the newspaper's editorial page commented on the name change on the morning the map was published. Times Square, The Times said, "is a name that serves perfectly for identification and is one, we think, not likely to be forgotten in this community."

    Or at least not in The Times's new building. Its main entrance led to a subway station. And the subway, The Times said, was the reason for the new name.

    "The choice of this name grew naturally out of the necessity of having a distinctive title for the subway station in the basement of The Times Building at the corner of Forty-second Street and Broadway," The Times explained. "To have called the station 'Forty-second Street' would have been a source of endless confusion, since the Grand Central Station of the subway is also on Forty-second Street. The name 'Broadway Station' would have been open to the same objection, since there are many other subway stations on Broadway. The name Times Station naturally suggested itself, since the subway passes through the first underground story of The Times Building."

    Adolph S. Ochs, the publisher of The Times from 1896 to 1935, said that the name change originated with August Belmont, whose Interborough Rapid Transit Company was putting the finishing touches on the subway.

    "I am pleased to say that Times Square was named without any effort or suggestion on the part of The Times," Ochs told the business manager of The Syracuse Herald in a letter on April 13. But he was clearly proud of what was going on in Times Square. He called the paper's new building "the first successful effort in New York to give architectural beauty to a skyscraper."

    As he also noted, New York had named a square for a newspaper before - Herald Square. Also, he wrote, "The old name of Long Acre Square meant nothing, signified nothing."

    The issue of Jan. 1, 1905, was the last printed at The Times's old building at 41 Park Row. Twenty-seven Linotype machines were taken apart, hauled uptown and put back together, where 11 new Linotypes had already been installed. In the basement were new presses that could print, fold and count 144,000 copies an hour.

    The paper soon outgrew the tower, and in 1913 moved less than a block away, to what had been an annex at 229 West 43rd Street, where it remains today. The company sold the tower in Times Square in 1961.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  7. #7


    April 9, 2004


    O Square, Where Is Thy Sting?


    ON the 100th anniversary of the moment when Long Acre Square disappeared, yielding to Times Square, wisps of the past blew in yesterday, inevitably.

    No, this is not going to be one of those pointless exercises in nostalgia for the days when Times Square meant the Camel cigarette sign and gents in fedoras (even if the unshakable bias here is that men look far better in fedoras than they do in red Yankees caps worn backward).

    It is certainly not a yearning for a return to the "Taxi Driver" nightmare vision of Times Square, much of it rooted in reality. There was nothing charming about the pimps, punks, prostitutes, porn promoters and powder peddlers who for decades made that part of Midtown a synonym for menace.

    Nor is the place quite as "Disneyfied" these days as some critics of change might have you believe. And even if it is, so what? For knock-your-socks-off stagecraft, Disney's "Lion King" at the New Amsterdam is hard to beat.

    All the same, a walk through Times Square on its centennial left one wondering what ever happened to the quirky characters of old - not the unmourned creeps who instilled fear, but the true oddballs. They gave the street a welcome air of unpredictability, similar to what Victor Hugo must have felt when he described the "cour des miracles" in front of Notre-Dame, the courtyard of miracles that lured the saved and the lost, the mendicant and huckster.

    Where, for example, did the three-card monte dealers go? They just vanished.

    For those in need of a refresher course, these hustlers worked curbside at cardboard tables on which they shuttled three cards, face down. To play with them, you had to bet good money, typically $10 and sometimes $50, that you could keep track of one of those cards. Invariably, you lost. The game was not exactly, shall we say, on the up and up.

    Good riddance to bad rubbish, some say.

    Maybe. But the three-card monte guys, though engaged in an illegal activity, at least knew how to put on an entertaining show for the crowds that always gathered. As for the so-called victims, no one was suckered who did not want to be suckered, for who could not see going in that the game was a con. Indeed, I do not recall ever seeing a loser walk away sore. Embarrassed, for sure. But angry? Never.

    Suddenly, a few years ago, the dealers were gone. The only recent hint of three-card monte around Times Square was a demonstration of the scam in a Suzan-Lori Parks play, "Topdog/Underdog," which had a run at the Ambassador Theater a couple of seasons back.

    On the street, nothing nearly as interesting has replaced those men, unless you somehow find today's sidewalk hawkers intriguing, the fellows selling identical knockoff watches and handbags, or the latter-day Michelangelos with their tiresome sketches of the World Trade Center - $12 for the large size, $6 for the small.

    This is not to say that offbeat characters have disappeared entirely from Times Square. Some people are amused by the Naked Cowboy, the not-entirely-undressed man who plays guitar in his skivvies.

    Street preachers still make an appearance, like the Bible-carrying young man who delivered the word yesterday on the southwest corner of 46th Street and Broadway. But he was painfully short of both fire and brimstone. No one paused to listen. He was only slightly less grim than the Black Israelites, who habitually stand in another part of Times Square haranguing passers-by with antiwhite blather.

    IN a sense, today's street preachers and vendors are to the three-card monte showmen what the Toys "R" Us and Applebee's outlets are to some of the old-time shops that have disappeared from Broadway. They're fine enough. They just don't strike some in this city as especially compelling. Perhaps that is because they seem geared less for New Yorkers than for tourists who are most comfortable when surrounded by the familiar.

    Still, people flock to the area by the millions each year, so somebody must be doing something right.

    In one form or another, there will presumably always be Times Square, even after the newspaper that gave the place its name moves a few blocks away, as planned, to a stretch of Eighth Avenue opposite the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Herald Square is still Herald Square, after all, though The New York Herald is long dead.

    Besides, can you imagine hundreds of thousands of people gathering on New Year's Eve to watch as a glittering ball drops from a perch above Durst Square?

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  8. #8


    June 13, 2004


    Razzle-Dazzle Me


    Ivan Chermayeff

    FROM the window of a plane at night, when everyone seems to be asleep and the movie is over and the cabin lights have been dimmed, when you're exhausted and have been away from New York long enough to miss it (even though no sane person would miss your rent), when your captain heads to La Guardia by heading up the Hudson, then Times Square, that clearly discernible ribbony intersection, is a beacon, a canyon of brilliantness, an electrified message, a flashlight that makes it possible to read your magazine in your window seat without even turning on your overhead light. From the ground, Times Square does not seem so concentrated, though it is a canyon, and I love driving into Times Square at night, coming down Broadway into the chasm of absolute illumination. And if you climb out of the Times Square station, you are in a room in which you accidentally left the light on.

    In Times Square, it is as if an entire city has woken up at 2 a.m. and found the TV blaring.

    Maybe on the back roads of Ohio, in a beautiful small town that has yet to be Wal-Marted out of existence, there is an old country restaurant in which a steaming apple pie is being placed on a well-cleaned counter, and if so, that is a picture of the heart of America, the romantic postcard. Times Square, on the other hand, is the picture of America's guts, the country's capitalistic machinations exposed like the plumbing on the Pompidou Center in Paris. See the lights, the ads, the logos all blinking, flashing, shouting, hawking, selling. Sales is the protoplasm running through Times Square.

    THE birthday of Times Square is the birthday of its most recent naming, in 1904, when Adolph S. Ochs, the publisher of The New York Times, moved to the square, formerly known as Long Acre. Long Acre Square at the time was an exclusive residential neighborhood in decline, last known for what were referred to as silk-hat brothels, which just goes to show that the sale of sex predated Times Square. When the railroads and the subways built stations in Midtown, Midtown became the city's commercial center. The theaters followed, along with their signs, and Times Square became the Crossroads of the World.

    In an unnoticed historic coincidence, one of its most famous advertising props, the Pepsi-Cola waterfall, which required 35,000 bulbs and 20,000 gallons of water a day, was at Broadway between 44th and 45th, where once there was a well-known spring. The spring bubbled along Bloomingdale Road, the name for Broadway when Times Square was mostly a meadow on the farm of Medcef Eden, a friend of Aaron Burr's whose name is forever preserved in the name of an often rat-infested lane near the South Street Seaport called Eden's Alley. "The Lion King'' rules Times Square now, along with Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest. (The adult entertainment industry, meanwhile, has moved about five blocks west, where businessmen sneak into and stumble out of the new Hustler Palace, which, with its lights and giant billboard and glorified logo, looks like something out of Times Square, a Disneyfied porn palace.)

    And there are signs. There are electric plasma signs and fiber-optic lights. Kodak uses a 59-by-52 foot fluorescent vinyl panel and a JumboTron. The facade of Nasdaq's building is entirely L.E.D.'s, 18 million of them that glow to show a stock ticker and market news. The building at 1 Times Square is host to the mother of all tickers and makes more money selling space on the sign than it does on rent. Who needs pain-in-the-neck tenants, the building managers have said, when you've got the largest sign tower in the world?

    Is the new Times Square better? Are the buildings aesthetically interesting? Is the commercial mix correct? The argument is always binary. Old Times Square: dirty, unsafe, bad. New Times Square: clean, safe, good. But the real question is: Why are so many people there? And the answer is that people want to be with people, whether they're buying jewels or eating hot dogs. People make people feel safe and unsafe; a crowd draws a crowd.

    I can't believe that having the ubiquitous Virgin Megastore is better for Times Square, but it's certainly not worse. It attracts tourists who, while gawking, can be gawked at by locals, which is like bats dining on moths near a streetlight. And chain stores offer shopping, even if the shopping can feel pornographic, shopping without meaning, for immediate gratification, for the lust of it.

    The continual debate over Times Square development ignores the almost mystical aspect of the mob, and it forgets a few facts. To write "City," a 1988 book that examines the maneuverings of pedestrians in New York and other urban places, William H. Whyte sat in front of an old hotel in Times Square and charted the movements of prostitutes, johns and pimps. Mr. Whyte described the Times Square subways as "the national cesspool" - he was working, remember, predevelopment, when Times Square was its most "Midnight Cowboy" - but he noted too that the street vendors, the watch sellers, the guy bumming a dollar, even the pimp, were all there for the crowds, and, contrary to what urban planners and developers sometimes think, are like canaries in the coal mine with regard to the health of the city. When they go, the people are about to go too, which is why it was good to see the guy in the giant shimmering hat, Mighty Ducks jersey and Mardi Gras beads offering rhymes for sale at 44th Street and Broadway the other day: "Yo, lady on your cellphone/ Talkin' to you homey at home."

    Times Square is successful precisely because everybody comes up out of the ground and nearly runs into each other on the way to everything. Times Square is successful because there are people in the subways at night, along with cops and new tile walls and a Jacob Lawrence mural. Times Square is successful because you can stand on Broadway at 4 a.m. and watch a guy in a rat suit walk by, carrying a backpack and looking straight ahead, I swear. Times Square is successful because people wait in huge hordes, in numbers the size of entire towns in North Dakota, for the light to change so they can cross the street.

    If you stand on one of the concrete islands in the traffic stream, you can turn your head slowly, like a panoramic camera, and see a prose poem of publicity, a whitewater rapid of wordy words: "Razzle Chicago Dazzle ... Geodon oral capsules ... South Pole, the Authentic Urban Brand for the Real World ... Can Your Network Think for Itself? ... George Michael. Patience. The New Album in Stores Now ... Get the Attention You Deserve. TrimSpa ... Fetish. Get It While It's Hot ... 1800Mattress. ... Free Checking Delux. ... Live Your Dreams. Pass It On ... Change a Dog's Life. Just Ask Your Veterinarian. Deramaxx ... 'Glittering' ..."

    GLITTERING, yes, and underlined visually by curves of fleshy flesh, by Madonna in a Marie Antoinette outfit, by guys with swords, by a medieval henchman standing ominously over a Honda motorcycle, by that thing you see so often in Times Square, and in life, such that it becomes like seeing a utility pole over and over along the side of a highway, the celebrity, from the Latin, celebrare, to frequent.

    And in the tower at the southern end of Times Square, beneath the giant cup of soup, you see a giant TV screen, itself the combined advertisement of Panasonic and NBC, showing images of the phrase "Welcome to Times Square,'' and then images of Times Square itself, including the Panasonic and NBC TV screen. In the giant image of the giant image of Times Square, Times Square falls into its own rabbit hole, disappears in its virtual self.

    I love Times Square and have for years, when it was seedy and I found my first full-time job and had a drink to toast it with my friend Dave in a now knocked-down bar called Dave's (no relation), when I always played a video game for good luck after dropping off unsolicited manuscripts to various publishing companies in the area, when I strollered my toddler son up from SoHo, where his mom worked, and we watched all the New Times Square construction and, once, saw a crowd ignore a stack of burning boxes as we searched in vain for a cop.

    I was in Times Square on Sept. 11, 2001, and I saw the plume as I looked down Seventh Avenue. The crowd was small by Times Square standards, an unnerving thing in itself. At one point someone thought they had heard a shot and then screamed, at which point the crowd became a running mass and then a stampeding mob, even though there was no shot, no gunfire.

    More recently, I poked around on the islands in the stream of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, as I like to do, especially at lunchtime. I lingered over the very low-tech terrazzo map of the city on the police information booth. I saw seven trees in front of the Marriott Marquis, quivering in the breeze like cottonwood on a riverbank. Then I ate lunch in Duffy Square, the square within the square. I watched a pigeon sit on the dung-covered pate of George M. Cohan, famous Broadway song-and-dance man. And I looked back at Father Francis Duffy himself, chaplain of New York's 69th Regiment, an Army unit with a theatrical connection, James Cagney's film "The Fighting 69th."

    For me, Father Duffy guards the place, holding back the crass materialism like Hercules holding up the world, with hope, with his 17-foot-tall granite Celtic cross, half Catholic, half pagan, summoning the powers of God and gods and the logoless earth from whence the granite came.

    Once, just after I moved away from New York for a while, I went camping alone in some Western woods, way up on a mountain, something I'd never done before. I did not sleep a wink, and in the middle of the night I became convinced that someone was watching me. When I finally looked out, I was certain I saw the granite face of Father Duffy, which, in the morning, turned out to be a stump. The experience made me realize that I could not bear to be alone in the woods and how much I missed its opposite.

    Robert Sullivan is the author of "Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants" (Bloomsbury USA).

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  9. #9


    June 13, 2004

    The Crossroads of the Crossroads


    LOOK, IN THE SKY! In the 1930’s, gum-chomping fish filled the air over Broadway between 44th and 45th Streets.

    WHAT is it you want, doll? Neon fish? We got 'em. Not just your itty-bitty tetras. We're talking real neon. An angelfish 42 feet long! A veiltail, a pompadour, a bloodfin - powered by enough juice for a town of 10,000 - blowing bubbles around a pack of Wrigley's Spearmint as big as a boxcar. It's the largest electric sign in the world.

    Chorines, you say? Get a load of the "eyesome femininity" at the International Casino, as The Times put it. (Yes, The Times.) They're on revolving platforms, moving stairways and the spiral bar. Pal, they are on the ceiling! What's that? Your taste runs more to Ziegfeld Girls? Pas de problème. They're here, too, in the Jardin de Paris.

    Oh, you're on the prowl for a two-trouser suit? Natch. Come on into Bond. It's the largest men's wear store in the world. You'll find it under the waterfall. Right, the one with those naked giants. O.K., nearly naked. If you count neon sarongs as clothing.

    Maybe, though, when all is said and done, what you're really after is a toy. No, not that kind; a Toys "R" Us toy. You know, a Bratz doll. A HoverDisc. A Super Soaker Monster Rocket. (Sorry, friend, couldn't hear you over the bellowing tyrannosaur.) Did I mention it was the world's largest toy store?

    They call Times Square the Crossroads of the World. The east side of Broadway, between 44th and 45th Streets, is the crossroads of the crossroads; maybe its birthplace.

    Except for XXX-rated businesses, this block has seen everything that has gone into the Times Square stew: impresarios, chorus lines, and stars of stage, screen and television; neon (lots); flashy stores unlike any back home and - now - squealing children on a 60-foot Ferris wheel. The block even had a brush with high-rise redevelopment in the late 1990's, when it seemed that Random House might take over the site.

    But Charles B. Moss Jr., whose family has been on the block since 1936 - first as tenants, now as owners - gambled instead that the right retail tenant could be found. "It always was an entertainment venue in the heart of Times Square," he said of the property. His gamble paid off in 2000 when he landed Toys "R" Us. As Mr. Moss put it, "Nobody would argue that walking into that store is not an entertainment." The family now calls its property the Bow Tie Building, after the shape made by Broadway and Seventh Avenue.

    That intersection was Long Acre Square when the showman Oscar Hammerstein arrived on the scene at the end of the 19th century to build the first big mid-Manhattan theater above 42nd Street, on a block where an armory and market had stood. There, Hammerstein envisioned Olympia, a multiplex before its time. Within an immense slab of limestone pastry, 6,000 people could be seated in the Lyric Theater, the Music Hall, the Roof Garden and the Concert Hall.

    New York was not ready for anything on this scale, and the complex soon split into its components. The Lyric became the Criterion. The Music Hall became the New York Theater, where "In Dahomey," an all-black musical comedy, opened in 1903. At the rooftop Jardin de Paris in 1907, Florenz Ziegfeld introduced a show called the Follies.

    Hammerstein, the grandfather of the famous lyricist, was gone by then, having lost the Olympia to foreclosure in 1898. His consolation, Mary C. Henderson wrote in "The City and the Theater," was that "he had pioneered a new district and could reap future encomiums as 'the man who created Times Square.' "

    Both theaters were later converted into movie houses. They were demolished in 1935 after dozens of aging vaudevillians gathered tearfully in Loew's New York for one final chance to glamorize the old days and stumble through a song or two.

    In their place came the Criterion Building, with a 1,540-seat movie theater on 45th Street and retail space along Broadway. Thomas W. Lamb and Eugene de Rosa designed the theater, which was leased to B. S. Moss, Charles Moss's grandfather.

    Even before the second Criterion Theater opened in 1936, the rooftop was given over to Wrigley's spearman, surrounded by "finny freaks in a riot of light," as The New York Times put it. The extravaganza was designed by Dorothy Shepard and built by Artkraft Strauss.

    The next big splash was the International Casino, a combined nightclub, restaurant and cocktail lounge designed by Lamb and Donald Deskey in streamlined Moderne style."The whole place is a show," The Times said. It was run by Joe Moss. His relationship to B. S. is unclear, but he had Hammerstein's bad luck. The International closed after three years.

    Bond took over the space in 1940 with 26,000 suits and overcoats, keeping the casino's distinctive double-switchback staircase and, in 1948, adding a 27-foot-high waterfall on the rooftop flanked by colossal male and female figures, thinly veiled. Artkraft once again built the sign, this time working from Douglas Leigh's design.

    PRUDES breathed a sigh of relief in 1955 when the human figures were replaced by equally gigantic Pepsi-Cola bottles in another spectacular designed by Mr. Leigh and built by Artkraft. The waterfall gushed until 1960 and was eventually replaced by a staggering Gordon's gin bottle. The Criterion made news in 1962 by setting record movie ticket prices, $4.80, for "Lawrence of Arabia."

    Bond lasted until 1977, the year the Moss family bought the whole building. A disco called Bond's International Casino briefly took its place in the early 80's. Downstairs, a succession of tenants - Woolworth's, Whelan drugstore, King of Slims ties, Loft's candy, Disc-O-Mat records and the Xanadu tchotchke store - filled the Broadway frontage.

    In 1988, the property was restyled the Criterion Center, intended as an almost-Olympian entertainment complex. The Roundabout Theater arrived in 1991 and stayed eight years. The seven-screen Criterion closed in 2000.

    "Civilizations had risen and fallen, and risen and fallen again, on this one rich archaeological site," James Traub wrote in his new book "The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square." As to the significance of Toys "R" Us taking the place of theaters and casinos, he added, "Times Square, even more than Las Vegas, has surrendered to the hegemony of the family."

    Today, under the midnight-blue ceiling of the old Criterion auditorium - the girders of the roof trusses still visible - stands a two-story pink dollhouse with a big bay window. There, at the end of your quest, you will find her: Times Square Barbie.

    It can't be, you say? Well, brother, check out that pink sweater, psychedelic short skirt and aquamarine jacket with fake-fur collar and cuffs. It's her, all right.

    David W. Dunlap, a reporter for The Times, is the author of "On Broadway: A Journey Uptown Over Time.''

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  10. #10


    June 13, 2004

    It Oughta Be in Pictures


    Images of Times Square as seen in "The Taxi Driver."

    TIMES Square is a magnet for moviemakers drawn to both its bright lights and a darkness that can be magical or menacing. These 10 films, spanning a half-century, showcase the neighborhood in often odd and unexpected ways. The only real constant is the Howard Johnson's on Broadway and 46th, one of the few Times Square talismans you can still visit today.

    "Love Happy'' (1949): Minor Marx Brothers, major Times Square sequence: the climax in which Harpo, chased by crooks, scampers across a number of neon signs, most effectively the Kool-smoking penguin. When cornered, Harpo emits smoke himself, from mouth and both ears. Dangling actors from Times Square theaters, hotels and billboards is the most fundamental way the movies have used the neighborhood. From Anthony Mann's first thriller, "Dr. Broadway" (1942), to "True Lies" (1994), in which Arnold Schwarzenegger slips over the edge of the Marriott Marquis but is pulled up by a horse he has improbably ridden on its roof, countless movies have used the square for spectacular action climaxes.

    "Killer's Kiss'' (1955): Stanley Kubrick's tale of a boxer who crosses a mobster to win the heart of a dame, "Killer's Kiss" reminds you that Times Square used to contain sweaty boxing gyms and more demure places to perspire: dance halls, where for 50 cents, one could choose from "50 charming hostesses." Shot in a semidocumentary style, "Kiss" is illuminated by the light thrown off by movie theaters and businesses like Bond's clothing store. (The huge Bond's block letters amount to primo product placement before its media-time.) The film's longest Times Square interlude is its oddest: the boxer played by Jamie Smith has his scarf stolen by two playful men in Shriners' hats who are silent except for one who blows a harmonica, faintly heard over honking cabs and overheard conversations.

    "Sweet Smell of Success'' (1957): "I love this dirty town," says Burt Lancaster's ruthless, powerful gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker to Tony Curtis's craven press agent Sidney Falco. J. J. barely looks up at the theater marquees, and he spends most of his time off Times Square at the 21 Club. But his beloved sister, Susie, lives in no less than the Brill Building, depicted as a fortress immune to J. J.'s crassness. In a few years, her future neighbors, like Carole King and Neil Sedaka, would produce rock 'n' roll hits that would doubtless have turned J. J.'s dyspeptic stomach.

    "Midnight Cowboy'' (1969): We think of Jon Voight's hick hustler Joe Buck strolling past Hubert's Museum, the fabled Times Square flea circus, and picking up johns in pinball emporiums and porn theaters, yet surprisingly little of John Schlesinger's sturdy character study takes place in the neighborhood. Two years later, Ivan Passer explored the square more bleakly in "Born to Win," with George Segal jonesing for a heroin fix in the shadows of the Palace Theater and the George M. Cohan statue at 46th Street.

    "Shaft'' (1971): A hit with a Times Square setting that was also a hit in the Times Square theaters of its era, Gordon Parks's private-eye flick was the movie for which the phrase "blaxploitation film" was coined. But it didn't exploit its audience. The African-American detective John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) was a tough guy who used the subway (the opening shot shows him emerging at 42nd and Eighth; over his shoulder a theater is showing Burt Lancaster, not in "Sweet Smell" but "The Scalphunters") and bought roasted chestnuts from a street vendor for "two bits." Shaft was a good neighbor: his Times Square walk-up office was the Manhattan version of Philip Marlowe's in Raymond Chandler's L.A. But Marlowe never had to flick an obscene gesture to a white cabby who refused to pick him up (on Eighth Avenue!) just because he was black.

    "Taxi Driver'' (1976): Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle yearns for an apocalyptic rain that will "wash away" all the evil in Manhattan in Martin Scorsese's perfervid terror-dream, but not before he takes Cybill Shepherd for a first date in a porn theater. Repelled, she flees. No wonder he found himself alone, looking into a mirror, asking, "You talkin' to me?"

    "Times Square'' (1980): An energetic junk obscurity that captures a specific moment, not just the punk rock that two teenage girls (Robin Johnson and Trini Alvarado) want to make, but also the desire of developers who want to refurbish the pre-Disneyfied neighborhood. (Someone actually says, "That street outside is rated X!") But it's the details - the girls hustling tourists with three-card monte games and washing the windows of cars that emerge from the Lincoln Tunnel; a quick cameo by the porn-star-turned-AIDS-activist Sharon Mitchell; a lesbian subtext that the producer Robert Stigwood failed to edit out entirely; and the inevitable punk anthem sung atop a 42nd Street marquee - that give "Times Square" its cult status.

    "Radio Days'' (1987): It's fitting that Woody Allen, chronicler of Manhattan's upper class, would place his Times Square scene in this 40's-era film above hoi polloi: a New Year's Eve party atop a hotel, with tuxedoed swells marveling at the starry sky. Whoever notices the stars hovering beyond Times Square's vaulting commercial spires?

    "Vanilla Sky'' (2001): Just for the opening scene: How did the director, Cameron Crowe, apparently empty all of Times Square to allow Tom Cruise to run through his nightmare?

    "13 Going On 30'' (2004): Just for one shot: Jennifer Garner (playing a teenager happily trapped in the body of a woman) standing in an open-roof limo, arms spread, as she zooms through the night lights of Times Square. Her limo passes Howard Johnson's, too.

    Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Entertaiment Weekly.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  11. #11


    June 13, 2004

    Cast of Millions


    The numbers scattered through the text identify locations on this map.

    1904 On April 8, Mayor George McClellan declares that henceforth, Long Acre Square will be known as Times Square, in honor of a local newspaper that recently moved into the neighborhood (1). The newspaper celebrates by putting on a New Year's Eve party with fireworks, and in the next day's edition, humbly declares that "no more beautiful picture was ever limned in fire on the curtain of midnight."

    1905 A glimpse of the area's future arrives with the latest electric billboard, the Heatherbloom Petticoat Girl, whose dress whips up in an electric rainstorm to reveal her legs.

    1907 At the Jardin de Paris, the rooftop garden of the New York Theater (2), Florenz Ziegfeld puts on the first of his Follies. They move to the New Amsterdam in 1913 (3).

    1909 One night the owner of Maxim's (4) asks two performers to sing during dinner, thus creating modern American dinner-cabaret. A few blocks away, the Association of New York erects a 50-foot statue of "Purity" (5). It comes down in two months.

    1912 Days before the Hotel Metropole (6) closes, Beansie Rosenthal is gunned down outside the dining room by four assassins working for a racketeering New York City police lieutenant, Charles Becker.

    1913 Martin Beck builds the Palace (7), which immediately becomes New York's top vaudeville theater. The Times moves around the corner to 43rd Street (8), though it holds onto 1 Times Square.

    1914 The Strand (9) becomes the first theater on Broadway designed exclusively for movies. For opening night, it shows "The Spoilers," the unforgettable film starring William Farnum. More ominously for the local drama scene, Oscar Hammerstein's Lyric becomes one of the first Broadway theaters to be converted into a movie house.

    1919 The 18th Amendment is passed, putting Prohibition into effect in January 1920. A reporter for The New York American named Damon Runyon comes back to New York from covering World War I.

    1920 Arnold Rothstein, the Times Square gambling kingpin who became the inspiration for Nathan Detroit ("Guys and Dolls'') and Meyer Wolfsheim ("The Great Gatsby"), insists in court that he did not fix the 1919 World Series.

    1921 Leo Lindemann opens Lindy's (10). Vincent Sardi opens Sardi's (11).

    1924 The El Fey Club (12), owned by Larry Fay and Texas ("Hello, suckers!") Guinan (photo above), becomes one of the most popular Prohibition speakeasies.

    1925 In a sign of America's increasing sophistication, the opulent restaurant Murray's Roman Gardens (13) gives way to Hubert's Museum, which features mice eaters, bearded ladies and Heckler's Trained Flea Circus.

    1926 The Paramount Theater opens (14).

    1927-1928 Broadway theaters stage 264 shows, a record that endures to this day.

    1928 Arnold Rothstein dies on Election Day, having been shot after leaving Lindy's to meet with a fellow gambler. In honor of the presidential election, which pits Al Smith against Herbert Hoover, The Times installs a band of light bulbs around the Times Tower that reports election results. The zipper is born (1).

    1931 Billy Minsky takes over the Theater Republic, making it a burlesque house (15).

    1936 The Cotton Club moves from Harlem to Times Square (16). At the 42nd Street Apollo Theater (17), Abbott and Costello try out a new routine, soon to be known as "Who's on First."

    1937 "Othello" closes at the New Amsterdam (3), the last play produced on 42nd Street for the next 40-plus years.

    1938 Billy Rose opens the Diamond Horseshoe (18), the most successful of his nightclubs. Rose's formula of cheap food, drinks and scantily clad yet legal entertainment will dominate the area for decades, anticipating the arrival of Hooters by 50 years.

    1941 The Camel cigarette sign (19), featuring a man who blows smoke rings, goes up a block from the Wrigley's Spearmint sign.

    1942 Mayor Fiorello La Guardia's license commissioner, Paul Moss, refuses to renew the licenses of any burlesque theater, thus ensuring that smut is finally erased forever from Times Square. A young Frank Sinatra performs with Benny Goodman at the Paramount as an "extra added attraction'' before crowds of screaming bobby-soxers (photo at left). Newspapers report mass truancy from the schools.

    1945 On Aug. 14, the words "***OFFICIAL***TRUMAN ANNOUNCES JAPANESE SURRENDER" run across the Times zipper. Hundreds of thousands celebrate in the square, including an astoundingly large number of sailors and nurses who later claim to have enjoyed the anonymous kiss in Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous photograph.

    1950 Jack Kerouac's first novel, "The Town and the City,'' features a character based on the Times Square denizen Herbert Huncke, who is credited with giving the beat movement its name.

    1954 A task force of nearly 60 police officers seizes 168 "undesirable persons" in a three-day raid.

    1961 The Times sells its tower to Douglas Leigh, the ad man who came up with the Camel sign. Two years later Mr. Leigh sells it to the Allied Chemical Corporation, which replaces the Italian Renaissance facade with white marble slabs and installs a showcase of science for the public that includes a model of what a lunar city might look like in 2000.

    1964 The Beatles play the Paramount.

    1966 Not long after the United States Supreme Court ruled that a work could be classified as obscene if it were "utterly without redeeming social value," a vending machine operator named Martin Hodas buys 13 old film machines, outfits them with pornographic reels, and sells 4 of them to a 42nd Street bookstore (20). Within a few years, bookstore proprietors are deluging a nearby Chemical Bank with tens of thousands of dollars worth of quarters every afternoon.

    1968 The Hotel Astor, which has been around since 1904, is demolished (21).

    1971 Crime has become such a problem that Mayor John Lindsay creates mega-precincts, Midtown South and Midtown North, whose officers will focus on Times Square and Hell's Kitchen. Within five years, they will report the city's highest numbers of felonies.

    1972 The first peep show advertising "Live Nude Girls" appears (22).

    1973 The TKTS booth for discount Broadway tickets appears (5).

    1977 Richard Basciano opens the Show World Center (23), a clean, well-lighted supermarket of pornography. At 22,000 square feet, it is the city's largest sex emporium. From Day 1, Mr. Basciano will prove to be remarkably adept at dodging anti-porn laws.

    1979 "On Golden Pond" is presented at the New Apollo, the first legitimate production since 1937 in a 42nd Street theater, though the entrance is now on 43rd Street.

    1980 Mayor Edward Koch rejects a plan for turning the entire block of 42nd Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue into a multipurpose theme park, decrying it as "Disneyland on 42nd Street." The 42nd Street Development Project announces a plan "to eliminate the blight" from the area, and local property owners gird for battle. The musical "42nd Street" begins its run at the Winter Garden, on 50th Street (24).

    1982 After a lengthy battle pitting corporate progress against historical preservation, the Helen Hayes, Astor, Bijou, Gaiety and Morosco Theaters are demolished to make way for the fortresslike Marriott Marquis (25).

    1987 The city's Board of Estimate approves new zoning rules that require Times Square signs to be bright and glitzy, a development that eventually leads to a new unit of measurement, the Lights Unit Times Square. Late in the year, the Landmarks Preservation Commission goes on a binge, conferring landmark status on 22 theaters in less than two months.

    1990 Viacom and, with it, MTV move into 1515 Broadway, the site of the old Astor Hotel.

    1992 After condemning dozens of buildings and evicting hundreds of tenants on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, the 42nd Street Development Project collapses and the construction of new office buildings is postponed. "The Deuce," as the block is known to the locals, is mostly empty.

    1993 One morning in March, Disney's chief executive, Michael Eisner, tours the abandoned New Amsterdam Theater with the architect Robert Stern.

    1994 Politicians announce that Disney has agreed to reopen the New Amsterdam.

    1995 The New Victory (15) reopens as 42nd Street's first restored theater with a performance by a circus troupe. The City Council passes a package of strict zoning restrictions aimed at ousting sex-related businesses.

    1996 The last porn tenant on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth shuts down in April. By coincidence, Virgin opens a store on Broadway a few days later.

    1997 The Grand Luncheonette (26), a fixture in Times Square since the 1940's, closes; "The Lion King" opens at the restored New Amsterdam.

    1999 "Good Morning America" begins creating major tourist congestion on Broadway. Condé Nast moves into 4 Times Square (27), and its cafeteria joins Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs and Toffenetti's in a long line of illustrious eating establishments at Broadway and 43rd. On one corner of the Condé Nast building, Nasdaq puts up a little $37 million sign (photo above).

    2000 Forest City Ratner brings a 25-screen movie theater to 42nd Street, as well as a hotel and Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, which sits on the site of the former Peepland, previously Hubert's Museum, previously Murray's Roman Gardens.

    2004 Times Square celebrates its centennial. On Eighth Avenue, most of the Show World Center space is taken up by the Laugh Factory, a comedy club. Peep shows remain next door, and they are still 25 cents.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  12. #12


    June 13, 2004

    And Now, for the Next Act


    IN the early 90's, morning commuters used to pour out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Eighth Avenue like a swollen river, coursing across 41st and 43rd Streets on their way east. They skirted 42nd Street as if it were blocked by a huge boulder, and the reason was obvious: the prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, chicken hawks and other hustlers who presided on the parched sidewalks of the Deuce.

    Who among those workers could have imagined that, by the end of the decade, 42nd Street and Times Square as a whole would be safe, even desirable, territory for big media companies, white-shoe law firms and investment bankers? Who could have imagined that the Crossroads of the World would be reborn as a dizzying kaleidoscope of full-color electronic signs and billboards, that the shuttered storefronts along 42nd Street would give way to soaring towers, the B. B. King nightclub, an Internet cafe and a carpeted multiplex. And who could have imagined that, after several decades of slow decay, the transformation would be as fast as a game of three-card monte.

    Just like those early 90's commuters, we can't conceive of the shape of tomorrow's Times Square. It may remain a vibrant mecca for tourism, entertainment and commerce, or it may assume a totally different shape, like some kind of urban chameleon.

    Historians, urban planners and Times Square promoters offer an array of predictions, many contradictory.

    Thomas Bender, author of "The Unfinished City: New York and the Metropolitan Idea" and chairman of the history department at New York University, sees the fate of Times Square hinging on the fate of the surrounding area. "It all depends on whether Midtown Manhattan continues to have the same function 100 years from now as it does today," he said, alluding to the area's role now as a place where people live, work and play 24-7. If, like other city centers, Midtown evolves into an office area, then Times Square may be largely vacant after quitting time or serve as an entertainment center mostly for tourists.

    If any force can turn Times Square into just another bland intersection, it may be the march of real estate activity to the west. Developers today are doing what was unthinkable 20 years ago: building residential towers along a once-industrial stretch of 42nd Street from Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River. There are plans to enlarge the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, and the Jets want to build a new stadium on the West Side. Also, the city is pushing its Hudson Yards project, a plan to transform the tenements and factories of the far West Side into a high-rise residential and office district over the next 30 years.

    "To some extent, the future of Times Square is tied up with the far West Side," said Mike Wallace, co-author of "Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898." "What's to prevent these footloose operations from moving west if the Hudson Yards becomes the new hot spot? They hopped from Lower Manhattan to Midtown with alacrity."

    The theater district, a Times Square mainstay, is also under pressure. The district almost died in the 1970's when Times Square became a danger zone for tourists and New Yorkers alike. Today, the theater buildings themselves are old, small and ill-suited for modern musicals. Landmark laws prohibit demolition, but even if they didn't, the theater owners need larger parcels to build up-to-date playhouses.

    The theaters survived the movie palaces' onslaught, but Gerald Schoenfeld, chairman of the Shubert Organization, which operates 17 of Broadway's 35 theaters, said one-third of Broadway houses have been unprofitable for more than a decade.

    Could the district move? "The environment in Times Square is safe, clean and attractive," Mr. Schoenfeld said. "So I don't see theaters being threatened by anything other than economic strictures created by constantly rising costs and an unsympathetic government. If they wanted to create a cultural center at Battery Park City, the theaters could go there."

    Moreover, even in the new Times Square, change has already crept in. The golden age of theme restaurants in the late 90's came and went in a blink. Gone are the All Star Cafe, David Copperfield's Magic Underground, Bar Code and World Wrestling Entertainment's restaurant and nightclub. And while developers were encouraged to echo the square's heritage by bringing entertainment ventures to storefronts, the pool of such tenants was shallow and some spaces have been filled with the cellphone stores, drug stores and bank branches common to the street corners of every city.

    The rejuvenation of Times Square and the arrival of 20,000 new office workers have also driven up rents. A glamorous bar scene flourishes at the Blue Fin in the W Hotel, but with Fleet Bank willing to pay an unheard-of $515 a square foot to rent 5,000 square feet at Broadway and 44th Street, replacing some fast-food restaurants, the square may be in danger of getting bland.

    Despite all these pressures, some people see a future for Times Square much like its present. Rebecca Robertson, the former president of the state's Times Square redevelopment project, who oversaw the square's transformation in the late 80's and early 90's, doubts that office workers in Times Square will ever go home at 5 p.m. Times Square will always be about entertainment and leisure, she said, even as the specifics change from year to year.

    For example, the giant McDonald's on 42nd Street is only the current incarnation of the popular restaurants and cafeterias of yesterday, Toffenetti's, White's and Bickford's. Similarly, the electronic billboards for men's underwear, musicals and Nasdaq in the 90's mirror the billboards and the neon spectaculars for musicals, toothpaste, pickles and chewing gum in the 30's.

    "It's a place where its mythology is so embedded," Ms. Robertson said. "Times Square was live theater and movies. One hundred years later, guess what? It's movies and live theater."

    Policymakers are relying on more than the square's heritage. Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, the business improvement district, said his group was addressing the needs of the new office workers by enticing clothing chains to the area, and of tourists, by creating an amphitheater at Duffy Square.

    The geometry of Times Square, with the broad lanes of Broadway and Seventh Avenue crisscrossing in the "bow tie," also ensures that the intersection will always be special, he said, not to mention the fact that underground, a dozen subway lines converge, bringing more than 250,000 people on the average weekday. Moreover, the square is the only spot in the city where the large illuminated signs that give the area its razzmatazz are not only permitted but required.

    "Physically, Times Square will always be one of the largest public spaces in New York City," Mr. Tompkins said. "We have a lot of raw ingredients."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  13. #13


    June 13, 2004

    Through a Glass, Brightly


    Interactive Graphic: David Rockwell's Vision for Times Square, 2054

    The future landscape of Times Square will develop from the ground up. Buildings will be linked by connectors, and facades will become porous, allowing access to stacks of theaters, stores and sports entertainment. Facades will be carved out and added to for new uses, and paths for pedestrians will spread like a matrix into the spaces between and on the tops of buildings. The public will circulate through facades and rooftops, experiencing Times Square almost as improvisational theater. The appearance of the "in-between" structures will vary, as they will all be built over a period of 50 years, each using materials and technologies particular to their era. As corporations seek ways to contribute to the public realm, spaces will be carved out of buildings so the public can view and experience Times Square from the air.

    David Rockwell is principal of Rockwell Group, a cross-disciplinary architecture practice with clients like Lincoln Center, Cirque du Soleil and the Broadway musical "Hairspray."

    Slide Show: More Visions of Times Square

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  14. #14


    June 13, 2004

    Their Times Square

    Audio Slide Show: Portraits From the Crossroads of the World

    Misleidy Cuenca
    36, flier distributor, 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue

    Every day I pass out fliers for dental implants and teeth whitening. It gets so frustrating. I say: "Dentist! Whitening!" and sometimes I yell: "Come on, people! Help me out! Just take a flier!" But some people don't want to take a flier, and some people just throw them on the ground. They don't want to be bothered, and it's so hectic with so many different workers out here trying to give them all these fliers for different things. You have to move around. If you stay on one corner day after day, people stop taking them at all. Some spots are better than others. Forty-second and Seventh Avenue is a really hard corner, but on 42nd and Eighth yesterday, I gave away eight packs of papers. Some people say, "Get away from me!" I'd like to talk nasty to them. What I'd really like to do is throw the whole pack at them, but I don't. I have to restrain myself or I'll lose my job. Now when I pass people on the street who are giving out fliers, I always take them, because I know what it's like when people just won't.

    Joe Franklin.

    Joe Franklin
    73, radio and television talk show host

    You can't knock progress, but I miss old ballparks, old landmarks, old theaters, and I miss Times Square as I knew it. I miss the theaters where they would always be playing a John Wayne double feature. When I was on TV three times a day, there was awful pressure. I would come back to my office and they'd say, "Joe, it's crisis this, crisis that," and sometimes I would just walk away from the crisis and into the movies. I would see Dustin Hoffman or Barbra Streisand sitting there, just enjoying the films. The neighborhood really was a nightmare, though. There was a custom where guys would bump into you with a bottle and say: "You broke my whiskey bottle! I want $20!" They were the ones who bumped into me! But it had a certain charm, a certain character. Giuliani came in here with machine guns and cleaned it up, and now it's not really New York City any longer. It's more Las Vegas. It's more Super California. But it's good for the city and for tourism. People are spending. The hot dog vendors are raking it in.

    Elaine Swann.

    Elaine Swann
    85, resident of Manhattan Plaza since 1981.

    I hate Times Square and everything they've done to it. It's destroyed our lives. Every day there are about 15 to 20 buses from New Jersey, the big ones that kill people, parked on both sides of the street. To get a crosstown city bus takes forever. The idiot tourists come in droves. I want to kill them when I'm trying to get across the street. I'm still an athlete and I move pretty fast, but even so, it's hard to get around. I've lost the stores I could afford. When I go downtown to get my hair done, I shop there. Young people who come here from other places think this is wonderful, but when you live here, it isn't. I live at 43rd Street and Ninth Avenue, and I have to stay in my apartment because I have no other alternative. Plus, how many jobs am I going to get in my 80's? I wish the area had stayed the way it was. I liked the pornography stores. The neighborhood used to be for people who lived here. I used to live in the Village, and I wish like hell I'd stayed in the Village.

    Mary Ann Benner
    38, street missionary

    I live in Harrisburg, Pa., but from April to October I spend 65 percent of my time in New York ministering with Open Air Evangelism. We train students from the United States and from foreign countries, because if you can learn to talk to people here, you can talk to people anywhere in the world. The tourists can be rude, but the true New Yorkers in Times Square are used to being bothered on the streets, and they're gracious. That's a different experience than ministering in other parts of the city. In the Wall Street area, they think they don't need the Lord. We meet some incredible people. One well-dressed man stopped and asked what we were doing. I told him that we were sharing that God loves people, and he said, "My people need to know more about this." Turns out he was the assistant minister of religion for Pakistan. One day, I ran into four 13-year-olds who had biked over from Brooklyn. I said, "Does your mother have any idea you're bicycling over here in Times Square?" I can't imagine letting my children do that. I gave them cards that they could mail in for a free Bible study.

    Joe Santiago
    40, General manager of the Olive Garden, 2 Times Square

    When tourists come to an intimidating place like Times Square, they're comforted when they see something they recognize from their hometowns. The thing I hear most often from out-of-town guests - people from Kansas City, Chicago, California - is: "We didn't know you were here. We've been in New York over a week, this is our last day, and we're so excited we've discovered the Olive Garden." They say their experiences in other New York restaurants have not been friendly. When I'm doing the hiring process, I look for a lot of employees from out of town, so when the guests come in, they can relate. I don't feel that Times Square has changed much since I was a kid. It's always been bright and exciting, and it still packs the same energy. Corporations have made America strong; I don't see anything wrong with corporations coming into Times Square. The Olive Garden is just part of the neighborhood.

    Brian Maguire
    Bartender and manager at Smith's, Eighth Avenue at 44th Street

    I always like to say, this country was founded in bars. All the old revolutionaries used to get together in the pub with a pint. I don't know that any revolutions will come out of here, but it's hard to find a place in this area where you can go and relax. So many of the places are just tourist traps, and it's necessary to have a place like this, a place that hasn't changed in 50 years, to give the area a neighborhood feel. We're going to try to stay open, but it's getting harder and harder. It gets to the point where you say, "You'd have to be out of your mind to open up a bar in Times Square," and yet there are people lined up to do it if one goes under. We could change with the neighborhood and go the highbrow way, but then you have to change the whole place. We're not white-tablecloth guys, we're a workingman's type of place. Eventually, we'll probably have to raise prices, but we'll try not to raise them too much. We charge $3.50 for a beer. The average working guy can't go around paying $5 for a beer. And if we make this place unaffordable for the workingman, where's he going to go?

    Anne Wilson
    53, Broadway ticket taker

    I've been doing this for more than 20 years. Last year, we started letting people print their tickets from online at home. When we first started doing that, everyone would come with a song and dance, saying, "I couldn't print out my tickets!" One night some kid comes up with a 21-inch laptop and says, "Can you print my ticket for me?" People try and scam us all the time. One of the greatest pleasures is catching people trying to use tickets they've already used. We can say, "We have here in our system that these tickets were used Tuesday night, and that you entered the theater at 6:45." I've had people threaten to kill me because I couldn't give them tickets. Once, when I was working for a sold-out performance of "Evita," I had some woman say: "I come specifically from Argentina to see this show. If you don't give me tickets, you come to my country, you get off the plane, I slit your throat." I said: "O.K.! That's one country I'm never going to go visit." You get strange incidents like that when a Broadway show is sold out.

    Staff Sgt. Dennis Kelly
    31, Army recruiter, Times Square Recruiting Station

    You'd think, because there are millions of people walking by, that you'd have millions of people to recruit, but people are from Russia, Ireland, everywhere. We meet a lot of foreign military people who want to talk to us about leaving their own militaries and transferring over here, but they can't do that. The foreigners are the nicer people. It's the Americans who are a little rude. They're used to their freedom. A lot of people see us and are confused by the uniform; they're used to seeing the Army in camouflage. If I'm in the train station walking around in uniform, sometimes people will say, "Excuse me, conductor." Even some security guards in the area say, "What are you, the police?" I didn't know what this uniform was either before I joined. This station is unique because it's a walk-in. My big boss will come in and say, "Look at all these people in here!" But it's just people saying: "Where's this? Where's that? Can I use the bathroom? Can I take some of these fliers home?" It looks busy, but it's not.

    Jon Fraser
    Longtime Broadway theater fanatic and a theater professor at Long Island University in Brookville, N.Y.

    I go to the theater almost once a week. My partner works for a Broadway group sales agency, so we get free tickets to everything that opens. The last show I had the misfortune of seeing was "Bombay Dreams." It was a Bombay nightmare. "The Boy From Oz" was particularly revolting. "Match" insulted me. But I enjoyed "Wicked." In fact, the last show I actually paid to see was "Wicked'' - for my third time. Times Square has been made into a mall for suburbanites. Broadway tickets have become a luxury item for people with expense accounts. You're getting these out-of-towners, who make for a much less sophisticated audience. Their idea of Broadway is the frilly musical. Now the stage managers have to come on before the show to let everyone know that they've got to turn off their cellphones and unwrap their candy in advance. People are just not trained to go to the theater anymore; they're trained to watch TV. They forget they're not in their living rooms. But how do you tell people they have to be on good behavior when Puff Daddy's performing?

    Psychic at Holy Angels Psychic Readings, West 41st Street near Broadway

    It's been different since the war broke out last year. A lot of people used to get $45 card readings, but now I give more $5 specials. I used to get up at 4 in the morning to turn on my sign, but now there's no reason, because the streets are empty that early. I used to be so busy I'd have no time to eat. Now I can go days without anybody coming up off the street. I don't think Times Square is busier than any other area in New York now. If anything, the Village might be busier. I do a lot of different readings: cards, palmistry, psychic, inner soul, crystal, chakra balancing, color therapy. Most people come in for entertainment. I've read for doctors - open-heart doctors, surgeons. It's always just who's passing by. A lot of movie stars go to the nightclub downstairs, and I've read for some of them, but I never say who. Sometimes the people at the nightclub are drunk and try to come up just to use the bathroom, but I'm never really worried about my safety, even though my door's open 24 hours. The police are pretty good here, and if you have to call 911, they come right away.

    24, dancer at Stiletto Gentlemen’s Club, Eighth Avenue near 43rd Street

    I've been in the business going on 24 years; my mother was a dancer, and my sister was a dancer. It's kind of in the family. The customers are just your regular average Joes. Some are corpo types. Some are married men. Some are just looking for someone to talk to, conversation-wise. Some come in during their lunch breaks. If a businessman has a big client, he'll pay for him to get a couple of lap dances. We have one customer who doesn't approve of what the girls in the club do, but he'll sit there for six hours and do nothing but talk to them. The girls who are 18, he says, they should be in school, with their parents. He's always preaching. A lot of new gentlemen's clubs have opened up in the area, and I want to check them all out. My friends and I go club hopping a lot and make comments on the girls, how they look. Then we go to the movies or to Kevin St. James, a bar nearby. I have a son, and he doesn't know what I do. There have been plenty of times when he's asked if he can come to work with me, but I'll give him an excuse. I pretty much lie to him, but it's for his own good.

    Josh Fu
    23, resident of 45th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues

    I'm surrounded by Broadway theaters, but I don't go to them. When I was studying abroad in Florence a few years ago, I didn't want to be one of those people standing in line to see the statue of David. It's the same feeling here. You want to say, I belong here, I'm not one of the tourists. I have my shortcuts - little things that only people who live in Times Square would know about - that keep me sane from day to day. I cut through theater corridors to get to the train station during rush hours or when they're filming outside at MTV. I both love and hate that there are always people here. Once it was pouring rain and there were tons of tourists taking up the street taking pictures. I had to say excuse me in different languages - Japanese, German, French - because none of them spoke English. I don't think it's uncool to live here anymore. I have a lot of friends, all in their 20's, who live nearby. We're the Midtown crew. When I was still at N.Y.U., I always tried to make my downtown friends come up here. They'd say, "Why the heck should I come up to Times Square?" But why should I go downtown?

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  15. #15


    June 13, 2004

    A Day in the Life


    3:30 P.M.

    5:24 a.m.

    It is dawn at Times Square, Broadway and 42nd, the Crossroads of the World. The streets are ghostly. Neon signs blink at no one, eclipsed by a brightening sky. Life begins to stir. Delivery trucks hum. A man hoses down a sidewalk, washing away its sticky history. Fruit vendors roll their carts into place. Birds gather on an electric cable to chirp, like opera singers gossiping before curtain call.

    A newcomer arrives, wandering south on Broadway. "I'm homeless, and I just hit New York," says the man, a scraggly 29-year-old former Marine named Scott Reid. He has come off a bus at Port Authority and, like so many others, headed straight to the city's unofficial capital.

    "Fate, karma. It's where I landed," he says, shivering slightly in the chilled air as he fishes for a Marlboro Red. "It's the end of the world. That's all I know." Then he pushes off in search of shelter, a job, Jesus Christ and a copy of Stephen King's "Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla."

    5:50 a.m.

    Three regulars appear, bobbing merrily along Seventh Avenue toward the neon. It is a Friday ritual: the women run four miles from the Upper West Side, past Times Square, to their trainer downtown. They talk breathlessly, filling the streets with half-heard sentences.

    "We're kind of getting away with something," says Gail Kelley, grinning as she jogs in place momentarily. "We get to see Times Square without all the people in the street. It's almost like being backstage at a show."

    Soon, a half-read sentence flashes across the Times Square zipper: "39 Palestinians Dead," words that are gone as fast as they came.

    7:02 a.m.

    At 43rd Street and Seventh Avenue, Jonathan Korpel and his son-in-law Yuval Tal, huddle over coffee in Europa cafe, wearily studying a city map. They came straight to Times Square off a plane from Tel Aviv and it was too early to check into their hotel.

    "We don't have a thing like this in Israel," says Mr. Tal, motioning to the neon signs. His father-in-law shakes his head. "In my memories, this square was more romantic," says Mr. Korpel, who first saw Times Square 35 years ago. "All the neon lights - the square itself is lost."

    8:30 a.m.

    At the heart of rush hour, no space in Times Square is unclaimed. Cars and trucks volley for lanes, filling the air with exhaust and screeches and honks. Fast-walking men in suits clutch newspapers and briefcases, bumping against stationary tourists who stare skyward. Even the pigeons are now crowded on telephone wires.

    Three blocks from the crossroads, on Broadway and 45th, Sal Sciarrino and Ricardo Guzman are prying a giant plastic "O" from layers of wrapping, as if opening a gift. People walk past and stare. Opposite them is a plywood barricade with aluminum panels. "Bank" is the only word the sign hangers have managed to produce.

    "What bank?" a hurried passer-by asks.

    "Bank of America," Mr. Sciarrino calls out. It's almost part of his job to announce what's coming next to Times Square. "I know what stocks to put money on," he laughs. Mr. Guzman chimes in: "The other thing you get is, 'You spelled it wrong.' I fell for it the first time."

    10:03 a.m.

    A few blocks to the north, a pair of homeless men are circling the closed TKTS booth, handing out schedules of shows for $1.

    "Do you have '42nd Street'?" asks Debbie Bryant, a well-rouged blonde who is making her first trip to New York with four friends, all of them hospital workers from Hattiesburg, Miss. "You know, we're from the South. And everything's slow down there."

    Why come to New York? "The Broadway shows, the lights, the action, ground zero, 'Good Morning America,' the 'Today Show' - we could go on and on," she says. As if on cue, a fire truck plows past with full sirens, and the women throw out a practiced wave. "New York's faaahnest," Ms. Bryant yells.

    Several feet away, Bruce P. McDonald, a Verizon phone repair technician, studies the chassis of a broken pay phone, the same one he has fixed many times before. "If they're slightly off, people will abuse them," he says.

    A woman with a giant purple nylon flower pinned to her foot-high bouffant hairdo saunters by. "You see a lot of people with lost looks in their eyes," he says.

    Several feet away, a small camera crew is filming a promotional video for an accounting firm.

    "I hate doing these corporate things," says the sound technician, a 37-year-old Brooklyn man. "They're so humiliating. But as a poet, you have to feed the animal."

    He looks at the cameraman. "Were you rolling on that? That's probably on tape. We should get that off."

    10:30 a.m.

    Among the fixtures of Times Square, almost as predictable as the neon and the Naked Cowboy, is Roy the horse. Today, Roy is standing on Broadway near 46th Street. He has become a one-animal urban petting zoo, surrounded by groping tourists.

    His rider, Sheryl Puletz, is a New York City police officer whose job includes giving people directions and posing for pictures. Every now and then she makes an arrest.

    "We once arrested a man for running down the street naked with a prosthetic brain on his head," she says. Turned out he was making a student film about a dream sequence. But mostly, she and Roy stand around. "You look through your sun roof and see a horse looking through," she says. "That's truly Times Square.''

    1 p.m.

    There is hardly a trace of Times Square's seedy past, except, perhaps, for Antonio Tangarife, a 51-year-old musician from Colombia who stands, somber-faced, on Seventh Avenue near 45th Street, handing out cards advertising an Eighth Avenue strip club. "I don't like to pass this out," he says. "I do it for the money."

    3:30 p.m.

    Hundreds of theatergoers are inching toward the TKTS booth and in the process forming three layers around Lawrence Rush, but not enough to insulate his ambitious, straining vocals, which spill out jarringly. Wearing worn tap shoes and tattered black pants, Mr. Rush, 43, belts out Broadway favorites through a microphone. People move past him slowly, granting only tepid applause between acts as they cool themselves with fans advertising "Chicago."

    In 20 years, Mr. Rush has never been cast in a Broadway play. "Talk about rejection," he says into the microphone after finishing a much unnoticed rendition of "Life Is a Cabaret." People perk up. "I figured I'd let Broadway come to me. Here I am, a Broadway star."

    5:13 p.m.

    Dazed tourists have no idea where they're going as they bobble-head across the street, shooting glances to the sky - "Wow, neon!" - to the sidewalk - "Wow, people!" - and back again. Ads and temptation everywhere: for sports cars, for boxers, for trips abroad.

    On the southeast corner of Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street, a group of Lubavitcher Jews in black hats and scruffy beards are trying to convert a die-hard Jehovah's Witness. The Witness isn't buying. "Why did he give them the tree?" he said, alluding to the temptation of Adam and Eve. "To make them sin? That doesn't make much sense." The Lubavitchers, surrounded by ads for lobster, luxury cars and live! nude! girls!, looked stumped.

    6:12 p.m.

    A class of 15 eighth-grade girls from Simsbury, Conn., a fraction of the seemingly endless number of "tweens" who flood Times Square daily, have arrived at the Quiksilver shop at 42nd and Seventh. This bunch is trying on every pair of sunglasses, every trucker cap, and every hot pink and canary yellow halter top in the place.

    One of their chaperones, Maribeth Mortillaro, wears an expression that looks somewhere between ennui and oy vey! "The girls love to shop," she says, speaking an ancient truth. "And the boys love playing games." She means video games, but could just as easily be referring to the dating game that plays out almost every summer night at this corner as the urges of untold numbers of teenagers converge.

    6:43 p.m.

    Three high school girls in sequined gowns are sighted. Another prom night has begun.

    6:45 p.m.

    Diego Campazano, a tour guide, has assembled today's group near the marquee for "The Lion King" at the New Amsterdam Theater. His charges are high school seniors from Anderson, Tex., a town of about 250 people some 1,420 miles from Times Square who have raised $18,000 for the trip.

    And what of the sights? "We did see the Eiffel Tower," says Julie Pasket. She meant the Statue of Liberty, but the confusion is understandable. All those French structures look alike.

    7:31 p.m.

    As 8 o'clock nears, crowds thin outside the theaters while others are lost, looking for the Royale on 44th Street (you'll make it), the Palace on 47th Street (you'll make it), the Virginia on 52nd Street (you won't).

    Then the curtains are up, and you can feel everything slow down. The artists start to emerge: the $10 portrait photographers, the $5 caricaturists, the Chinese calligraphists and street musicians like Bonifacio Indjai, who is from West Africa and is recording his first CD. What kind of music? "African music," he says. Ask a stupid question

    9:05 p.m.

    Times Square has become a mall. Bands of girls wearing entirely too little and bundles of boys enjoying the view are everywhere. Banter is primitive. "Hey, snow bunny," a boy says. "Hey," a girl replies.

    Despite it all, some couple off. On the northwest corner, Tomas Martinez holds his girlfriend, Gissel Bello, tenderly. They meet here every week; Mr. Martinez, 23, comes down from Washington Heights; Ms. Bello, 20, comes in from New Brunswick, N.J. Is he worth the trip? "Sometimes," she says with a shy smile. He smirks. "No, no," she insists as he holds her. "He is."

    11:23 p.m.

    A trio of sailors has found a back table at the Times Square Brewery on 42nd near Seventh Avenue. They don't want to talk to the press. "We weren't in Iraq," says one.

    On the TV, the Yankees are rallying and the Lakers are pulling away. A Yankees fan tries to explain baseball to a Scotsman. The two order more drinks and clink glasses. "Live long and prosper," the Scotsman says. "I'm going to," the Yankees fan replies.

    12:20 a.m.

    Suddenly a flurry of activity. Sirens, and police officers running north to 44th Street and Seventh Avenue. Five young men have been handcuffed, and a dozen officers are manning the crowd. "What did we do?" asks one of the arrested men. There's no immediate answer. One officer is screaming, red in the face: "I told you to back it up! Back it up!" A drag queen named Jessica is telling anyone who will listen what happened.

    "He went like that" - she flicks her hand, "to a cop, and that was it," she says. Another witness says the episode had something to do with the Bloods and the Crips.

    Whatever the cause, the evening has gotten a sudden shot of adrenaline; everyone seems to be talking about it and acting tough. Back at 42nd Street, a young man named Adam Saei mouths off to an officer. "I pay your check," Mr. Saei yells. In response, the officer yells back. "You don't have a job!"

    1:48 a.m.

    McDonald's is shuttered, and it's last call at the Times Square Brewery. The marquees are dark. Yesterday's newspapers are officially prepared for life as fish wrap. The theme park has closed for the day.

    2:30 a.m.

    Or has it? Increasingly large limousines have begun to drop off exceedingly well-dressed teenagers in prom attire. Where better to celebrate the end of the year than in a half-deserted intersection?

    Ramsey Jean-Pierre, a handsome, house-sized young man, is outfitted in a white tuxedo, white vest and a snazzy peach tie. One reason Mr. Jean-Pierre might not mind the quiet is his companions: six, count 'em, six female classmates from the Irvington High School (Irvington, N.J.) Class of '04. "I'm big enough for everybody," he says with a smile. All the girls giggle.

    3:02 a.m.

    Vendors start to move from Times Square south down Seventh Avenue to serve customers coming out of some of the new clubs in the garment district. "Drunk people," one vendor explains, "like to eat."

    Leonard Weeks, a transit worker who has been cleaning the tracks between Times Square and Grand Central Station, crawls out of the subway, dirty and sweaty. The power in the third rail, he says, is on all the time, even as they pick up candy wrappers from underneath it. "But we work safely, with plastic tools and insulated boots," Mr. Weeks says. He points down to his darkened, heavy boots. "They're very uncomfortable," he says. "But they keep you safe."

    3:46 a.m.

    Marsha, Sophia, Denise and Candace, four nice young women from Queens, had come to Times Square to have some barbecue and see a show. Instead, they were turned away from a barbecue place and ended up watching a graphic homosexual sex act in a local strip club. "It was amazing," Marsha says. It cannot be determined if that's a good or bad amazing, but one thing is certain: there will be a lot to talk about on the drive home.

    3:48 a.m.

    Overheard: "Call me when you get home."

    "I'll text you."

    People are discharged from the bars and stumbling. "I don't care, let's go somewhere,'' says one young man. "I'll go to work wrecked." As a group of young women pass, he does his best to harass them. "Go home," they say.

    4:48 a.m.

    There is the faintest blue in the east, which might be the start of the sunrise. (On the other hand, maybe Queens glows.) For just a moment, all four corners of the Crossroads of the World - north, south, east and west - are empty.

    Then, just like that, a truck blows by, a car clips behind it, and another day has begun.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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