Nikos Lanides

Happy New Year everyone. To celebrate 2023 I thought it would be fun to go through the history of New York’s most popular tourist spot. So let’s start off with Times Square and its history.

Manhattan Island was first settled by Dutch colonizers, and the Dutch named three streams close to what would become Times square. This is the first part of history about this now mass advertising center. The Dutch named the stream connecting these three rivers the great kill, which would later be kept as a name for a small town. This town started an industry in carriage making, and by 1872 the area was now the center of New York’s carriage industry. 

Longacre (times square) would soon be known as the Thieves’ lair, due to its low reputation as an entertainment district. During this grungy era, the first theater on the square was built: The Olympia. Yes Broadway, a staple of New York culture, and the breeding ground of Hugh Jackman; all started in 1895 (technically there was another theater open before, but this one was built in the square). This one spot became a hotspot for the square, having cafes, restaurants, and bright glowing lights. 

Then in 1904, it happened. The New York Times moved their building into the square. To celebrate they held a grand opening festivity for new years, marking the first ever ball drop in Times square. Then a subway station was opened, next a theater, and then all these buildings started being made. After WW1 the square’s size grew tremendously and by the 1920’s, the advertising for the place became a massive business, going from 25 million to 85 million in only a decade. The times square we now know today was starting to form. 

It seems the system was too big to fail, nothing could stop this multimillion dollar hot spot no-

Oh. forgot it’s the early 30’s, and that means it’s the great depression. Now all the theaters are closing and people are moving into cheaper districts. They even had to put two ball drops on hiatus. From the 60’s to the 90’s the Square was at an all time low. Some blocks were even labeled as the worst block’s in the whole town. The square was now known for its quote “go-go bars, sex shops, peep shows, and Adult theaters”. What was once a glimmering hope of light at the center of the city, became a raunchy stain comparable to downtown Detroit. 

That’s not the end of this 30 year long rough patch though: Crime rates increased, conditions worsened, and once prestige movie theaters started showing Adult movies. Remember when Times Square was making 85 million on advertising alone? Well now the property tax for the entire square is down to a whopping 6 million, for context as of 2021 the property tax is up to 13 million, which is much more of a reasonable amount for a place like Times square. 

Now if you are reading this today, you know that Times Square is nowhere close to what it was like in the 1990’s. You’re probably wondering how the spot made such a comeback, and the answer is… pretty boring. Multiple new buildings were built including theaters and hotels, advertisers started investing in the square more thanks to the new light up billboards, and the square issued a goal to make it so it wouldn’t be dark anymore when it was nighttime. They succeeded at all of this. Yet the story of how they did isn’t all that interesting. They forced a lot of people out and made a heap of marketing deals, and sure I could talk about the 2000’s and onward but all I can say is this. 9/11 happened and cops defended the square hard, and a new walk around plaza opened where you can see racists dressed as elmo. 

Times Square’s history can be equated to a first time visit to the square.

It’s interesting at first, but at its core the place is hollow. Not just because of the over advertising but because of the reputation it has to people who actually live in New York. To them it’s just another street to walk in and a loud one at that. I’m saying so much but I think this whole article can be summed up in one moment.

It’s 2018 and the annual ball drop is being held. In the center stands a broadcast with the special guest Ninja being brought onto the platform. He shouts “we’re gonna get everyone in Times square to floss!”. He does this in the pouring rain scanning the lifeless crowd for any hint of motion. He says in embarrassment “I’m not seeing enough movement”.