New York City Guide

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Times Square

Times Square, was named after the one-time headquarters of The New York Times in 1904, previously it had been known as Longacre Square. It centres on 42nd Street and Broadway. It consists of the blocks between 6th and 9th Avenue from east to west and 39th and 52nd Streets from south to north. At the start of World War I, Times square was the centre of the Theatre district and attracted a large number of visitors. This made the square an ideal place for billboards. In 1917 the first large electric display billboard was installed. 11 Years later, the first running electric sign was let for the first time, to announce Herbert Hoover's victory in the Presidential elections. The billboards have become such a tourist attraction for the area, that the zoning now requires the buildings to be covered with billboards.

With the thirties came the Great Depression. Times Square initially seemed immune from the troubles. People were drawn to the playhouses in an attempt to escape from the grim realities of life, but as the depression grew deeper, the fortunes of the theatre owners plummeted, and many were forced to sell or close their theatres. The theatres that remained, converted to showing popular but vastly cheaper shows. The area continued to attract visitors and after World War II, the theatre district was booming again. At the end of the sixties, the area started to go downhill and by the mid-seventies, tourists were avoiding Times Square as it had become a seedy, crime-ridden and drug-infested area. Times Square had become a symbol of all that was considered bad in New York at that time.

In the mid 1990's, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani led the effort to clean up the area, including closing down sex shops, increasing security, and opening more tourist-friendly attractions. The clean-up process began when the local government issued injunctions against the tight cluster of porn shops in the 42nd Street area. Many of the sex shops closed or moved to industrial areas in Brooklyn or Queens. More recently, such establishments have been shut down and more up-market establishments have replaced them.

The tourists have returned in abundance mostly due to what is sometimes referred to as the Disneyfication of Times Square. Walking down Broadway you can stop to shop at a Toy's R Us store while on your way to 42nd Street to watch a matinee of Disney's latest film. A far cry from the area's squalid years but entirely within the tradition of entertainment and commerce, and giving the public what they want.

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