TIMES SQUARE was officially named Times Square in 1904 due to the presence of the New York Times newspaper’s office building there.  Before becoming Times Square, it was known as Longacre Square and was the “carriage and harness district,” the site of William H. Vanderbilt’s American Horse Exchange where horses, horse buggies and milk were sold.  (Vanderbilt would make his fortune in the shipping, steamboat, and railroad industry.)  

The term, “The Great White Way,” was coined by an advertising display designer, O.J. Gude, in 1901 and eccentric outdoor advertisements became a part of Broadway and Times Square.  From 1941 to 1966, a large billboard featured a man smoking a Camel cigarette and blowing five-foot-wide smoke rings every four seconds.  The smoke rings were steam provided by the utility company, Con Edison, and the sign had been designed in such a way that no lighting was used so war-time blackout regulations were followed.  When I first visited the City in 1964, the gentleman had switched his brand of cigarettes to Winston’s (also a product of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company).  In 1991, there was a 65-foot-high Coca-Cola display and at one time there was an advertisement with a steaming, big cup of Maxwell Coffee.  But, surprisingly, the first outdoor electric sign advertisement in New York City was not located in Times Square but erected in 1892 in Chelsea, at the  site where the Flatiron Building would later be built.  It was also the world's first outdoor electric sign and it advertised Manhattan Beach.  Later H.J. Heinz of the Heinz Company would stay at a hotel across the street, see the Manhattan Beach sign and add his own electric sign there to promote Heinz sweet pickles, relish, malt vinegar, tomato chutney and preserves.

The glittering neon Times Square signs of today dazzle and thrill and are a far cry from the Times Square I first encountered upon my arrival in 1968.  Times Square then had an abundance of pornographic video shows and cinemas and prostitutes and male hustlers worked the streets there.  It was the steamy Times Square pictured in John Schlinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Martin Scorsese’s even more menacing Taxi Driver (1976).  The seediness of Times Square became a famous symbol of New York City’s danger and corruption during the period from the 1960s until the 1990s. 

Over the past 30 years, Times Square has been revamped, rebuilt and revitalized.  A neighborhood -- that had become notorious for its peep shows and porno movies as well as its prostitutes and pimps – is now a flashing and colorful neon wonderland.  Over 12 million people saw Broadway shows last year and the number of tourists to New York City has increased 74% since the year 1993 to around 36.5 million people. 

Critics of the current revitalized, neon Times Square, such as Thomas Bender in The Unfinished City, say that this Times Square could be anywhere in the world and has lost the "complexity of the city's culture" that it once represented. 

 On December 31, 1907, a New Year's ball dropped for the first time in Times Square and the event has remained a New Year's tradition ever since.  It's a celebration that mostly attracts tourists.  Real New Yorkers stay at home or have drinks out with friends.  Over the last decade or more, Times Square has become a neighborhood with bright, colorful neon signs and advertisements.  Here also news bulletins and a large Budweiser Beer, Panasonic and Yahoo ads greet you.  In December 2007, Toshiba Corporation of Japan announced that it had signed a lease for a large 55 feet by 55 feet megasign  here at One Times Square.  The cost of such leases, as reported by the New York Times, ranges from $275,000 to $400,000 per month.  Today it's hard to believe that Times Square was once a beaver pond in the early days of old New York.


Photo #1:  Number One Times Square, once the headquarters of the New York Times, at Seventh Avenue and Broadway with a flashing news bulletin and colorful  lights

Photo #2:  Number One Times Square at rush hour.

Photo #3: a neon-sparkling Times Square viewed from West 45th Street and Broadway.

Photo #4:  Fog covers the top of the Paramount Building and its tower clock at 1501 Broadway and West 44th Street.  The building once housed the New York office of Paramount Pictures.