We all know that Times Square, the famed heart of New York City located at the bustling nexus of 42nd Street and Broadway, is an internationally renowned hub for world-class theater and entertainment, restaurants and attractions, shops, street performers and street vendors. But have you ever wondered how one of the most popular tourist attraction in the world actually got its name?
Visited by millions of travelers year round. Times Square boasts a glut of establishments and activities, from the unexpected street performers beguiling the crowd to the touted drama and musicals of Broadway, all against a dazzling backdrop neon and digital billboards, streetscapes, skyscrapers and underground passageways. And its current status as a cultural icon isn’t without reason: for the past century, much of what embodies American culture has been discovered, tested, reinvented, and displayed in the few short blocks that make up the Times Square district, making it the undisputed capital of America's entertainment and leisure culture.
To help you get better acquainted with this storied and fun-filled neighborhood, here’s brief run-down of Times Square’s history that you can use to brag to friends back home. Along with all your souvenirs, of course.
Prior to 1904, Times Square was known as Longacre Square, which encompassed an area in NYC that ran between 7th Ave and Broadway and stretches from West 42nd and the West 47th streets. Back in the day, traffic in the intersection consisted of horse and buggy (of course) and the moniker, Carriage District, adopted from London’s Carriage District, was born. But the name didn’t stick for long: in 1902, the owner of the New York Times, Adolph S. Ochs, purchased the old Pabst Hotel on 42nd street, and decided to move its headquarters to a newly built 25-story skyscraper building built on the same triangular plot. And on April 8th, 1904, Longacre Square was officially renamed as Times Square. While the New York Times grew out of its original building (and moved in 1913 across Broadway to the Times Annex 229 West 43rd Street), the iconic name of the Square stuck and, today, a modern skyscraper hosts many commercial enterprises with a famed address of One Times Square.
Times Square Ball Drop
As early as 1910, the lively theatre district populated by scores of Broadway theatre marquees dazzled visitors and lit up the night. Times Square was thus beautifully dubbed “The Great White Way”. In 1928, The New York Times introduced the advertising news ticker, “HUGE TIMES SIGN WILL FLASH NEWS." adding even more brilliance to the area.
The centerpiece of the spectacles of Times Square is, of course, the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop. On December 31st, 1907, the New York Times launched the iconic Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball Drop from the top of their building, forever marking Times Square as the world’s foremost destination for NYE celebrations.
Even to this day, Times Square remains by far one of the most luminously lit places on the planet -astronauts can even see it from up above in outer space. Novels, movies, and other cultural phenomenon capitalize on Times Square’s one-of-a-kind, luminary status by adopting fitting and influential titles like “Bright Lights Big City” – the title of an iconic 1980’s novel by Jay McInerney, which has become a common phrase to refer to New York City in general and Times Square in particular.
Times Square Tourism
Since World War One WW1, Times Square has been the epicenter of the renowned Theater District and popular tourist attraction. In 1927, journalist Will Irwin summed up Broadway and the Times Square area by describing the feeling and energy as ‘Mildly insane by day, the square goes divinely mad by night. For then on every wall, above every cornice, in every nook and cranny, blossom and dance the electric advertising signs….All other American cities imitate them, but none gets this massed effect of tremendous jazz interpreted in light.” A beautiful and apt description of the legendary neighborhood if we’ve heard one.
Times Square has gone through many changes over the past century. The Great Depression took a huge toll on theater attendance and overall consumer spending. After WW2, tourism thrived again but fluctuated over the sixties and seventies due a rise in drug use and criminal activity. During the eighties and nineties, thanks to the newly opened Disney store, the area began to attract more family-friendly businesses. Fast forward to today, Times Square is a thriving hub of activity, shopping, and entertainment, a magnet for tourism, and a center of New York’s lively social scene.
Times Square is relatively contained in size, but its packs a large economic punch in revenue for NYC. Drawing millions of visitors, local workers, New Yorkers and tourists annually, the area’s tourism and retail business contribute over 1.3 billion in taxes to the city. This immense economic heft is generated by a variety of activities that take place within the district, entertainingly broken down below.
There are well over 100 restaurants and shops in Times Square, including family-oriented entertainment destinations such as Madame Tussauds Wax Museum or Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium, mega-cineplexes, recreational and nightlife hotspots like Frames, and, of course, the many lauded Broadway theaters and shows. Times Square is also home to MTV’s headquarters and ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’, broadcasted in front of a live audience from its official office located at 44th and Broadway, often drawing a dense crowd of curious onlookers.