Times Square is a major commercial intersection in Midtown Manhattan, one of the world’s busiest pedestrian intersections and an important centre of the world’s entertainment industry. Times Square is also the world’s most visited tourist attraction, bringing in over 39 million visitors annually. It featured prominently in Woody Allen’s “Radio Days”.
Located at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, and stretching from West 42nd to West 47th Streets, Times Square is the brightly illuminated hub of the Broadway theatre district. It is commonly known as “The Crossroads of the World” and the “The Great White Way”.
“Radio Days”, a 1987 comedy film looks back on an American family’s life during the Golden Age of Radio. Allen himself narrated the stories of his youth, although he is never seen by the audience. The young Allen is portrayed on-screen as “Joe” who tells the story of New York in the late 1930s.
As the city expanded at the beginning of the 20th century, Times Square quickly became a cultural hub, full of theatres, music halls and upmarket hotels. During this period, the area was nicknamed The Tenderloin because it was supposedly the most desirable location in Manhattan.
By 1872 the area had become the centre of New York’s carriage industry. As the area had not been previously named, the city authorities called it Longacre Square after Long Acre in London, where the carriage trade in that city was centred. Longacre Square was renamed Times Square in April 1904 after The New York Times moved its headquarters to the newly erected Times Building – now called One Times Square, the site of the annual ball drop on New Year’s Eve. As the growth of New York City continued, Times Square quickly expanded, becoming a popular, bustling place. During 1910s and 1920s the area was besieged by crime and corruption, in the form of gambling and prostitution; one case that got huge attention was the arrest and subsequent execution of police officer Charles Becker who was convicted of murdering a Manhattan gambler. With the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s Times Square acquired a reputation as a dangerous neighbourhood in the following decades. From the 1960s to the early 1990s the area surrounding Times Square, packed with go-go bars, sex shops and adult theatres functioned as an infamous symbol of New York’s decline. In the 1980s, a commercial building boom began in the western parts of the Midtown as part of a long-term development plan. In the mid 1990s, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (1994–2002) led an effort to “clean up” the area, increasing security, closing adult theatres, pressuring undesirables to relocate and opening more tourist friendly attractions and upmarket establishments. Today, Times Square is very popular among tourists and also has attracted a number of large financial, publishing and media firms. A larger presence of police has improved the safety of the area.
Times Square is the only neighbourhood with zoning ordinances requiring building owners to display illuminated signs. The density of illuminated signs in Times Square rivals that of Las Vegas. Officially, signs in Times Square are called “spectaculars”, and the largest of them are called “jumbotrons”.
Times Square is the site of the annual New Year’s Eve ball drop. On that night, hundreds of thousands of people gather to watch the Waterford Crystal ball being lowered on a pole atop the building, marking the start of the new year. On average, about one million revellers crowd Times Square for the New Year’s Eve celebrations.
The first ball signifying New Year’s Day was dropped at Times Square on December 31, 1907, and the Square has held the main New Year’s celebration in New York City ever since. The new custom replaced a lavish fireworks display from the top of the building that was held from 1904 to 1906, but stopped by city officials because of the danger of fire. A new energy-efficient LED ball, celebrating the centennial of the ball drop, debuted for the arrival of 2008. The ball which was dropped on New Year’s Eve for the arrival of 2009, is larger and has become a permanent installation as a year-round attraction, being used for celebrations such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween. Since 1972, the celebration in Times Square has been covered on national television.
Times Square has been featured countless times in literature, on television and in films. The most famous works featuring Times Square include the 1980 film “Times Square”, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”, “Vanilla Sky”,” I Am Legend”, “2012”, “Spiderman”, “Grand Theft Auto IV” video game and Stephen King’s book “The Stand”.
Interestingly, the immediately recognisable location, Times Square, has been frequently attacked and destroyed in a number of films (for instance in “Transformers” or “Deep Impact”). Some films have also employed the opposite tactic, depicting the typically bustling area as eerily still, such as in “Vanilla Sky”, as well as the post-apocalyptic “I Am Legend”, in which Will Smith and his dog go hunting for deer in a deserted urban canyon.