The Times Square, It Is A-Changin’: A Look At The History of Times Square

Oh hey, Times Square. We almost didn’t recognize you.

These days on Broadway, rent isn’t just a musical: it’s a problem. Many stores in Times Square are feeling the weight of increasing costs, creating an ever-changing landscape. Most recently, Toys”R”Us closed its famous flagship store, pointing an accusatory finger at high rent, and making room for a new Gap store; the trusty Starbucks on the corner of 41st and Broadway is transforming into a Foot Locker; and a handful of other stores sit empty, anxiously awaiting their next tenants.

But change isn’t exactly new when it comes to this mecca of culture. Let’s take a quick walk through the history of Times Square, shall we?

1904

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(Photo via Shorpy.com)

The New York Times moves to a new skyscraper on 42nd Street and Longacre Square is renamed Times Square, thus beginning a long history of sparking change. A few weeks later, the first electrified sign would arrive on the scene. In 1907, the first New Year’s Eve ball would drop.

1920s – 1930s

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(Photo: Boweryboyshistory.com)

Outdoor advertising really gets going here, and the cost of owning a piece of the action continues to rise. Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum has the “biggest electric sign in the world” there and it costs $9,000 per month to rent.

1945

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(Photo: abcnews)

Times Square became the scene of this famous kiss, solidifying its place as the backdrop to some of history’s greatest moments.

1960s – 1980s

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(Photo: BuzzFeed)

Ok, so these are the dark days of Times Square. Things begin to look a little sketchy with rising crime and peep shows aplenty. 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Aves. becomes known as the worst block in the city (and not just because it’s so unbearably crowded…)

1990s

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(Photo: Panoramio)

Phew, we made it through that little rough patch. The seedy side begins to recede when the state of New York restores six out of nine theatres on 42nd Street, and the Times Square Alliance, a coalition of government and local business dedicated to cleaning things up, is born.

Things really start to light up when building owners are required to display illuminated signs, having a minimum limit for lights instead of a maximum limit. (Big stores like Toys”R”Us and M&M’s World join the lineup during this time, as well.)

2009

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(Photo: Wikipedia)

Times Square takes on a major change when Mayor Bloomberg announces plans for Pedestrian Plazas, closing traffic lanes along Broadway between 42nd St. and 47th St.

2011

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(Photo: cnn.com)

Times Square becomes a smoke-free zone, extending the ban to the outdoor area with a $50 fee for violators.

Today

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(Photo: BuzzFeed)

And that brings us to today, where companies that can foot the bill sit front and center and billboards are brighter than ever (and cost more than $9,000 a month), continuing Times Square’s legacy of being the who’s who of the most successful brands in the world.

So what’s next for this hotspot in the greatest city in the world? Only time will tell…

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