Simultaneously New York City ’s glitziest and seediest symbol, Times Square centers on the intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue between 42nd and 48th Streets. Not really a square at all, but rather two elongated triangles, it is named after the New York Times, which was once located in the white Times Tower building where Broadway, 7th Avenue, and 42nd Street meet. (The Times is now nearby at 229 W. 43rd St.) It is from Times Tower that the illuminated ball drops every December 31, ushering in the New Year.
Before 1904, when the New York Times moved in, Times Square was known as Longacre Square. The center of the horse business in a city then largely dependent upon four-footed transportation, the square was lined with horse exchanges, carriage factories, stables, and blacksmith shops. Not until the 1910s did Times Square become a bona fide theater district ; not until the 1960s did it become known for its thriving sex industry.
Times Square has cleaned up in recent years, thanks largely to the efforts of the Times Square Business Improvement District—a nonprofit organization formed of the area’s business and community leaders. Almost all of the old porn shops have been closed down and the three-card-monte games broken up. Police and private security officers patrol the streets 24 hours a day.
Times Square is best visited after sundown. That’s when the street performers—each one more inventive than the next—come out in droves and the neon signs start to burn. By night, the streets are ablaze with huge panels of red, green, yellow, blue, and white. Except for the Las Vegas Strip, no other place in America boasts more neon lights.
A recent change in the landscape has led to a designated pedestrian plaza bizarrely filled with lawn chairs plunked onto the formerly busy road and New Yorkers shaking their heads at tourists stretched out rubbernecking the glowing chaos where taxis once cruised.
A Times Square Information Center (7th Ave. between 46th and 47th Sts., 212/869-1890, www.timessquarenyc.org , 8 a.m.–8 p.m. daily) is situated in the landmark Embassy Movie Theater.