Formerly known as Longacre Square, Times Square was renamed in 1904 after The New York Times moved its headquarters to the then newly erected Times Building, now
One Times Square. It is the site of the annual New Year's Eve
ball drop, which began on December 31, 1907, and continues to attract over a million visitors to Times Square every year, in addition to a worldwide audience of one billion or more on various
digital media platforms.
Times Square, specifically the intersection of Broadway and 42nd Street, is also the eastern terminus of the
Lincoln Highway, the first road across the United States for motorized vehicles.
Times Square functions as a
town square, but is not geometrically a
square; it is closer in shape to a bowtie, with two triangles emanating roughly north and south from 45th Street, where
Seventh Avenue intersects
Broadway. The area is bounded by West
42nd street, West
47th street, 7th Avenue, and Broadway. Broadway runs diagonally, crossing through the horizontal and vertical
street grid of Manhattan laid down by the
Commissioners' Plan of 1811, and that intersection creates the "bowtie" shape of Times Square.
Times Square is the official name of the southern triangle, below 45th Street, but the northern triangle is officially
Duffy Square. It was dedicated in 1937 to World War I chaplain Father
Francis P. Duffy of the
69th New York Infantry Regiment, and is the site of a memorial to him. There is also a statue of composer and entertainer
George M. Cohan, and the
TKTS discount ticket booth for Broadway and off-Broadway theaters.
Manhattan Island was first settled by the
Dutch colonists, three small streams united near what is now the intersection of
10th Avenue and
40th Street. These three streams formed the "Great Kill" (Dutch: Grote Kil). From there the Great Kill wound through the low-lying Reed Valley, known for fish and waterfowl, and emptied into a deep bay in the
Hudson River at the present 42nd Street. The name was retained in a tiny hamlet, Great Kill, that became a center for carriage-making, as the upland to the south and east became known as Longacre.
By 1872, the area had become the center of New York's horse carriage industry. The locality had not previously been given a name, and city authorities called it Longacre Square after
Long Acre in London, where the horse and carriage trade was centered in that city.William Henry Vanderbilt owned and ran the American Horse Exchange there. In 1910, it became the Winter Garden Theatre.
As more profitable commerce and industrialization of
Lower Manhattan pushed homes, theaters, and
prostitution northward from the
Tenderloin District, Longacre Square became nicknamed the Thieves Lair for its rollicking reputation as a low entertainment district. The first theater on the square, the
Olympia, was built by cigar manufacturer and
impresarioOscar Hammerstein I. According to Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, "By the early 1890s this once sparsely settled stretch of Broadway was ablaze with electric light and thronged by crowds of middle- and upper-class theatre, restaurant and cafe patrons."
In 1904, New York Times publisher
Adolph S. Ochs moved the newspaper's operations to a new skyscraper on 42nd Street at Longacre Square, on the site of the former
Pabst Hotel, which had existed on the site for less than a decade since it opened in November 1899. Ochs persuaded Mayor
George B. McClellan Jr. to construct a
subway station there, and the area was renamed "Times Square" on April 8, 1904. Just three weeks later, the first electrified advertisement appeared on the side of a bank at the corner of 46th Street and Broadway. The north end later became Duffy Square, and the former Horse Exchange became the
Winter Garden Theatre, constructed in 1911.
The New York Times moved to more spacious offices one block west of the square in 1913 and sold the building in 1961. The old Times Building was later named the
Allied Chemical Building in 1963. Now known simply as
One Times Square, it is famed for the Times Square Ball drop on its roof every New Year's Eve.
In 1913, the
Lincoln Highway Association, headed by entrepreneur
Carl G. Fisher, chose the intersection of 42nd Street and Broadway (at the southeast corner of Times Square) to be the Eastern Terminus of the
Lincoln Highway. This was the first road across the United States, which originally ran 3,389 mi (5,454 km) coast to coast through 13 states to its western terminus in
Lincoln Park in San Francisco.
Times Square quickly became New York's
agora, a place to gather to await great tidings and to celebrate them, whether a World Series or a presidential election.
James Traub, The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square
Advertising also grew significantly in the 1920s, growing from $25 million to $85 million over the decade. For example, the
Wrigley Spearmint Gum sign, possibly the biggest electric sign "in the world," cost $9,000 per month to rent. Some contemporary critics, such as
Thorstein Veblen and
G. K. Chesterton, disliked the advertising at Times Square.
Fritz Lang, after seeing Times Square in 1923, used it as inspiration for his dark industrial film Metropolis.
Entertainment icons such as
Charlie Chaplin, and
Fred Astaire were closely associated with Times Square in the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s. However, it was also during this period that the area began to be besieged by crime and corruption, in the form of gambling and prostitution; one case that garnered huge attention was the arrest and subsequent execution of police officer
Crowds celebrating in Times Square on
V-J Day (August 15, 1945)
The general atmosphere of Times Square changed with the onset of the
Great Depression in the early 1930s. City residents moved uptown to cheaper neighborhoods, and many popular theaters closed, replaced by saloons, brothels, "burlesque halls, vaudeville stages, and dime houses". The area acquired a reputation as a dangerous and seedy neighborhood in the following decades.
Nevertheless, Times Square continued to be the site of the annual
ball drop on New Year's Eve. The ball drop was placed on hiatus for New Year's Eve in 1942 and 1943 due to lighting restrictions during
World War II. Instead, a moment of silence was observed at midnight in Times Square, accompanied by the sound of chimes played from sound trucks.
Camel Cigarettes sign, 1965. Below and near the letters "Cam" is smoke from a disintegrating smoke ring
Times Square, 1965; the My Fair Lady marquee is at center
From the 1960s to the early 1990s, the seediness of the area, especially due to its
peep shows, and adult theaters, became an infamous symbol of the city's decline. As early as 1960, 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues was described by The New York Times as "the 'worst' [block] in town". Later that decade, Times Square was depicted in Midnight Cowboy as gritty, depraved, and desperate. Conditions only worsened in the 1970s and 1980s, as did the
crime in the rest of the city. In the mid-1980s, the area bounded by 40th and 50th Streets and Seventh and Ninth Avenues saw over 15,000 crime complaints per year. The block of 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues had 2,300 crimes per year in 1984, of which one-fifth were felonies.
In this era, formerly elegant movie theaters began to show
porn, and hustlers were common. The area was so abandoned at one point during the time that the entire Times Square area paid the city only $6 million in property taxes (about $13 million in 2021).
1980s building boom
In the 1980s, a commercial building boom began in the western parts of Midtown as part of a long-term
development plan developed under mayors
Ed Koch and
David Dinkins. These included office buildings such as
1585 Broadway, and
750 Seventh Avenue, as well as hotels such as the
Crowne Plaza, and DoubleTree Suites. By 1986,
New York City Planning Commission (CPC) was considering enacting regulations that would have forced new buildings along Times Square to include bright signage as well as deep
setbacks. The CPC adopted a planning regulation in 1987, which required large new developments in Times Square to set aside about 5 percent of their space for "entertainment uses".[a] The regulation also required new buildings on Times Square to include large, bright signs.
The buildings at 1540 Broadway, 1585 Broadway, and 750 Seventh Avenue were completed at with the beginning of the
early 1990s recession, when 14.5 percent of Manhattan office space was vacant. Furthermore, some 9×10^6 sq ft (840,000 m2) of office space in the western section of Midtown had been developed in the 1980s, of which only half had been leased. Consequently, 1540 Broadway was completely empty, while 1585 Broadway and 750 Seventh Avenue had one tenant each, despite the buildings having over 2×10^6 sq ft (190,000 m2) of office space between them. Entertainment conglomerate
Bertelsmann bought 1540 Broadway in 1992, spurring a revival of Times Square in the early 1990s. This was hastened when financial firm
Morgan Stanley bought 1585 Broadway in 1993, followed by 750 Seventh Avenue in 1994.
Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), an agency of the New York state government, had proposed redeveloping the area around a portion of West 42nd Street in 1981. Four towers designed by
Philip Johnson and
John Burgee were to be built around 42nd Street's intersections with
Broadway and Seventh Avenue. These towers would have been redeveloped by George Klein of Park Tower Realty, though the
Prudential Insurance Company of America joined the project in 1986. Furthermore, as part of the West Midtown special zoning district created in 1982, the New York City government had allowed new buildings in Times Square to be developed with an increased floor area ratio. To ensure the area would not be darkened at nightfall, the city passed zoning regulations that encouraged developers to add large, bright signs on their buildings.
In 1990, the
State of New York took possession of six of the nine historic theaters on 42nd Street, and the
New 42nd Streetnon-profit organization was appointed to oversee their restoration and maintenance. The theaters underwent renovation for Broadway shows, conversion for commercial purposes, or demolition. Opposition to the towers on Times Square, along with Prudential and Park Tower's inability to secure tenants for the proposed buildings, led government officials to allow Prudential and Park Tower to postpone the project in 1992. By then, Prudential had spent $300 million on condemning the sites through
eminent domain. The partners retained the right to develop the sites in the future, and the ESDC's zoning guidelines remained in effect. In exchange for being permitted to delay construction of the sites until 2002, Prudential and Park Tower were compelled to add stores and install large signage on the existing buildings.
In 1992, the Times Square Alliance (formerly the Times Square
Business Improvement District, or "BID" for short), a coalition of city government and local businesses dedicated to improving the quality of commerce and cleanliness in the district, started operations in the area. In 1998, the alliance opened a tourist information center in the former
Embassy Theatre at 1560 Broadway; the information center operated until 2014.
In the mid-1990s, Mayor
Rudolph Giuliani led an effort to clean up the area, an effort that is described by Steve Macek in Urban Nightmares: The Media, the Right, and the Moral Panic Over the City: Security was increased, pornographic theatres were closed, and "undesirable" low-rent residents were pressured to relocate, and then more tourist-friendly attractions and upscale establishments were opened. Advocates of the
remodeling claim that the neighborhood is safer and cleaner. Detractors have countered that the changes have homogenized or
"Disneyfied" the character of Times Square and have unfairly targeted lower-income New Yorkers from nearby neighborhoods such as
Hell's Kitchen. The changes were shaped in large part by the actions of
The Walt Disney Company, which bought and restored the
New Amsterdam Theatre after several attempts at redevelopment had failed. As part of a contract with Disney, officials from the city and state evicted the pornographic theaters and contracted with
Madame Tussauds and
AMC Theatres to move onto 42nd Street. This spurred the construction of new office towers, hotels, and tourist attractions in the area.
The theatres of Broadway and the huge number of animated
LED signs have been one of New York's iconic images as well as a symbol of the intensely urban aspects of Manhattan. Since 1987 such signage has been mandated by
zoning ordinances that require building owners to display illuminated signs, the only district in New York City with this requirement. The neighborhood has a minimum limit for lighting instead of the standard maximum limit. The density of illuminated signs in Times Square rivals that in
Las Vegas. Officially, signs in Times Square are called "spectaculars", and the largest of them are called "
jumbotrons". This signage ordinance was implemented in accordance with guidelines set in a revitalization program that New York Governor
Mario Cuomo implemented in 1993.
Naked Cowboy" has been a fixture on Times Square for decades.
Notable signage includes the
Toshiba billboard directly under the NYE ball drop, the curved seven-story
NASDAQ sign at the
NASDAQ MarketSite at
4 Times Square on 43rd Street, and the curved
Coca-Cola sign located underneath another large LED display owned and operated by
Samsung. Both the Coca-Cola sign and Samsung LED displays were built by LED display manufacturer
Daktronics. Times Square's first environmentally friendly billboard powered by wind and solar energy was first lit on December 4, 2008. On completion, the
20 Times Square development will host the largest LED signage in Times Square at 18,000 square feet. The display will be 1,000 square feet larger than the Times Square
Walgreens display and one of the largest
video-capable screens in the world.
Looking southeast at
TKTS ticket booth on a sunny afternoon in Times Square
Times Square started hosting other major annual events in the 2000s. Since 2002, the summer solstice has been marked by "Mind over Madness", a mass yoga event involving up to 15,000 people. Tim Tompkins, a co-founder of the event, said part of its appeal was "finding stillness and calm amid the city rush on the longest day of the year". Architect
Mark Foster Gage proposed and designed the original Times Square Valentine's Day heart in 2009. Since then, designing the heart has become an annual competition.
In February 2011, Times Square became smoke-free as New York extended the outdoors
smoking ban to the area. The measure imposed a $50 fine for any person caught smoking within the area. From January 29 to February 1, 2014, a "Super Bowl Boulevard" was held on Broadway, especially in Times Square, between 34th and 47th Streets, as part of
Super Bowl XLVIII. The boulevard contained activities such as autographs, a 60 ft (18 m)-high
toboggan run, and photographs with the
Vince Lombardi Trophy. The area was under increased security and witnessed over 400,000 people during the period.
On February 26, 2009, Mayor
Michael Bloomberg announced that traffic lanes along
42nd Street to 47th Street would be de-mapped starting Memorial Day 2009 and transformed into pedestrian plazas as a trial until at least the end of the year. The same was done in
Herald Square from 33rd to 35th Street. The results were to be closely monitored to determine if the project was successful and should be extended. Bloomberg also stated that he believed the street shutdown would make New York more livable by reducing pollution, cutting down on pedestrian-vehicle accidents, and helping traffic flow more smoothly through the Midtown street grid.
The pedestrian plaza project was originally opposed by local businesses, who thought that closing the street to cars would hurt business. The original seats put out for pedestrians were inexpensive multicolored plastic lawn chairs, a source of amusement to many New Yorkers; they lasted from the onset of the plaza transformation until August 14, 2009, when they were ceremoniously bundled together in an installation christened Now You See It, Now You Don't by the artist Jason Peters, and shortly afterward were replaced by sturdier metal furniture. Although the plaza had mixed results on traffic in the area, injuries to motorists and pedestrians decreased, fewer pedestrians were walking in the road, and the number of pedestrians in Times Square increased. On February 11, 2010, Bloomberg announced that the pedestrian plazas would become permanent.
The city started rebuilding the plaza in 2010, hiring the design and landscaping firm
Snøhetta to permanently replace Broadway's roadway with custom-made granite pavers and benches. By December 2013, the first phase of the Times Square pedestrian plaza had been completed at the southern end of the square in time for the Times Square Ball drop on New Year's Eve. The project was originally intended to be completed by the end of 2015. The entire project was finally completed just before New Year's Eve 2016. Some safety
bollards were also installed as part of the renovation to prevent
vehicular attacks or
collisions on the sidewalk. After
a 2017 vehicle-ramming attack, there were calls to install more bollards along Times Square.
Times Square's pedestrian plaza is frequented by
topless women (with painted breasts) called "
desnudas", as well as
costumed characters, who typically
panhandle for tips. The pedestrian plaza became a source of controversy in the summer of 2015 because of a large number of complaints about the topless women and panhandling characters. Although neither of these activities was illegal, opponents believed that the panhandlers' presence was detrimental to the
quality of life in the area. There were calls from Police Commissioner Bratton and Mayor
Bill de Blasio to remove the plaza, although Manhattan Borough President
Gale Brewer opposed the proposal. In June 2016, work started on "pedestrian flow zones" where no one was allowed to loiter, as well as "activity zones" where costumed characters were allowed to perform.
There have been several incidents in Times Square:
On the morning of March 6, 2008,
a small bomb caused minor damage, but there were no reported injuries.
On May 8, 2021, a dispute between a group of men led to a shooting in which three bystanders were wounded, including a four-year-old girl.
On June 27, 2021, a dispute between a group of street vendors led to a shooting in which a 21-year-old bystander was wounded.
On December 31, 2022, three officers with the
New York City Police Department were wounded in a machete attack that occurred during
New Year's Eve celebrations in Times Square. The suspect, a 19-year-old male from
Maine, was also wounded before being taken into custody. Investigators looked into jihadist writings purportedly posted by the suspect before he traveled to New York City.
Number of visitors
Times Square is the most visited place globally with 360,000 pedestrian visitors a day, amounting to over 131 million a year. As of 2013[update], it had a greater attendance than do each of the
Disney theme parks worldwide, with 128,794,000 visitors between March 2012 and February 2013, versus 126,479,000 for the
Walt Disney World theme parks in
Bay Lake, Florida, in 2012. Even excluding residents from the visitor count, Times Square is the world's second most visited tourist attraction, behind the
Las Vegas Strip. The high level of pedestrian traffic has resulted in $4.8 billion in annual retail, entertainment, and hotel sales, with 22 cents out of every dollar spent by visitors in New York City being spent within Times Square.
Times Square is the site of the annual New Year's Eve ball drop. About one million revelers crowd Times Square for the New Year's Eve celebrations, more than twice the usual number of visitors the area usually receives daily. However, for the millennium celebration on December 31, 1999, published reports stated approximately two million people overflowed Times Square, flowing from Sixth Avenue to Eighth Avenue and back on Broadway and Seventh Avenue to 59th Street, making it the largest gathering in Times Square since August 1945 during
celebrations marking the end of World War II.
On December 31, 1907, a ball signifying New Year's Day was first dropped at Times Square, and the Square has held the main New Year's celebration in New York City ever since. On that night, hundreds of thousands of people congregate to watch the
Waterford Crystal ball being lowered on a pole atop the building, marking the start of the new year. It 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. Beginning in 1908, and for more than eighty years thereafter, Times Square sign maker
Artkraft Strauss was responsible for the ball-lowering. During World War II, a minute of silence, followed by a recording of church bells pealing, replaced the ball drop because of wartime blackout restrictions. Today, Countdown Entertainment and One Times Square handle the New Year's Eve event in conjunction with the Times Square Alliance. A new energy-efficient LED ball debuted for the arrival of 2008, which was the centennial of the Times Square ball drop. The 2008–09 ball is larger and has become a permanent installation as a year-round attraction, being used for celebrations on days such as
Valentine's Day and
The New Year's Eve celebrations are usually overseen by thousands of police officers. Aluminum barriers are erected to accommodate spectators; for the 2020 celebration, attended by a million people, barriers were erected from 38th to 59th Street and from Sixth to Eighth Avenue. Typically, the celebrations create large amounts of waste. The
New York City Department of Sanitation estimated that by 8 a.m. on New Year's Day 2014, it had cleared over 50 short tons (45 long tons; 45 t) of trash from the New Year's celebration, using 190 workers from their crews and the Times Square Alliance.
Impact of COVID-19
The onset of the
COVID-19 pandemic in New York City during 2020 reduced the number of people traveling to Times Square. About 108,000 pedestrians visited Times Square each day in late 2020 compared to the 380,000 before the pandemic. From March to October 2020, 26 of the area's 46 hotels closed, as well as 39 of 151 stores and 84 of 162 restaurants. Times Square was closed to the public for New Year's Day 2021 and observers were dispersed into enclosures measuring 8 by 8 ft (2.4 by 2.4 m).
Times Square is a busy intersection of art and commerce, where scores of advertisements – electric, neon and illuminated signs and "zipper" news crawls – vie for viewers' attention. Notable examples include:
Films and TV shows 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 the deserted urban canyon. In the pilot episode of the TV series Blindspot, Times Square is completely emptied due to an abandoned bag being suspected to be a bomb.
Times Square also has featured prominently in video games. For instance, in Grand Theft Auto IV, a recreation of the Times Square area referred to in-game as "Star Junction", is included in the game's fictional "
Liberty City" setting. Times Square is also shown in Battlefield 3, where the final fight with the main antagonist takes place, where the player must stop him from detonating a nuclear bomb in the square; and Crysis 2, in which player must fight off attacking alien forces to assist U.S. Marines in evacuating the area.Gran Turismo 4 also features Times Square both as a photo spot and as a part of the New York city circuit which also includes
The northern part of the square in 2004 before reconstruction, with Two Times Square in the center
^Any development under 60,000 sq ft (5,600 m2) was exempt from the rule; for larger buildings, the first 50,000 sq ft (4,600 m2) of a development was exempt from the bonus calculation. For example, in a building with 500,000 sq ft (46,000 m2), the bonus calculation was derived from 5 percent of 450,000 sq ft (42,000 m2), so the space to be set aside for entertainment uses was 22,500 sq ft (2,090 m2).
^Federal Writers' Project (1939).
New York City Guide. New York: Random House. p.
ISBN978-1-60354-055-1. (Reprinted by Scholarly Press, 1976; often referred to as WPA Guide to New York City.) "The phrase 'Great White Way' is supposed to have been coined in 1901 by O. J. Gude, an advertising man, who is said also to have been the first to see the tremendous possibilities of electric display."
^Times Square History, NYC Tourist. Accessed February 26, 2017. "Times Square is a major commercial intersection in central Manhattan at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue. It acquired its name in 1904 when Albert Ochs, publisher of The New York Times, moved the newspaper's headquarters to a new skyscraper on what was then known as Longacre Square."
^Rybczynski, Witold. City Life: Urban Expectations in a New World New York: Scribner, 1995. p.27.
ISBN0-684-81302-5. Quote: "...despite its name [Times Square] is really a street intersection, not a square."
^Sanderson, Eric W. Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City, 2009: Appendix A p 253; refs. G.E. Hill and G.E. Waring Jr, "Old wells and water-courses on the isle of Manhattan", in Historic New York, M.W. Goodwin, A.C. Royce, and R. Putnam, 1897; and others.
^Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, 1999, p.721.
"A Walking Tour of the Past and Present on Broadway"Archived August 11, 2018, at the
Wayback Machine, The New York Times, July 13, 1979. Accessed November 1, 2016. "The old stock and repertory company system made way for the Broadway hit and greater profits for the theater manager and owner, which, in turn, led to the rise of such theatrical entrepreneurs as Oscar Hammerstein, who struck out into the wilds of 44th and 45th Streets in 1895 to build his huge Olympia Theater in the 'Thieves Lair' area of Broadway."
"A Highway’s Starting Line, and a Flemish Firehouse"Archived March 8, 2017, at the
Wayback Machine, The New York Times, July 8, 2016. Accessed November 1, 2016. "The sign, which has been restored to the northeast corner of 42nd Street and Broadway, is quite authentic. It was placed there on Feb. 12, 2009, the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, to mark the Lincoln Highway, which was created in 1913 and was the nation's first coast-to-coast road."
^Times SquareArchived October 6, 2016, at the
Roger Ebert, November 17, 1980. Accessed October 5, 2016. "The story involves two teen-age runaway girls, an all-night disk jockey and the inhabitants of the Times Square jungle of New York."
^New Year's EveArchived October 7, 2016, at the
Roger Ebert, December 7, 2011. Accessed October 5, 2016. "What sins did poor Hilary Swank commit, that after winning two Oscars, she has to play the role of the woman in charge of the New Year's Eve ball in Times Square?"
^Vanilla Sky – Entertainment TonightArchived October 27, 2016, at the
Wayback Machine, The Uncool. Accessed October 5, 2016. "New York has never shut down Times Square for anything, much less a film crew.... But with the help of the New York Mayor's office, the city's film commission and the New York police Department, the Vanilla Sky crew actually pulled off a total Times Square closure, arranging to clear the entire area for 90 minutes on a Sunday morning in November of 2000."
^Good Riddance Day, Times Square Alliance. Accessed January 10, 2017. "Good Riddance Day is inspired by a Latin American tradition in which New Year's revelers stuffed dolls with objects representing bad memories before setting them on fire."