The last time I spent an afternoon in Times Square, it was the coldest day of the winter in February 2016. The temperature had dropped to one below in the morning, below zero in NYC for the first time in over 20 years, and that after a Christmas Eve when the thermometer had soared to 75. Naturally, I gravitated toward Times Square on the one day of the year when it would be underpopulated. Even then, things were pretty busy and the traffic, which is more restricted than ever in Times Square with all the pedestrian plazas, was roaring as usual.
For all of my lifetime Times Square has been considered “the crossroads of the world” and it’s certainly NYC’s entertainment mecca, with Broadway theaters, restaurants, movie palaces (especially on 42nd Street, which used to be lined with marquee after marquee). My father and I would take the subway in from Bay Ridge in the 1960s. For some reason I was fascinated by the “news zipper” on what was then the Allied Chemical Tower. When I was a kid, I didn’t know that it was constructed in 1905 as the Times Tower, the home of the NY Times, in a Beaux Arts style that would be torn away and covered with billboards in the 1950s. The Times had been there only a few years before moving to West 43rd Street; it’s now on 8th Avenue and West 42nd.
In the 1970s and 1980s, though, I avoided Times Square as the mood became dark and dangerous and most of the movie theaters were showing porn and muggers were around every corner. After years of this, I was grateful when the muggers and the porn were pushed out for Disney; I frequented neither the porn nor the Disney, but at least it was safer. More sophisticated minds than mine decry the cleanup and say it’s not the “real” New York. For me, the tourists have something to see and if they want to eat Olive Garden or Red Lobster, that’s fine, but independent entrepreneurs shouldn’t be pushed out by the chains.
When most people walk around in Times Square, they see the video screens, the colors, the glitz. Me, I know what’s under them — there are some very old buildings under the ads and screens, some of which go back to when Times Square was Longacre Square, home of the carriage trade.
Take West 47th Street and Broadway, across from Duffy Square and the red staircase and TKTS Broadway tickets booth. The billboards and signs have changed from 2016 when I got this photo but the building underneath hasn’t, and neither has its “J.A. Keal’s Carriage Manufactory, Repairing” painted sign. It’s under there, waiting for another demolition a century from now that will reveal it again.
When I saw it in 1998, it sparked something in my mind and I decided to record all these old signs and different bits of infrastructure. I drew up a schematic for a new website in an office at Publishers Clearing House in a building in Port Washington that itself has now been abandoned and may be demolished. Forgotten New York has just about completed its 20th year, as its 20th anniversary is March 26, 2019. There will be a new website design soon, and hopefully I’ll be marking the anniversary other ways as well. Happy new year and thanks for reading my screeds in 2018 and everything else since 1999, and I’ll do this as long as I am able.
Please help contribute to a new Forgotten NY website