by Kevin Walsh

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

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”




Jeff B. December 31, 2018 - 11:21 pm

Hi Kevin –

Happy New Year!! Thanks for all your hard work through the years. I’ve been coming to FNY daily for a bunch of years now and I always learn something new about NYC and occasionally a new word. Keep up the great work – you keep posting, I’ll keep reading!

– Jeff

Mike January 1, 2019 - 9:11 am

Happy new year and thank u for the gift that is your site. I’ve been an avid reader since 2001 and will continue. U sparked an interest in nyc I didn’t know I had growing up in this great city. Again, thank you for all u do.

Sal January 2, 2019 - 8:11 am

Happy Anniversary! I have been a fan for all 20 years! Keep it going !!!

W.B. April 15, 2021 - 9:47 pm

The Mk II zipper around what was reclad in 1965 as the Allied Chemical Tower consisted of a total of 12,408 bulbs – an array of 11 horizontal rows spaced 4.5″ apart from one another, and 1,128 vertical columns spaced 4″ apart. Initially they used R20 light bulbs (and for the three sections which blared the ‘LIFE’ logo in-between news stories, 152 R14 red and 46 R16 white bulbs in a 22 x 9 matrix per section), but by the time this zipper was deactivated and dismantled in 1997 to make room for the MkIII LED zipper, it was mostly A21 flood bulbs.

There were three means of controls over the MkII zipper’s history. First was via Naxon Telesign of Chicago, IL, which created a new font for use on the 11-row high zipper (the C, G, J, O, P, Q, R, S, U, W, 2, 5, 6, 9 and $ symbols were rearranged from what the Naxon-controlled zipper atop the Bond’s Times Square store had been showing since such controls were put in place there in 1958); it flashed the news there through 1971, and was used for special occasions such as New Year’s Eve up to and including the point 1976 became 1977. Second font was one used in printing applications by Facit (such as model 4553) and Practical Automation, and seen on scoreboards at the summer 1976 Olympics in Montreal on some days; significantly, Reuters (which operated the zipper from late 1971 until 1977) had their own controls which used this font – they also purchased boatloads of Extel 70 teleprinters which likewise used this type. (It was also the first system controlled by computer rather than the old-style teleprinter-based perforator technology of old; plus increasing the count of alphanumeric characters to 63 from Naxon’s 44.) The third major controller for the zipper was Daktronics’ Venus system, beginning when New York Newsday took over operation in 1986; basically two of their custom typefaces were used, known nowadays as Sans Serif 7 (for news headlines; its lower cases were used in alternation with capital letters for some ads Newsday splashed on the zipper) and Fixed Width 7 (for the time and temperature display). (Daktronics’ “invasion” of Times Square began with that takeover of controls of that zipper; not unlike when Naxon Telesign assumed control of the Bond zipper in 1958 after its first six years, 1948-54, controlled by Trans-Lux which also served the controls for all but a few other ad zippers of the time in the area, followed by an unknown controller from 1954-58; this, after Naxon zippers appeared in other cities such as Dallas.)

The newer Mark III zipper (1997-2018) had 22,720 LED “pixels,” an array of 16 rows and 1,420 columns spaced 80mm (3.15″) apart both horizontally and vertically. The type used to flash the headlines in those 21 years was Daktronics Sans Serif 16.


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