Times Square and Broadway
With the transformation of several blocks of Broadway into a pedestrian plaza in 2009, Times Square and Broadway Theatre District is an even more pleasant place to visit. Some say that Times Square has been sanitized since Disney came to town, but it’s such a major improvement over the well deserved sleazy reputation that the area had for several decades that I certainly wouldn’t complain.
Broadway between 40th and 47th streets — known as The Great White Way because of the preponderance of neon and other lights — is now not only clean and safe, but also a must see for visitors to New York.
Zoning ordinances actually require lighted displays in Times Square and the lights have never been brighter on Broadway. A wide variety of displays including vinyl signs, zipper boards, reader boards and video screens turn night into day. Nasdaq’s eight-story billboard at Broadway and 43rd is the world’s largest video screen. Some signs also incorporate mechanical elements to provide movement to all or part of the sign. Broadway’s meeting with 7th Avenue at such a sharp angle that they become one street from 42nd to 47th creates a high density of acute angles and building frontage.
Companies have used this frontage as a gallery for large, electric advertisements since before World War I. The signs — known as “spectaculars” — have been composed of neon tubes, grids of incandescent light bulbs, and light-emitting diodes (LED). There is a lot to see in Times Square beyond the bright lights of Broadway. Hop-on, Hop-off tours are a great way to see Times Square and all of New York. Several of the open top classic double decker bus tours start here or nearby. A night tour through the area is popular.
ABC’s Good Morning America has a street-facing studio at Broadway and 44th street and MTV is across the street in Astor Plaza. The Virgin Megastore is in the next block north with the off-Broadway Astor Theater on the corner of Broadway and 45th. (Off-Broadway shows are those that play in theaters with 100-400 seats, off-off-Broadway theaters have 100 seats or less).
Another off-Broadway theater, Duffy Theatre, is directly across the street from Duffy Square — actually a smallish triangular island formed by the intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue — named in honor of Father Francis P. Duffy.
Several famous New York delis can be found at the north end of Times Square, including the Carnegie Deli, Roxy Deli and Maxie’s. After theater crowds spill in every evening and the most popular delis have a line out the door all day. Theater goers often stop at a New York deli for dinner after the show to stretch that unique New York experience just a little longer.
This area was originally known as Long Acre (or Longacre Square), then renamed Times Square after the Times officially opened its new headquarters here on New Year’s Eve 1904. A street party with a fireworks display was thrown to celebrate the occasion, beginning a tradition that continues today. It was 1906 when the first glass ball — illuminated and weighing 400 pounds — was lowered from the tower flagpole at midnight to mark the beginning of the new year. The use of a ball being lowered to signal time dates to the early 19th century when a Royal Navy captain, Robert Wauchope, suggested it as a signal that could be see from ships in the harbor. The time ball as chronometer (marine time-Keeper) was first used in Portsmouth, England in 1829. A time ball continues to be dropped daily at 1:00pm on the roof of Flamsteed House at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England.
New 42nd street — formerly just 42nd street and seediest part of the city — has been transformed into a family-oriented entertainment mecca. The intersection of Broadway and 42nd street. Known by New Yorkers as “The Crossroads of the World,” is probably the most recognized intersection on earth because millions of people see it on television every New Year’s Eve. It’s also the near center of the theater district. The New Amsterdam Theater — an Art Nouveau theater opened in 1903 where the Zeigfield Follies were until 1927, renovated by Disney and reopened in 1997 with The Lion King which still plays to packed houses — and the Disney Store is just down the street at 214 and 218 42nd. A lot of city money went into these two, and other, properties and the transformation that they began is amazing.
The American Airlines Theatre, built in 1918 as The Selwyn, Ford Center, opened in 1998 combining the Apollo (1920) and Lyric (1903) and New Victory Theater, home to Minsky’s Burlesque from 1930 to 1942, are across the street.
And then there is Madame Tussauds New York — six floors of interactive wax museum exhibits — the Broadway City video arcade, 26 screen AMC theater, Loews Cineplex E-Walk (Regal), Chevy’s Fresh Mex, sushi chain Yoshioya Restaurant and B.B. King Blues Club & Grill to round out the family oriented entertainment on this one block of 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues.
Other family friendly entertainment in Times Square includes ESPN Zone (sports themed restaurant and store), Toys “R Us — with the largest store in Times Square including a 60 ft. Ferris wheel, full size Barbie house and candy land — the Hershey Store, Popcorn Indiana, Creamstone Creamery and Ben and Jerry’s scoop shop to satisfy the kids sweet tooth (yours too), Planet Hollywood and the Mars restaurant, where you ride a spaceship to your table.
The renewed success of theaters, stores and restaurants in Times Square has attracted several new hotels to the area and encouraged major renovations of many of the historic hotel properties in the area.
Shoppers are not slighted in Times Square. There are larger versions of many chain stores and specialty stores including a Hello Kitty store, Swatch, Skechers and New York Yankees store. I mentioned the Virgin Megastore above (claims to be the “world’s largest entertainment store”) and there’s a MTV store below the MTV studios.
Classic music can be purchased at Colony and classical guitars at Alex Musical Instruments. 47th St Photo & Cameras is famous throughout the U.S. (I bought my first 35mm camera there via mail order from Spokane, WA in 1971) and there are more jewelry stores than you could visit in a week. Souvenir stores and street vendors are everywhere you look in Times Square so you don’t have any excuse to go home without that New York trinket for Aunt Mary. The 42nd Street-Times Square station of the New York Subway is a major transfer point tied via the 42nd Street Shuttle to the 42nd Street-Grand Central Station and Grand Central Terminal at Park Avenue.