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42nd Street: At the Crossroads

(Page 3: Times Square)

An excerpt from "Down 42nd Street: Sex, Money, Culture, and Politics
at the Crossroads of the World
"
by Marc Eliot

Postcard
Vintage postcard of the Times Building postmarked February 1909. From the collection of Alan Ladd. Click here to e-mail this as a virtual postcard.
THE NEW Times headquarters officially opened on New Year's Eve 1904. To celebrate the occasion, Ochs threw an all-day street party that concluded with a fireworks display set off from the base of the tower. Much to Hearst's anger and disappointment, the promotion proved so successful that Times Square immediately replaced City Hall Park as the favorite gathering site for New Yorkers to ring in the new year. By 1906 the crowds had grown so large that the Times, by now fully integrated into the new social and economic scene that had blossomed around its namesake square, began a holiday custom that soon became recognizable around the world as the official time and place America noted the arrival of the new year. To mark the annual occasion, Ochs arranged to have a large illuminated four-hundred-pound glass ball lowered from the tower flagpole precisely at midnight to signal the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

Legitimate theater impresarios now fell over one another to open new playhouses in a neighborhood that just a few years earlier none would go near, believing then that Long Acre would never be good for anything but crime, drugs, and prostitution. Before the arrival of the New York Times, the square had developed more of a carnival atmosphere than one conducive to a corporate alley. Not long after, dozens of prostitutes worked both sides of the Times Tower, resulting in relatively few new nonentertainment big-dollar investors relocating directly on 42nd Street.

Indeed, the business of sex dramatically increased its visibility on the city's newest and most popular main drag as its purveyors moved to compete for the newly available entertainment dollars by dressing up their street women and fashionably upscaling the houses they occupied. Onetime two-dollar streetwalkers now dressed in high style and proudly walked with umbrellas twirling on their shoulders in the midday sun. They could afford to spend money on clothes and accessories, as most worked two jobs, one as a prostitute and one as a showgirl at the many new dance halls built along the west side of the street-often referred to now as "Soubrette Row"—to accommodate the neighborhood's growing everyday populace. Five years into the new century 42nd Street became the showcase boulevard where merchants of the sunny side competed with hawkers of the shady to sell the workingman his ticket to get into, if not in on, the great American dream.

As for Abram Hewitt, whose original vision of a subway had led to the first great wave of commercial development on 42nd Street, historical anonymity was to be his fate. Hewitt never again enjoyed any widespread measure of public acceptance. Economic decline, meanwhile, eventually befell the New York publishing empire of William Hearst, whose sensationalist moral outrage he continued to vent in his papers. No longer just Jews but Democrats, union organizers, Wall Street speculators, bootleggers, and show business entrepreneurs all came before the loaded barrel of his editorial gun. Nevertheless, none of his publications was able to displace the stalwart New York Times as it became the city's, and the nation's, newspaper of record.

Copyright © 2001 by Rebel Road, Inc. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of http://www.twbookmark.com.

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