Almost everyone knows about Times Square in Manhattan. It is that overly crowded, tourist trap that smells bad in the summertime. Aside from being one of the most iconic scenes of New York City, Times Square has an incredible history that will inspire you to go check it out for a second or third time when you are in the Big Apple.
1. Times Square used to have another name
Prior to 1904, Times Square was referred to as Longacre Square and was a popular center for the New York carriage industry. But when the New York Times moved their headquarters to the square, the name changed. However, the Times only stayed in that building until 1913.
Other nicknames for Times Square include “The Crossroads of the World,” “The Great White Way,” and “The Center of the Universe.”
2. Busy intersection
Times Square is one of the world’s busiest pedestrian intersections, comparable to the Shibuya Scramble intersection. In fact, around 335,000 people pass through Times Square daily.
Of course, if you have ever been to Times Square, you will realize it is more of a triangle since the intersecting roads come in from a diagonal.
3. Red light district
Once upon a time, Times Square was a seedy location. During the 1960s to the 1980s, there were prostitutes, peep shows, and adult movie lounges lining the roads around Times Square.
Drug and crime were rampant, and many locals and tourists would actually go out of their way to avoid Times Square. In fact, in 1981, the Rolling Stone called West 42nd Street the “sleaziest block in America.”
Around the 1990s, Rudy Giuliani led an effort to control the pornographic industry and pressured the danger to relocate. This opened the area up to become the popular tourist hub that it is today.
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4. There is a hidden bar
And yes, you totally have to seek it out, because you might find yourself in the company of music and movie stars. The bar, called Bar Centrale, is located on Restaurant Row in an unmarked townhouse on W. 46th Street.
In fact, there are a number of hidden bars and restaurants throughout the city, but Bar Centrale is the only one near the Theater District and is famous for being invisible.
5. Permanent sound
Over the hustle and bustle that owns Times Square, there is actually a permanent sound installation located at the subway grate between 45th and 46th Streets and Broadway.
You will barely be able to hear it over the noise, but the sound belongs to the artist Max Neuhaus who created a layered sound clip that plays on loop for 24 hours every day. The Dia Foundation maintains it, alongside several other art and sound installations throughout the city.
6. Smoke free
In February 2011, Times Square become a smoke-free spot as New York expanded the outdoor smoking ban to the popular spot. If you are caught smoking, you could be fined up to $50. Definitely not the way you want to spend your shopping money, eh?
7. Houston, we have a problem
So, here are a couple of interesting facts that all compile up to the punchline: first, Times Square had the first wind and solar energy powered billboard in 2008. Times Square is also the only neighborhood with zoning ordinances that requires buildings to have illuminated displays.
And because there are so many lights, Times Square has a glorious nighttime glow that is so bright that yes, astronauts can actually pinpoint the location from space.
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8. Famous kiss
I am sure you have seen the iconic photograph of the soldier kissing the nurse with Times Square all aglitter in the background by now. That was at the end of WWII, and the real story still remains unclear.
Even the identities of the man and woman are completely unknown. Alfred Eisenstaedt was the photographer for Life Magazine who was shooting photos that day and was lucky enough to capture the shot, but he never got the subject’s identities.
Times Square might seem like a place where tourists gather beneath the glimmering billboards, but there is much more to the location than meets the eye.
Now that you know these facts, next time you go, start a “Did you know” conversation with someone else at the historic site. Or, how about staging your own famous kiss?