In the 19th century, the Times Square neighborhood - an area of midtown Manhattan running between 40th and 54th Streets north and south and Sixth and Eighth Avenues east and west - was called Longacre Square. It was a ramshackle area of horse stables, carriage-repair shops, bars, and brothels.
In 1895 Oscar Hammerstein built a playhouse on 42nd Street, beginning a transformation. Then in 1904, Adolph Ochs moved his New York Times newspaper offices from lower Manhattan to a tall, slender building at One Times Square. The Times later moved its headquarters a block away on 43rd Street, but the One Times Square building still stands as a windowless, modern-day repository of megasigns and giant video screens - including the Panasonic CNBC-TV - atop of which "the ball" has dropped every New Year's Eve since 1907.
Hotels, like the Algonquin on West 44th Street, where the actors John Barrymore and Douglas Fairbanks lived, and the Knickerbocker, on 42nd Street and Broadway, where opera great Enrico Caruso maintained a 14-room apartment, also rose here in all their elegance. The Metropolitan Opera House, built at 39th Street and Broadway, was joined by a growing number of legitimate theaters with their gas-lit marquees.
By the 1927-28 season, nearly 300 plays and musicals opened at 60-odd theaters scattered throughout the Times Square area, in what loosely became known as The Great White Way or Broadway. Forty-second Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue had at least 11 theaters, four of which are still operating. In all, 33 theaters remain in the area.
Experts on the neighborhood, such as Brendan Sexton of the Times Square Business Improvement District, say city zoning laws and the theaters' status as historic landmarks will virtually ensure their survival well into the 21st Century.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society