Give My Regards to Broadway

Long-time readers of this blog are fully aware that we are true Cheapos. On previous trips to New York City we have spent time enjoying what there is to do and see at no cost: walking through Central Park and the South Street Seaport; taking free guided tours of the public library and of Grand Central and its neighborhood. Our visit to the city last week was no different. After googling “free stuff to do in NYC” once again, we decided to take advantage of the tour of Times Square on Friday.

The online instructions told us to meet at noon on Broadway between 46th and 47th Streets at the Times Square Visitors Center, which in the 1920s was the elegant Embassy movie theater. Judy, our guide, began the three-hour tour by
telling us that Longacre Square changed its name soon after the New York Times moved to this part of the city in 1904. It was actually because the subway system, which opened for operation the same year, called its stop Times Square that the designation began to change. The location’s reputation has evolved over the years as well. For a long while, 42nd Street and its surroundings were filled with prostitutes, porn shops, and peep-shows. By 1986, however, a group now called the Times Square Alliance was well on its way to reinventing the area. In its current form, Times Square has been “Disney-fied”; the blocks in and around it contain one quarter of all of the New York hotels; it is also the entertainment center of
the city, being at the heart of the theater district. This transformation was in part accomplished by a non-profit organization, the Theatre Development Fund (TDF), which got the idea of attracting people back to the theater by offering low same-day purchase prices at the TKTS discount booth. Once an unsightly trailer, the building is now an unusual, triangular shape, complete with glass steps which offer stadium-type seating for people waiting hours to buy tickets.

Our guide pointed out other landmarks on or near the square. The Palace Theater (1913) was home to many vaudeville acts and in 1941 was the site of the premier of Orson Welles’s famous film Citizen Kane. The renovated
Renaissance Hotel has beautiful copper paneling and hand-blown glass lighting; the view of Times Square from its stylish bar is nothing short of amazing. The eleven-story Art Deco style Brill Building housed music industry offices from 1931 till the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll; performers such as Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, and Nat King Cole
leased offices in the building; songs such as Yakety Yak and Save the Last Dance for Me were produced here. Saint Malachy Catholic Church (1903), lovely with its murals of angels, set up a midnight mass on Saturdays for actors. The I. Miller building (1926) provided shoes for dancers and non-dancers alike; the exterior is decorated with statues of four famous women of the period, including Mary Pickford. The New York Times building still stands on the south side of the square, but is unrecognizable because it, like most structures here, is covered with huge electronic billboards. In fact, it is now a requirement that all Times Square buildings have bright, moving lights on them.

We learned a lot from the tour which only cost us a tip for the guide. There’s so much fun to be had for next to nothing in the big city. Future trips will allow us to see the Union Square area and perhaps Bowl-Mor lanes, located in Times Square.

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