Inventing Times Square

Inventing Times Square: Commerce and Culture at the Crossroads of the World

EDITED BY William R. Taylor
Prologue by Jean-Christophe Agnew
Afterword by Ada Louise Huxtable
Copyright Date: 1991
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 496
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7758/9781610445276
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Inventing Times Square
    Book Description:

    Times Square, in its heyday, expressed American culture in the moment of vivid change. A stellar group of critics and scholars examines this transitional moment inInventing Times Square, a study of the development of New York's central entertainment district. A fascinating visit to Times Square, from its christening in 1905 to its eventual decline after the Depression, the book explores the colorful configuration of institutions and cultural practices that propelled Times Square from a local and regional entertainment center to a national cultural marketplace.

    Changes in the economy, in religion, in leisure culture, and in aesthetics gave birth to a geographical space that fostered Vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley, Flo Ziegfeld and Billy Rose, the spectacle of the Hippodrome and the bright lights of the Great White Way. Out of this same place eventually came national network radio and many Hollywood films. Though conceived as a public space, Times Square was quickly transformed into a commercial center. Power brokers wielded their influence on a public ready to succumb to consumerism. Theatrical entertainment became a large-scale national business based in, and operated out of, Times Square. A new commercial aesthetic travelled with Joseph Urban from Vienna to Times Square to Palm Beach, bringing to society a sophisticated style that will forever say "Broadway."

    Times Square as the "center of the universe" had its darker sides as well, for it was the testing ground for a new morality. The packaging of sexuality on the stage gave it legitimacy on the streets, as hotels and sidewalks became the province of female prostitution, male hustling, and pornography.

    At the center of New York City, Times Square's commercial activities gave full rein to urban appetites and fantasies, and challenged and defied the norms of behavior that prevailed elsewhere in the city. Cultural history at its finest,Inventing Times Squareportrays the vibrant convergence of social and economic forces on Forty-second Street.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-527-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Business, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xi-xxvii)
    William R. Taylor

    When edward Bernays located his publicity firm in Times Square at the close of World War I, he thought of it as “the center of the universe.” Allowing for Bernays’s cosmic exaggeration, there is some truth to his claim, as the following chapters demonstrate.

    Those of us who met in a succession of conferences on Times Square during 1988–89 took the “crossroads” dimension of the subject seriously, although none of us realized at the time how much we still needed to know. We began our work with hunches not certainties, questions not answers. What significance, we wondered, did the...

  5. PROLOGUE

    • TIMES SQUARE: SECULARIZATION AND SACRALIZATION
      (pp. 2-13)
      Jean-Christophe Agnew

      If times square no longer serves as the Crossroads of the World, it can still provide a place where minds may meet, as this volume shows so well. The Square is a singularly fascinating place, and these chapters deepen our sense of that singularity and its fascination. Indeed, whatever else the chapters may be said to be about, they are about fascination; in one way or another, they all take up the question of the Square as an attraction, as a point of intense interest upon which Americans have banked for a century. A hundred years is a respectable run...

  6. I STRUCTURAL CHANGES

    • INTRODUCTORY ESSAY
      (pp. 16-35)
      Eric Lampard

      Contributors to this section—Structural Changes—have shown that, in one way or another, the inherited regional varieties of American life and livelihood were being changed in the direction of a so-called consumer culture well before the end of the nineteenth century. Even before the severe Depression of 1893–97, the trend was setviathe marketplace toward a mass consumption of more uniform semiperishable and semidurable goods, which climaxed in the consumer durable goods revolution of the 1920s. At that time the consumer culture seems to have been firmly, if not finally, established as “The American Way.”

      A new...

    • 1 DEVELOPING FOR COMMERCIAL CULTURE
      (pp. 36-50)
      David C. Hammack

      Times square became America’s great central marketplace for commercial culture between 1900 and 1929. With its garish lights, large and numerous theaters, close proximity to movie and radio headquarters, and stacked office warrens, it flourished as the great national showcase for popular music, vaudeville turns, plays, mass-market fashions, and consumer goods through the 1920s and, even as it was challenged by Hollywood, for many years thereafter. Times Square did not create its market. Indeed, the products of commercial culture were important to the nation’s economy long before Times Square emerged on the scene. But by the early 1920s Times Square...

    • 2 UPTOWN REAL ESTATE AND THE CREATION OF TIMES SQUARE
      (pp. 51-65)
      Betsy Blackmar

      Real estate investment is an enterprise that builds on omens and prophecy. In 1900, the editor of theReal Estate Record and Building Newsgreeted the new century by divining the signs of the “Present and Future of Forty-second Street.” Three “complex” and “vigorous” developments were already at work to shape the street’s future “character.” Theaters near Broadway were forming the core of the city’s “amusement center” and the “very heart of [its] night life.” A second “influence,” plans for the New York Public Library (along with exclusive clubs, expensive restaurants, and large retail stores) promised to establish “a rather...

    • 3 URBAN TOURISM AND THE COMMERCIAL CITY
      (pp. 66-82)
      Neil Harris

      Between the 1890s and the 1920s the creation of a new American social type would have particular meaning for the invention of Times Square: the domestic tourist, city genus. The urban tourist would do much more than help shape amusement centers, however. The physical character, systems of representation, and collective self-consciousness of many of our cities would never be quite the same thereafter. Both the imaging of New York in this period and the effort to define its special personality were stimulated by the heady experience of becoming this country’s major tourist center. Anticipated for many decades, by the 1890s...

    • 4 THE DISCIPLINE OF AMUSEMENT
      (pp. 83-98)
      Richard Wightman Fox

      The five-member subcommittee of New York’s Society for the Prevention of Vice and Crime was “amazed, shocked, and astounded” by a performance at the Shubert Theatre on a November evening in 1923. The musical variety show, “Artists and Models,” was in many respects “beautiful and fine,” and the audience “enjoyed most” and “generously applauded” those parts of the show that were “devoid of rottenness.” But in the first scene they were subjected to “a parade of women entirely nude from the waist up, and with very little, flimsy veiling from the hips down. The breasts of these women were completely...

    • 5 BROKERS AND THE NEW CORPORATE, INDUSTRIAL ORDER
      (pp. 99-117)
      William Leach

      Between 1890 and 1929 American society moved decisively into the corporate industrial age.¹ The long march from household production to the consumption of machine-made goods was over. Although the aggregate level of consumption had not changed much in 50 years, the character of consumption and its context had been fundamentally altered.² Corporate business took over the production and distribution of goods. Nearly all goods in cities could now be gotten only through acts of pecuniary exchange, where once they might have been bartered or produced largely in self-sufficient settings. Advertising, display and decoration, style, fashion, and service now operated nationally...

    • Photographs
      (pp. None)
  7. II ENTERTAINMENT AND COMMERCE

    • INTRODUCTORY ESSAY
      (pp. 120-132)
      Margaret Knapp

      For most of its history, Times Square has played host to a kaleidoscopic mixture of residential and commercial tenants, but in this century it has been most closely identified with the entertainment business. From the Olympia Theatre, which opened on Broadway in 1895 in what was then considered a dangerous “thieves’ lair,” to the lavishly renovated Forty-second Street theaters scheduled to reopen in the 1990s as a cure for the street crime that has plagued the area in recent years, mass entertainment in all its forms has been the decisive influence on the image of Times Square for New Yorkers,...

    • 6 VAUDEVILLE AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF POPULAR CULTURE
      (pp. 133-146)
      Robert W. Snyder

      An archaeological dig in Times Square would unearth some of the treasures of American popular culture. Starting from 1991, investigators would find remnants of the videotapes that have transformed public spectacles to private living-room entertainment. A little further down, they would find popcorn boxes, relics of the days when movies were presented in vast, palatial theaters. Deeper, they would find ticket stubs—admissions to an early form of musical theater, the Ziegfeld Follies. At the bottom of the dig, they would reach programs to a vaudeville theater called The Palace, and at that point they would be at the very...

    • 7 THE SYNDICATE/SHUBERT WAR
      (pp. 147-157)
      Peter A. Davis

      The decline of Times Square as the principal center of the American entertainment industry in the twentieth century is a well-documented and much discussed issue in theatre history.¹ Jack Poggi, A. Nicholas Vardac, and others have published accounts both statistical and humanistic for the area’s slide from the theatrical pinnacle in the 1920s to its current state as a poor third behind television and film.² Even within the context of so-called legitimate theater, Times Square and its economic extension commonly known as Broadway must now compete with a burgeoning regional industry that is equally influential. Most of the blame (and...

    • 8 IMPRESARIOS OF BROADWAY NIGHTLIFE
      (pp. 158-177)
      Lewis Erenberg

      Describing New York nightlife in early 1937,New York Timesentertainment reporter Bosley Crowther found business booming, “as has not been enjoyed hereabouts since the whoopee wild days of the late twenties.” Crowther attributed this development to the return of economic health and the public’s response to Prohibition and Repeal. Prohibition, he declared, made nightlife sneaky and illegal. Few places could operate without secrecy and high cover charges. “Night clubs thus became in the popular mind the exclusive resorts of wealthy revelers and perennial playboys.” Repeal, however, gave nightlife the opportunity to shed its disreputable past, to charge more moderate...

    • 9 THE ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT AT THE END OF THE 1930S
      (pp. 178-190)
      Brooks McNamara

      In our fantasies, Broadway is a kind of nostalgic generalization. Old movies, casual journalism, and popular fiction assure us that George M. Cohan and Florenz Ziegfeld dine endlessly at Sardi’s on some sort of perpetual opening night. Outside, Runyonesque characters loiter in Shubert Alley, beneath a forest of neon signs advertising theFolliesof nineteen-something-or-other. But the unromantic truth is that the theater district is a specialized commercial neighborhood. The neighborhood has always had a distinctive character, but that character has changed radically over the years.

      In Chapter 1 of this book, David Hammack remarks that “specialized land-use districts are...

    • 10 IRVING BERLIN: TROUBADOUR OF TIN PAN ALLEY
      (pp. 191-211)
      Philip Furia

      Jerome Kern’s equation of Irving Berlin with American music may seem like theatrical hyperbole, but during the first half of the twentieth century “American music” was largely the product of the industry known as Tin Pan Alley, and nobody epitomizes the Alley or its music better than Irving Berlin.

      Tin Pan Alley started out in the 1880s as a cluster of sheet music publishing houses in the Bowery, moved up to Union Square in the 1890s to be closer to vaudeville, then followed the movement of theaters and nightlife northward. By 1910 most publishers had moved up to West Twenty-eighth...

    • 11 BROADWAY: THE PLACE THAT WORDS BUILT
      (pp. 212-231)
      William R. Taylor

      Late in 1933 W. J. Funk, the lexicographer, circulated a list containing the names of the most prolific makers of American slang. The list was sent to a number of leading newspapers for comment. Most of the ten names, strikingly, were identifiable figures on the Broadway scene. The list included Sime Silverman, editor ofVariety;cartoonists Thomas Aloysius (Tad) Dorgan and Reuben (Rube) Goldberg; Eugene Edward (Gene) Buck, songwriter and principal librettist for Ziegfeld; Damon Runyon, by then famous as a writer of Broadway stories as well as a sportswriter and humorist; Walter Winchell, gossip columnist on McFadden’sGraphic(and...

  8. III COMMERCIAL AESTHETICS

    • INTRODUCTORY ESSAY
      (pp. 234-242)
      William Leach

      Visiting paris in 1912 the novelist Edith Wharton was upset to find that the French had adopted commercial floodlighting, which she identified with America. Once, she wrote, “the great buildings, statues, and fountains” along the Champs-Elysées were “withdrawn at dusk into silence and secrecy.” Now, they are “being torn from their mystery by the vulgar intrusion of floodlighting.” About the same time, Wharton’s friend, Henry James, was lamenting the spread in America “of towers of glass,” the business buildings full of newly installed commercial windows. These windows had nothing to do with “formal beauty,” James said; they had nothing in...

    • 12 NEW YORK’S GIGANTIC TOY
      (pp. 243-270)
      William Wood Register Jr.

      In December 1904 a recent innovation in electrical billboard advertising called the “talking sign,” high above Brooklyn’s most crowded shopping district, heralded the arrival of a new era in theatrical entertainment. With successive flashes of incandescent typescript, the sign exclaimed, “NEW YORK HIPPODROME … ENTERTAINMENT FOR THE MASSES … MANAGEMENT THOMPSON & DUNDY … NOW BUILDING OPEN JAN 1905.” Using a novelty to advertise a novelty was typical of the promotional style of Frederic Thompson, the showman who, with his partner Elmer S. “Skip” Dundy, had opened Coney Island’s most famous amusement park, Luna Park, in 1903. In 1904 and 1905...

    • Photographs
      (pp. None)
    • 13 JOSEPH URBAN
      (pp. 271-283)
      Gregory F. Gilmartin

      Carl Maria Georg Joseph Urban—his friends would call him Pepi or Dickus (Fatty)—was born in Vienna in 1872 into a bourgeois Catholic family.¹ His father was director of the city school system, a noted educational reformer. It was against his father’s wishes—at first, without even his knowledge—that Urban studied architecture at the Technische Hochschule and the Academy of Fine Arts. He became a protégé of Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer, the director of the Academy’s architecture section and the last of the great eclectic Ringstrasse architects, and after graduating in 1893, Urban worked in Hasenauer’s office. He...

  9. IV BOUNDARIES OF RESPECTABILITY

    • INTRODUCTORY ESSAY
      (pp. 286-296)
      Peter G. Buckley

      The following three chapters survey a range of “transactions,” cultural and sexual, not usually remembered in connection with Times Square’s Golden Age. Timothy Gilfoyle explores the presence of prostitution in advance of the theatrical development of the area. George Chauncey describes the various strategies developed by gay men to find space for their recreational and sexual life in commercial establishments and public places. Finally, Laurence Senelick details what might be termed thelong duréeof connection between the entertainment and sex industries on Times Square.

      As Senelick notes, illicit sexual activity is, to a large extent, boundless and timeless. Prostitution...

    • 14 POLICING OF SEXUALITY
      (pp. 297-314)
      Timothy J. Gilfoyle

      For most of the nineteenth century, prostitution was an integral part of New York’s thriving leisure economy. Brothels and theaters, concert saloons and dime museums, even restaurants and cigar stores introduced, protected, and profited from commercialized erotic activity. Sexual pleasure for men of elite, middle- and working-class backgrounds was frequently treated as a commodity, bought and sold in the urban entertainment marketplace. Distinct subcultures of prostitutes, “sporting men,” and underworld entrepreneurs were conspicuous elements of city life. During the final quarter of the century, entertainment districts like the Tenderloin in midtown, the Rialto in Union Square, and the Bowery in...

    • 15 THE POLICED: GAY MEN’S STRATEGIES OF EVERYDAY RESISTANCE
      (pp. 315-328)
      George Chauncey Jr.

      Forty-second street wasit, when I was a teenager,” recalled Sebastian (“Sy”) Risicato, referring to the days in the late 1930s when he still lived with his parents in the Bronx but was beginning to explore New York’s gay world. “Forty-second Street then was our stamping ground,” he continued:

      Closet queens, gay queens, black, white, whatever, carrying on in men’s rooms, and in theaters. There was a Bickford’s [cafeteria] there all night, and a big cafeteria right there on 42nd Street, one of those bright cafeterias where johns used to sit looking for the young queens. Lots of queens, everybody...

    • 16 PRIVATE PARTS IN PUBLIC PLACES
      (pp. 329-353)
      Laurence Senelick

      A London magazine reported recently on the current proliferation of Aprostitutes in the Earls Court area and commented on a passage of arms between a black transvestite and a “civilian”: “This incident occurred not, as you might have expected, on the sidewalk of Times Square but outside the Underground station in Earls Court Road.”² Violent encounters and flaunted deviancy are taken by the world at large to be “expected” in Times Square: the Great White Way is now a byword for ostentatious flesh-peddling in an open-air meat-rack. How has it come about that Times Square should be perceived as, to...

  10. AFTERWORD

    • RE-INVENTING TIMES SQUARE: 1990
      (pp. 356-370)
      Ada Louise Huxtable

      Times Square became Times Square on April 9, 1904. If it seems as if it has always existed in Manhattan schist and the universal consciousness, it is actually, at this writing, eighty-seven years old. That was the day Mayor George McClellan signed the proclamation that renamed Longacre Square in honor of the new Times Tower. At 375 feet, it was the city’s second tallest building, a stolid edifice faced in limestone and creamcolored brick, designed by Eidlitz and MacKenzie for theNew York Times—a building notable chiefly for its progressively engineered steel frame and pedantically designed details. It was...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 371-424)
  12. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 425-428)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 429-467)