Named after the one-time headquarters of The New York Times, which centers on 42nd Street and Broadway. It consists of the blocks between 6th and 9th Avenue from east to west and 39th and 52nd Streets from south to north. It makes up the western part of the commercial area of Midtown Manhattan.
New York Times publisher Adolph S. Ochs had moved the paper's operations to a new tower on 42nd Street in the middle of the area known as Longacre Square. Ochs persuaded Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr. to build a subway stop there and rename it Times Square. On April 8, 1904, officiated by Mayor McClellan, it was renamed Times Square. Just three weeks later, the first advertisement appeared on the side of a bank at the corner of 46th Street and Broadway. The Times moved out of the tower in 1913, although it remains in the neighborhood. Later known as the Allied Chemical Building and now known as One Times Square, the tower is the site of the annual New Year's Eve ball drop. On January 1, 1907, a ball signifying New Year's Day was first dropped at Times Square, and ever since the Square has been the site of the main New Year's celebration in New York City. On this night hundreds of thousands of people congregate to watch the Waterford crystal ball being lowered to the ground marking the new year. It replaced a lavish fireworks display from the top of the building that had been held from 1904 to 1906, but was outlawed by city officials. During World War II, a minute of silence, followed by a recording of church bells pealing, replaced the ball drop because of wartime blackout restrictions.
Times Square quickly grew as a cultural hub full of theaters, music halls, and fancy hotels. "Times Square quickly became New York's agora, a place to gather both to await great tidings and to celebrate them, whether a World Series or a presidential election," writes James Traub in The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square. Names such as Irving Berlin, Fred Astaire, and Charlie Chaplin were closely associated with Times Square in the 1910s and 1920s.
The atmosphere changed with the onset of the Great Depression during the 1930s. Times Square became a neighborhood full of "peep shows," erotic all-night movie houses, and stores selling cheap tourist merchandise. The change is captured in Damon Runyon's stories, including his collection Guys and Dolls. In the decades afterwards, it was considered a dangerous neighborhood by many. The seediness of Times Square was a famous symbol of New York City's danger and corruption during the period from the 1960s until the 1990s. Influential and dark films such as Midnight Cowboy and Taxi Driver had many scenes in Times Square, while its grindhouse cinemas routinely showed films of a sleazy nature.
In the mid-1990s, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (1994-2002) led the effort to clean up the area, including closing up sex shops, increasing security, and opening more tourist-friendly attractions. The cleaning process began when the local government issued an injunction against the tight clustering of the porn shops in the 42nd Street area. Many of the sex shops closed or moved to industrial areas in Brooklyn or Queens. More recently, such establishments have been shut down and more up-scale establishments have opened there.