The Manhattan Project: Famous for Being Famous
Sarada Anne, MBA Class of 2017
I spent my summer in Midtown Manhattan. I took the F train to work every day and, at the end of my ten-week internship, I realized that it was definitely the worst of all the New York City Subway lines. My internship made me realize one other thing: I truly detested Times Square. It was one thing to be annoyed at people who didn’t keep up with the average pace of a Manhattan sidewalk, but to feel the sort of derision I felt for an acre of two of prime real estate? It felt like I had finally arrived.
My intense feelings, however, were not caused by whatever makes the average New Yorker treat Times Square like the epicenter of an outbreak. They were because of a sinister feature it shares with many other places around the world (I’m looking at you, La Rambla): Times Square is famous for being…famous.
Longacre Square, the area that is now Times Square, was the center of the city’s carriage trade and it was named for a similar area in London. It was part of a larger area knows as the Tenderloin, also evocatively called Satan’s Circus thanks to the bordellos, night clubs and casinos that dotted the area in the late 1800s (the seediness would continue till Mayor Giuliani’s “cleanup” efforts in the 1990s). This did not stop the crafty owner of The New York Times, Adolph Ochs, from moving his newspaper’s headquarters from Park Row (which was also called Newspaper Row) to Longacre Square.
The move, coupled with the opening of the Subway system in 1904, ensured that the area would become a more diversified commercial hub. Whether you love Times Square or hate it, you have only Ochs to blame. He persuaded the Mayor to open a subway station and rename the square after his enterprise. Less than a month after that, the first electrified advertisement appeared in Times Square.
Ochs is also responsible for the annual New Year’s Eve Ball Drop, a marketing gimmick that he started when the city banned fireworks displays. It was an instant success and replaced Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan as the preferred destination for a New Yorker to ring in the New Year.
The newspaper moved its headquarters over to another building within ten years of starting this tradition, but the ball continues to plummet 140 feet, once a year from the same location: One Times Square. The building, probably among the priciest real estate in the world, now serves as a giant billboard and is basically empty. Walgreens leases 21 floors but occupies only the first floor; the guy who manages the ball drop shindig sits on the 22nd floor. One Times Square is representative of most things in Times Square: it is just a hollow, neon-fueled enterprise.