This is primarily a review of Lynne Sagalyn's 2001 book, Times Square Roulette: Remaking the City Icon. The book is a magnificent display of thorough research, deep thinking, and professional handling of everything that makes the history of what the author calls “an internationally recognized symbol of urban redemption”. What she means by this phrase is the radical transformation of one of New York’s most iconic places: the Times Square in the title.
Lynne Sagalyn begins her book with a description of the gloom and privation that characterized the area up until the 1970s, when Times Square was known primarily for its criminal life: a red-lantern district where prostitution had replaced love and pickpocketing had taken over all economic enterprises.
|(c) The Telegraph, UK|
"How did the icon of sleaze and pornography transmute back into the popular entertainment and glitzy commercialism? What is it about the character of the transformation of place that derivatively wiped away New York’s image as a “big, bad city” and, in the process, put a shine on city life in general?"
A polyphonic non fiction account
|Condé Nast Building in Times Square. (c) travellingboard.net|
|(c) Vintage 42nd Street|
“How can the unique history of a place be capitalized upon to make distinct places? What are the associations that give identity to a place and bind people to its legacy, its memories, even in the midst of decay? To phrase it another way, to what extent can city planning rewrite a place’s legacy? The answer is firmly embedded in the Times Square saga – not a lot and only at great political cost.”
“Mildly insane by day, the square goes divinely mad by night.”
“Movies merged extraordinarily well with the nation’s demographics because they occupied an economic niche between audiences for whom theatre was too expensive, vaudeville too crude, and nickelodeons too dark, dirty, and cheap.”
“The slide downhill from grinders to burlesque to grit to commercialism to honky-tonk debauchery to sex on the hoof to a marketplace for pornography is a story in itself, a moving montage of cultural images, societal mores, and sexual boundaries.”
“By 1980, when the city and state started to formulate plans for West 42nd Street, the tally of years added up to more spent down-at-the-heels than in commercial glory.”
Sex and the City
“In 1970 the pornography business in midtown Manhattan had just begun to locate its best customers – the vast population of office workers proximate to West 42nd Street, who on either side of the journey home were within striking distance of Times Square. The people count was higher than that of Rockefeller Center, by a great deal: 49,000 persons entered 42nd Street between Sixth Avenue and Eighth Avenue during the morning rush hours, compared with about 12,000 at Rockefeller Center.”
“Well positioned, erotica could afford to pay high rents, rents sometimes as much as twice the front-foot rate prevailing for an ordinary store on West 42nd Street. Operating on a 24-hour basis, the theatres and especially the peep shows generated heavy gross revenues; for instance, in 1978, when they studies the scene, CUNY researchers estimated that the weekly gross of peep shows ranged from $74,000 and $106,000 or roughly $5 million a year.”
|The New Amsterdam (c) Inpark Magazine - News|
|A map of a dystopian Manhattan (c) The Grid|