|One Times Square, with Times Square Tower|
(2004) in background (2010, photo by author)
|One Times Square, 1904|
To me, however, perhaps not surprisingly, Times Square's sheer gaudiness fairly reeks of the sort of tawdriness that too often marks our American culture, the kind where commercial style overwhelms all semblance of cultural substance. When the New York Times erected their new headquarters building in 1904 on the site of what was formerly called Longacre square, it was the second tallest building in the city (behind only the still extant Park Row Building downtown on the flanks of City Hall Park). Before long, a subway line was extended to the area and the first electrified advertisement appeared on a building at the corner of 46th and Broadway.
|The Paramount Building in 2006. The clock and globe|
at the top were once illuminated (photo by author)
|Times Square, 1965 (photo @theboweryboys.blogspot.com)|
Nothing, perhaps, signals the problems, as I see them, of Times Square more poignantly than the fate of One Times Square, formerly the Times Tower. As originally constructed, One Times Square bore more than a passing resemblance to Daniel Burnham's great Flatiron Building (1902) at 23rd, 5th, and Broadway. Both were built on triangular parcels caused by the imposition of the meandering Broadway on to Manhattan's street grid. And both were ornamented in classic Beaux-Arts style, lending a dignified ambiance to their distinctive wedge-like shapes.
|Times Square, 1904. On the left is the Times Tower. To the right is the late, |
lamented Astor Hotel with its exquisite mansard (photo @shorpy.com)
|One Times Square, 1960s|
What does this say about America and its culture? Nothing very complimentary, I'm afraid to say. I have nothing necessarily against advertising, even the type of garish electronica one sees today in Times Square. Nevertheless, I do abominate the desecration or destruction of beauty in the interests of such tawdriness. The preference of so many Americans of the cheap, shallow glitz of Times Square to the historic splendor of Soho or the city's unsurpassed cultural offerings likewise says plenty about the philistine character of the national aesthetic and intellectual consciousness. That is one thing I know for sure is not going to change.
I leave you with three pictures I took last week of the old Knickerbocker Hotel (now Six Times Square), one of the last unaltered survivors of the days of Times Square's original glory. The juxtaposition of its Beaux-Arts splendor with the banality of its tawdry modern neighbors causes me to shake my head in melancholy disbelief.