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Even if you’re not specifically planning to visit Times Square, you may find it’s impossible to avoid this bustling thoroughfare, which is not just the convergence of Broadway, Seventh Avenue, and 42nd Street but also the cultural confluence of New York City.
Here, at this frenetic intersection — known to some as The Crossroads of the World — travels will find some of the greatest theater productions on Earth, as well as many of the most prominent buildings and cultural attractions in the Big Apple.
But it’s not all neon signs and crowds, though you’ll find plenty of both in Times Square. Even if you regularly find yourself in this neck of the New York City woods, there’s always a thing or two to learn. Here are 8 things even long-time New Yorkers may not know about Times Square.
Times Square got its name when the namesake newspaper, The New York Times, took up residence in the building (now known as One Times Square) in 1904. That was the year the mayor of New York renamed Longacre Square after the paper, though it took less than a decade for the Times to relocate again. Fortunately, the name stuck.
Records show New Yorkers have been celebrating the New Year in Times Square since The New York Times took up residence in the neighborhood. But the ball drop dates back to 1907, wood-and-iron globe decorated with 100 light bulbs was lowered from the top of a flagpole. Now, the Times Square Ball weighs nearly six tons and is illuminated by 32,256 LEDs.
In the Knickerbocker Hotel’s former life, there was a stairwell that linked its lower-level restaurants and bars directly with the subway. Today, vestiges of this passageway can still be found near Platform 1, where you can catch the shuttle connecting Times Square and Grand Central Station. Sadly, you can no longer pass through this doorway to the Knickerbocker — but you can see proof of the passage, eternalized in a plaque above the sealed white door.
It’s not called the Great White Way for anything. Times Square is home to a dizzying number of brightly-lit digital billboards and signs, and it’s so bright that, at night, astronauts on the International Space Station can easily see the neighborhood from outer space. In fact, buildings here must have aminimumamount of display lighting. The area has a reputation to uphold, after all.
Enter Times Square, and you’ll be surrounded by hidden artworks. At the pedestrian corner where Broadway meets 7th Avenue, between 45th and 46th streets, visitors might hear a strange “hum”—you’ll have to be alert to hear the sound emanating over the cacophony of visitors and street vendors. This is a work by sound designer Max Neuhaus, originally installed in 1977 and revived in 2002. And if you’re in Times Square in the minutes before midnight, you might notice a synchronized art display on the district’s billboards. Called Midnight Moment, the digital exhibits change every month. In March, Jeffrey Gibson’s “She Never Dances Alone” will fill the screens of Times Square with a celebration of indigenous culture.
In May of 2009, Broadway closed to vehicles between 47th and 42nd Street in an effort to improve traffic in the neighborhood. The result? Some over 400,000 people walk through here, including the so-called Broadway plaza, every day. And it inspired additional pedestrian plazas that opened in the ensuing decade, including Union Square.
For an intimate introduction to the theater district, you can join a designated Broadway Up Close walking tour led by actors and stage crew. Join the Broadway’s Beginnings tour every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday morning at 11 a.m.
Despite being one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the country — and being the landmark skyscraper that gave Times Square its name — the building is currently home only to a ground-floor Walgreens and the iconic New Year’s Eve Ball and the event’s headquarters. It makes enough revenue from the advertisements on its facade to pay for it to remain otherwise largely unoccupied.
After your run, there’s so much more to explore in New York City. Check out our NYC Travel Guide for recommendations on where to eat and what to do here in New York.