Remnants of Old Times Square
There are remnants of the original Times Square everywhere you look, and I have learnt about the ones I am writing about in this post over many years. Some are remnants or pieces of original buildings, while others are being restored as a tribute to their past.
My biggest regret is that I didn’t bother to take photographs of everything that caught my attention over the years, so much of which has disappeared to make way for the glitzy new buildings that have become the norm in Times Square.
Here are the ones that I am introducing you to in this post –
- Knickerbocker Hotel
- Paramount Building
- Israel Miller’s Shoe Store
- Buildings that have moved from their original locations
- Elk Hotel
- Sony Hall
- Carter Hotel
- New Victory Theater
- Holy Cross Church
- Kaufman Army & Navy
- Drama Book store
- Studio 54
- McGraw Hill building
- Second Stage Theater
- Edison ballroom
- Church of Saint Mary the Virgin
- The Times Square
- Stage Door Canteen
1. Knickerbocker Hotel
Knickerbocker Hotel, at the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway, was renovated and reopened in 2015. I first learnt of it when the rooftop bar St Cloud opened, which was a fantastic option for meeting up with friends in the summer. The building itself was interesting enough to pique my curiosity, and I learnt that it originally opened as a hotel in the early 1900s, and went through many transitions before it opened back up again as a hotel under its original name. What is fascinating is the bits of history that are still around today if you know where to look.
For instance, the subway station below still has a doorway, though blocked, that connected it to the hotel so subway riders has easy access to the restaurants and bars in the hotel. This doorway is off the S train platform, and looks like any other door till you look at the name that has been preserved above.
In fact, the name of the Hotel is also visible above information about the history of the station as one of the original 28 stations that opened in 1904. I have used this exit from the subway station many many times before noticing the Knickerbocker name, and it has literally just been there all this time!
Moving on to St Cloud, which is the rooftop lounge at the Knickerbocker Hotel, a lot of the original elements of the Knickerbocker Hotel were restored during the renovation, giving it a very retro feel. 4
St Cloud has a marvelous view of the Times Square Ball, and the top of the Paramount Building, details of which are below.
2. Paramount Building
The Paramount Building at 43rd Street and 7th Avenue used to originally be a movie theater below the Paramount offices. It was once the tallest in Times Square, and is recognizable by a large four faced clock that is topped by a glass globe. I learnt that the globe on top was painted black during WWII, and was restored only in 2000. I believe the clock chimes at 1:45pm and 7:45pm every day to alert theatergoers their show is about to begin, though I have yet to experience this. In fact, the Paramount Building now houses a Hard Rock Cafe!
The stars on the clock, representing the hours, are from Paramount’s logo.
3. Israel Miller’s Shoe Store
At the NE corner of 46th Street and Broadway is a fascinating building that offers no prizes for guessing what it originally used to be with the inscription – The Show Folks Shoe Shop Dedicated to Beauty in Footwear. It is easy to see that shoes have always been important as a fashion accessory! Run by I. Miller in the early 1900s, this building is a throwback to the way things used to be, especially with the statues on the façade that were inspired by the leading ladies of the day. The façade was restored and cleaned up over the last few years, revealing what it looked like a century ago.
The 4 ladies featured on the front of the building are –
- Ethel Barrymore as Ethel
- Marilyn Miller as Sunny
- Mary Pickford as Little Lord Fauntleroy
- Rosa Ponselle as Norma
4. Buildings that have moved from their original locations
I first learnt about buildings being moved from their original locations in the context of the AMC Empire 25, which was moved down the block to form the base of this movie theater. I still find it hard to understand how this was even an option, but it happened. The lobby of this movie theater complex still retains some of its original glory.
More recently, the Palace theater has been in the news for finishing an ascent of 30 ft from its original location as part of a major redevelopment to make space for retail space under it. It is currently a construction site, a picture of which I am pasting below so you can what it looks like as compared to a picture from 2015 while An American in Paris was playing there, a show that I went for of course. I saw Annie at this theater as well.
5. Elk Hotel
Elk Hotel was a pay by the hour hotel on 42nd Street. While it finally shut its doors in 2012, the sign for the hotel is still up in 2022, and the front door – which only says hotel – has been boarded up and become more graffiti clad over the years. Elk was still operating as a pay by the hour hotel when the big condo next door finished construction in 2006, and co-existed with a state of the art condo next door for six years before it finally closed for good.
6. Sony Hall was originally a nightclub called Diamond Horseshoe
Sony Hall in the basement of the Paramount Hotel on 46th Street between 7th and 8th Ave originally opened as the Diamond Horseshoe Nightclub in the 1930s. Operated by Billy Rose, it was a very opulent and successful dinner theater and club before it became a theater in the 1960s, and evolved to become Sony Hall in 2020. A fun fact is that Gene Kelly got his start on Broadway as a choreographer at the Diamond Horseshoe!
7. Carter Hotel
Carter Hotel was originally the Dixie Hotel, and had the dubious reputation of being one of the dirtiest and most unsafe hotels in America. It originally extended from 42nd to 43rd Street, and while its footprint decreased over the years to an entrance only on 43rd Street, its signage is prominent and still visible from multiple blocks around it. It is currently undergoing extensive construction, so all that can be seen is its signage from multiple streets.
What makes this interesting for me is that the hotel originally housed the main bus terminal in its basement till Port Authority took over as the main bus terminal in the 1950s. As the space was limited, there was a turntable in the basement that rotated to maximize the movement of buses.
Playpen is one of the last original sex shops operating in Times Square, and a holdout that has managed to survive over years of changes in policies and the neighborhood. There used to be multiple such sex shops on 8th Avenue, all of which have closed down to make way for new buildings or businesses.
The sign on the door advertising a male section is a nod to the neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen, which has evolved to become predominantly gay over the last 15 years.
9. New Victory Theater
New Victory Theater is one of the oldest theaters in New York, and located on 42nd Street. It is ironic that it is a children’s theater today as it was Broadway’s first burlesque house in the 1930s, and went on to become a porn theater before its current reincarnation as a youth focused theater. I have seen some very interesting shows here over the years, and yes I do mean children’s shows!
10. Holy Cross Church
Holy Cross Church is the oldest structure on 42nd Street, and is also referred to as Father Duffy’s Church. It is located right across Port Authority between 8th and 9th Avenues.
While pastors from this Church have worked to combat crime and poverty over the years, Father Duffy was its most famous pastor. Father Duffy was a chaplain of the Fighting Irish regiment that fought in WW1. He had such an influence on the neighborhood that he also has a square in Times Square named after him, with his statue towering over the neighborhood he helped to clean up.
It is not uncommon to see lines of people queued up for food drives outside the Church even today.
There is a status of Father Duffy in Times Square in a square named after him as well, Duffy Square. It is on the northern end of Times Square right below the red steps that are part of the TKTS booth, and right next to the Great White Way.
The Church celebrates Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17th every year.
11. Kaufman Army & Navy
Located a couple of doors away from Holy Cross Church is Kaufman Army & Navy, a military surplus store that has been on 42nd Street since the 1940s. This store was originally located in downtown Manhattan, and moved to its current location when the store downtown was demolished for the World Trade Center.
If you look in the space below, there are two black boxes on either side of the doorway. Kaufman used to have two cannons in these spaces that I have crossed often, but never bothered to photograph. I happened to catch the owner when he was opening up the store one morning in April 2022, and he said the cannons have been sent for cleaning, and look just like they did in 1898. However, he has no plans to bring them back given the state of crime in the neighborhood. This was a tough lesson learned for me to photograph anything that catches my fancy as it may not be around in New York! This is similar to the stars on the fashion hall of fame on 7th Avenue, they were just there, till they were not.
12. Drama Book Shop
The Drama Book Shop specializes in all things theater, and has been go to place for the theater community in New York for over a century. While it has moved a block away from its original location to 39th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, and is under different ownership since it was acquired by a group of collaborators including Lin Manuel Miranda a few years ago, it is continuing its tradition of being a hub for the theater community in New York. It is actually a really fun book store to visit just a few blocks from Times Square, café and all.
13. Studio 54
Studio 54 is probably the best known of New York’s nightclubs of all time. Located on 54th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue, It has been an opera house, a TV studio, a nightclub, and in its most recent reincarnation a Broadway theater. I have visited it only as a Broadway theater, and it is still imposing in its grandeur, with a nod and a wink to its past with an animal print on its carpet!
14. McGraw Hill Building
McGraw Hill building is across from the Holy Cross Church on 42nd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. As one of the original skyscrapers in the neighborhood, it was imposing in its design and choice of color. Although McGraw Hill shifted their business out of the building and it has changed ownership over the years, the sign at the top makes it live on as the McGraw Hill building.
15. Second Stage Theater
Second Stage Theater is an off Broadway theater located at the intersection of 43rd Street and 8th Avenue. I love going for shows at this location as it used to be a Bank! The ticket office still has the heavy vault doors that one would expect to see in a Bank, and the safe deposit box room lives on as a storage area right off the elevators. The theater itself has tall imposing windows that have curtains that are open before and after a performance, and are drawn just as the performance begins.
16. Edison Ballroom
The Edison Hotel on 47th between 7th and 8th Avenues used to have a very imposing ballroom, which over the years was carved out to make room for Cafe Edison, a favorite among the theater crowd. This has been replaced by a Friedman’s restaurant, but the walls still bear remnants of their grandeur from the years that this space used to be a ballroom.
17. Church of Saint Mary the Virgin
On 46th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues, is the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. This is the kind of Church that I hunt down to visit in Europe, and it is right there in the middle of Times Square, which is so unexpected! Its ceiling is a starry wonder, and I have been fortunate to attend an amazing organ concert here, which is a far cry from the buskers right outside in Times Square.
18. The Times Square
The Times Square on the corner of 43rd Street and 8th Avenue was built in 1922 as a grand hotel, and evolved to become a crime ridden building in a state of disrepair when it was acquired by Breaking Ground in 1991 as a supporting housing residence. Its history is well documented in the many plaques that are outside the building, and the lobby, a picture of which is below, is a throwback to what the building was like in its glory days.
19. Stage Door Canteen
On 44th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues is a discreet plaque – which is easy to miss – that commemorates the Stage Door Canteen, which was an entertainment venue for servicemen during WWII.