68° Good Morning
68° Good Morning

Secrets of New York

The ultimate insider's guide to the best-kept secrets of NYC's must-see places and buzzed-about people.

Times Square.

Times Square. (Credit: Flickr / rfa247)


Secrets of Times Square

New York NY 10036

Most New Yorkers already know what's coming when friends and family visit from out of town. We can all recite it, even if the exact words change: "Hey, when do you think we'll go to Times Square?"

Before you tell them off and potentially ruin your relationship though, we have 15 reasons to reconsider. There's actually more to Times Square than meets the eye.

amNewYork took a walking tour with Alex Drywa, Vice-President of Manhattan Walking Tours, who gave us an inside look at one of the most visited places in the world.

The Lyceum Theater, on West 45th between Broadway

Credit: Caroline Linton

There once was an apartment above the Lyceum Theater

The Lyceum Theater, on West 45th between Broadway and 6th Avenues, is the oldest continuously operating theater in New York City. The theater was the first-ever Broadway theater to get landmark status by the city, which has allowed it to keep its original Beaux-Arts architecture. Those strange windows on the top level are part of the original theater, which are now offices, converted from an old apartment. When Daniel Frohman, a theater producer, opened the theater in 1903, he built an apartment above it--with a trap door where he could watch the productions, most of which starred his wife, Margaret Illington. Illington received plum roles in the productions due to her marriage to Frohman, and she was famous for overacting the parts while he was watching from above.

On 43rd Street between 7th and 8th, a

Credit: Flickr / @josepha

The last seedy hotel may soon be gone

On 43rd Street between 7th and 8th, a relic of the old Times Square still remains: Hotel Carter, which has retained its charming bedbugs, petty crime, drugs and shady ownership. In fact, Hotel Carter has been named the dirtiest hotel in the country three times by Trip Advisor. That might all soon change. Longtime owner Tran Dinh Truong died in 2012 without a will, leaving the fate of the hotel up in the air. His heirs have since inked a deal with real estate investor Joseph Chetrit for a reported $190 million. It's unclear what Chetrit's plans for the building are, but it's likely he won't keep it as is.

Despite being such prime real estate, any tenant

Credit: Caroline Linton

One Times Square is just giant ad space

Despite being such prime real estate, any tenant of One Times Square would probably suffer from some type of depression from the eternal darkness. Luckily, the only tenants are Walgreens, which are on the first three floors, and the Times Square Ball. The original building housed The New York Times (who held a New Year's Eve party to celebrate in 1903, setting the tradition in place), and then a number of different tenants before Allied Chemical bought it 1963 and redid the classic architecture to be more modern--and house billboard ads on the north side. The building passed between a number of owners over the next 30 years, and eventually was in bankruptcy and bought in 1995 by Lehman Brothers for just $27.5 million. Realizing the potential profit for ad space was greater than the money generated from rent, Lehman Brothers converted the building in a giant ad billboard before selling it for $110 million in 1997, making a 400% profit over just two years, according to The New York Times. Walgreens became a physical tenant of the building in 2008, when it moved into the first three floors.

Times Square is often considered the center of

Credit: Flickr / rfa247

Times Square is not named after "time"

Times Square is often considered the center of the universe, but there is no giant clock that gave the famous intersection its name. Instead the "square" got its name in 1904, when The New York Times moved from "newspaper row" in the Financial District to what was then Longacre Square at 42nd Street between 7th Avenue and Broadway to what is now known as One Times Square. The surrounding triangle was named Times Square in the paper's honor. But The New York Times is no longer located at One Times Square, or in Times Square at all. They moved to 43rd and 8th in 1913 to what is now known as the Times Square Building, and then eventually moved to a new skyscraper called The New York Times Building at 40th and 8th Ave.

Times Square is dominated by skyscrapers and grand

Credit: Caroline Linton

You can still get a glimpse of old New York

Times Square is dominated by skyscrapers and grand relics of the past. But if you make the trek to 8th Avenue, you can still see the neighborhood as it once was. The skyscrapers are visible on all sides, but five four-story walk-ups remain on the east side of 8th Avenue, with a parking lot-turned-gift market on the northern edge. The buildings house a Playwright's, two gift shops, a restaurant and a deli. All it's missing is a sex show to make it a total throwback.

Times Square used to be famous for its

Credit: Caroline Linton

There are still some relics of the sex industry

Times Square used to be famous for its pornographic theaters, sex clubs, gay theaters and live nude shows. But those seedy days are long gone, with just a few relics remaining, such as the Playpen on 8th Avenue (which moved from 693 8th Avenue, the old location of the famous gay club the Adonis, but is now a Shake Shack). At 699 8th Avenue, the once famous Show World Center, a sex facility with strippers, peep shows, video booths and an adult movie selection, stopped live nude shows in 1998 and closed for good in 2004. Part of the downfall for the sex industry was a 2001 law that banned "adult enterprises" from being less than 500 feet apart. The sex clubs, shops, theaters and more are also banned from being less than 500 feet from churches, schools and homes.

Twenty-four hour news cycle. Ho-hum, right? Not for

Credit: Caroline Linton

This is no ordinary news ticker

Twenty-four hour news cycle. Ho-hum, right? Not for the Zipper, the news ticker on One Times Square. When the Zipper debuted in 1928, it was the first time real-time news could be displayed. Crowds gathered outside in Times Square to read the headlines, most famously on August 15, 1945, when millions watched the news that Japan surrendered in World War II and a sailor grabbed a young woman for spontaneous kiss. Despite its fame, the Zipper hasn't always been in operation, especially after the Times stopped operating it in 1961. It was dark from 1961 to 1965, and then again from 1977 to 1986, before eventually being revived by Newsday in 1986. Pearson PLC briefly took charge at the end of 1994, but Dow Jones settled in for the long term in June 1995.

As West 42nd Street was being built up

Credit: Caroline Linton

The Empire Theater was not always in this exact spot

As West 42nd Street was being built up and Disney-ifed, the Hilton Hotel wanted in. Hilton secured a location on West 41st Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, but it was not within the Times Square boundaries, and thus they would be denied a coveted Times Square address. Hilton instead lobbied to get at least a sliver of real estate on 42nd Street (the southern tip of Times Square), but they were blocked by grand (but now decrepit) Empire Theater, which had protected landmark status. So in 1998, the 3,700-ton Empire Theater moved 168 feet to the west down the block, keeping all intact along the way. Watch a time-lapse video of the movement here. Now an AMC Loews 25, the lobby, designed by Thomas Lamb, is still there in all its glory (despite a bedbug scare in 2010).

The 15-story Times Square Hotel opened on 43rd

Credit: Google

The old Times Square Hotel is now affordable housing

The 15-story Times Square Hotel opened on 43rd Street and 8th Avenue in 1922 as a tourist hotel for men. Despite its majestic architecture and grand marble lobby, it later fell into disrepair. By the 1980s, it changed hands several times between Covenant House, which provided housing for homeless youths, and New York International Hostel before eventually defaulting back to another owner. A nonprofit called Common Ground partnered with the city to buy the building, and it created the current building, which houses 650 former homeless and low-income tenants.

The Hard Rock Cafe is housed in the

Credit: Caroline Linton

This is not just the Hard Rock Cafe

The Hard Rock Cafe is housed in the Paramount Theater, a once-glorious movie theater for Paramount. The Art Deco theater opened on November 19, 1926 with the premiere of the film "God Gave Me 20 Cents" and a stage show with Thomas Edison in attendance. The grand movie palace had 3,664 seats, a Wurlitzer Organ built for the theater, French Renaissance interiors and murals in the theater's dome. The theater served as a premiere showcase, Paramount's NYC headquarters, live music and in the 1950s, it became a site for live rock shows. Two of the largest mobs in history were held outside the Paramount: On October 25, 1944, over 30,000 bobby socks-wearing girls shrieked for Frank Sinatra and broke out in a riot when they were not allowed in, and on September 20, 1964, thousands of girls descended upon the Paramount for a Beatles charity show. The theater closed in 1966, and was soon gutted for office space--including the famous logo, arch and marquee. The World Wrestling Federation recreated the exterior while developing the WWF New York, a restaurant and club. It closed in 2003, and the Hard Rock Cafe soon moved in.

Credit: Caroline Linton

Times Square is not really as big as you think it is

"Times Square" is generally accepted to be anywhere from Broadway and 40th in the east, 8th Ave. to the west, and 49th St. to the north. In fact, what many consider one of the most iconic parts of Times Square, the bright red TKTS (where the "Glee" kids even sang a homage to New York, "I Love New York / New York, New York"), is not actually part of Times Square. It's Father Duffy Square, who is memorialized with a statue in front of the TKTS booth. Father Duffy was a decorated military chaplain during World War I and then later the pastor of Holy Cross Church on 42nd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.

No one who had a television in the

Credit: Caroline Linton

The old Milford Plaza owners most likely made a killing

No one who had a television in the tristate area in the 1980s can forget the Milford Plaza, or the "lullaby of Broadway." The dancing bellhops and singing maids were not the only profitable part of the hotel, though. A hotel first opened on the property in 1928, known as the Hotel Lincoln (complete with a glittering sign). By the 1950s, it had become a rundown apartment hotel, and developer William Zeckendorf stepped in and evicted the old tenants and renamed it the Manhattan Hotel (with the iconic "M" atop the building). It wasn't enough to save the hotel, however, which once again fell into disrepair. In 1978, the Milstein family bought the hotel for $400,000 to stop it from falling into bankruptcy. They renamed it the Milford Plaza and kept the "M." After a family feud, the family sold the property in 2010 for a reported $200 million. The giant "M" is gone and the hotel has been renamed Row NYC. The old Milford Plaza sign remains, and the hotel is still the seventh-largest hotel in NYC.

John's Pizzeria on West 44th Street between 7th

Credit: Caroline Linton

John's Pizzeria is known as the 'Cathedral of Pizza'

John's Pizzeria on West 44th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues still offers a traditional pie for under $20, but that's not what makes it so special. It is housed in the Gospel Tabernacle Church, a 19th-century church, and it has retained the church's original architecture. The stained-glass dome ceiling still exists, and the brick ovens adorn the edges like altars. This has all given John's the nickname the "Cathedral of Pizza."

The New Victory Theater on 42nd Street between

Credit: Getty Images / Andrew H. Walker

The New Victory Theater has a colorful history

The New Victory Theater on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues now presents shows for children and families year-round--the only theater of its kind in the world. But Times Square being Times Square, you can bet the theater has a, um, colorful background.

Oscar Hammerstein I built the grand theater in 1900, when it opened as the Theatre Republic with a production of the play "Sag Harbor" starring Lionel Barrymore. The theater changed hands (and names) before eventually being converted into a burlesque house (the first on Broadway) in 1931, called Minksy's Burlesque. Gypsy Rose Lee was among the performers at Minsky's Burlesque.

The theater reopened as a movie theater in 1942 called the Victory Theater, but in 1972, it transitioned into becoming the first porn movie theater in Times Square. In 1990, New York City took over the building and it reopened as the New Victory Theater--focused on children and family-friendly entertainment. Only in Times Square can something reinvent itself so completely.

Despite its romantic reputation, 42nd Street between 7th

Credit: Caroline Linton

42nd Street wasn't always so family-friendly

Despite its romantic reputation, 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues was anything but that in the 1980s. In fact, that one block accounted for 2,300 crimes in 1984 alone, with 20 percent of those crimes being serious felonies such as murder or rape, according to the City Journal. But the same block is now home to Disney's New Amsterdam Theater, which led the Disney revival of the area when it re-opened the historic Beaux-Arts theater with "The Lion King" in 1997.


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.