It’s one of the busiest and most luminous areas in the world, but it wasn’t always like that.
Even within its buildings today, if you look closely, you can find remnants of the past and of what once was, as well as other little secrets, like hidden art that you really have to look hard to find, and we’re here to help you out.
It Wasn’t Always Named “Times Square”
Although it is now known worldwide as Times Square, it actually used to be named “Longacre Square” until the New York Times moved its headquarters there in 1904, eventually outgrowing the building in 1913.
Interestingly, though, the area isn’t even a square at all, it’s more of a triangle with Broadway intersecting on a diagonal.
A Secret Art Installation Under The Subway Ventilation Grates
Max Neuhaus, known as a “sound sculptor,” created an installation also named “Times Square” underneath the subway ventilation grates between Broadway and 7th Avenue in 1977. Many walk through it without even noticing the emanating sounds.
Secret Handmade Ceramic Art Inside A Subway Station
Most visitors walk through the 42nd Street–Times Square subway station without catching the handmade ceramic reliefs between the N/R/Q/W corridor. They were sculpted by Toby Buonagurio and featured in the tunnel’s frosted-glass walls since 2005. There are 35 of them!
A Tiki Fantasy Bar That Makes You Feel Like You’re On An Island
The Polynesian is a tropical bar designed with wooden floors and rattan chairs, plus it’s got a lava-stone-topped bar and Polynesian art touches.
The bartender even brings out your drinks in ceramic skeleton cups. The bar is inside Times Square Pod Hotel, but it feels like it’s on an island.
The New Year’s Ball Just Sits Inside One Times Square All Year
It’s not completely hidden, either! Here’s how you can see it. Go to the roof of Walgreens Tower at 1 Times Square, and you’ll see an access door. If you open it and go outside, you’ll see a glow at the top of the stairs. If you go up, you will find the one and only 12-foot diameter New Year’s Eve Ball with its Waterford crystal and LEDs.
It weighs 12,000 pounds and is completely computer-controlled.
Times Square Was Once A Huge Hub For Adult Shows
In the 1960s ’70s, and ‘80s, prostitutes, peep shows, and adult movie theaters were everywhere around Times Square.
In fact, the rate of crime and drug use was at an all-time high. It’s kind of like what you see in the movie Taxi Driver. Most tourists and locals just avoided the area altogether as it was considered one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
Even Though One Times Square Is The Emptiest Building In the Area, It Makes Bank
The building was bought by Lehman Brothers in 1995, who wanted to rent it out to advertisers. Not inside…but with billboards outside the 25-floor building.
By 1997, even though the insides were still empty, the exterior was making tons of profit. The building is valued at about $500 million today, while it was bought for $27.5 million.
There Is A Secret Door That Leads To Nowhere
Back in the 1920s, people used to be able to enter the Knickerbocker Hotel straight from the platform through a corridor decorated with Art Nouveau pieces.
The hotel was famous for its watering hole and served New York’s elites, like John D. Rockefeller. Although that door is now sealed, you can still find it with a sign that says “KNICKERBOCKER” on the far end of Track 1 along the S line, linking Times Square and Grand Central.
Optimistic Café: If You Can Find It, You’ll Surely Be Leaving In A Brighter Mood
This is a small café, the kind that if you blink, you might miss it, but if you can find it, you get to indulge in some of the city’s best matcha lattes, artisan espresso drinks, pastries, avocado toast, and poached eggs.
The cheery space with its green walls, colorful mugs, and Scandinavian accents will make you forget you’re in one of the world’s busiest cities for a second.
Times Square Uses 161 Megawatts Of Electricity Every Year
That is so many megawatts that it’s enough energy to power approximately 161,000 average U.S. homes, and twice the electricity required to power all of the casinos in Las Vegas. All in one area! I mean, those billboards alone…
Times Square Is Not Actually As Big As You Think
Times Square is the space from Broadway and 40th in the east, 8th Ave. to the west, and 49th St. to the north. In fact, The TKTS red booth that many consider an integral part of Times Square isn’t even technically a part of it!
It Saw Its Biggest Crowd Ever In 1945
The square drew the largest crowd in its history, which was estimated to be nearly 2 million people, when people gathered together to celebrate the US victory in World War II on August 14, 1945.
That celebration is the site of the famous photo of a sailor kissing a nurse.
If You Look Hard Enough, You Can Find Remains Of Its Old Glorious Theaters
Times Square is known for its theater and Broadway stages, and it has been since the early 1900s. However, since then, some theaters were turned into cinemas after the Great Depression, and adult theaters have been altered or torn down, so its look has definitely changed.
To get a glimpse of how it used to be, you can still find remains like the former Loews Mayfair Theater that’s now a souvenir shop on 47th Street and 7th Ave.
As Of 2011, Times Square Is 100% smoke-free
Don’t get caught smoking anywhere in the area, or you can be fined $50, which, if you’re in NYC, you likely have a million other things you would rather spend it on.
Find a designated smoking area or leave the temptation at home.
Instagram-Worthy Murals Can Be Found In This Subway Station
If you’re passing through the 42nd Street–Times Square subway station, you’ll find a mural illustrated by pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. The New York native artist also has paintings featured at MoMA, the Met, and elsewhere, so enjoy this free public piece of a futuristic train shooting through an underground station.
The Confetti Thrown On New Year’s Eve Has Little Wishes Written On It
On New Year’s Eve, if you look closely at the brightly colored pieces of paper falling, you’ll notice that they actually each contain a handwritten wish written on them. Those wishes are written by visitors to the Times Square Visitor Center, located between 46th and 47th Street on 7th Avenue.
There’s A Hidden Bus Station From The 1930s In Hotel Carter
Hotel Carter used to be called Hotel Dixie, which was open in 1930. It was then used as a bus depot for the Central Union Bus Terminal. Buses would enter on West 43rd and then go underground. You can still find the point at which the buses would go underground.
Times Square Is So Bright, It Can Be Seen From Outer Space
Even when the sun goes down, Times Square remains bright wits billboards and LED lights on every corner. The light pollution is so bright that it’s one of the few places on Earth that astronauts can literally pinpoint from outer space.
A Hidden Map Is Available If You Get Lost
A trick if you get lost is to walk half a block north and look at the ground. You’ll find a 28-foot map that draws the locations of 40 professional Broadway theaters in granite and stainless steel, built right into the sidewalk. The map is also a memorial to the composers, lyricists, and playwrights that have theaters named after them.
You Can Be One Of Its 340,000 Daily Visitors
The area became pretty much car-free in 2009, when Broadway closed to cars. Now, it’s estimated that around 340,000 pedestrians walk through Times Square on a typical day.
Who knows, you could be one of those 340,000 on your next visit!