20 Things You Didn’t Know About Times Square

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The most-visited tourist attraction in the world receives over 40 million annual visitors each year, with approximately 300,000 visitors each day. From star-studded Broadway shows to world famous stores and restaurants, “The Crossroads of the World” is the hottest place in town. Be sure to check out these live cameras from Times Square. 

As with the 20 Things You Didn’t Know About Central Park post, you may already know some of these items, but hopefully you’ll pick up a few new facts.

1. Times Square has it’s very own Visitor Center and Museum, which is free to the public. It’s housed in the famous Embassy Theater, which is the world’s first newsreel theater. At one time, it was the only US theater managed and staffed solely by women. Visit their New Year’s Eve Wishing Well to write a wish on a piece of confetti, which will be released to the world on New Years Eve. Learn all about the history of Times Square in this 6,000 sq. ft. mini-museum. Take a glance at some of the costumes from NYC’s most famous Broadway shows. See the New Year’s Eve Ball from 2007, which simulates the New Year’s Eve Countdown every hour.

3. On New Year’s Eve, close to a million people congregrate to celebrate the ‘Dropping of the Ball’. The ball was actually replaced by an energy efficient ball in 2008 and it is 12 feet in diameter and weighs 11,875 pounds. The ball has the capability to showcase over 16 million vibrant colors and billions of patterns, giving it a beautiful kaleidoscope effect.

4. The world famous ball drops from a pole atop the 25-story One Times Square building and the ball is timed to reach the bottom of the pole at precisely 12 midnight, New Year’s Day.

 

Times Square

In the Time Square neighborhood there are 40 theaters including 22 landmark Broadway theaters.

 

5. Times Square’s NASDAQ sign cost over $37 million to build and it’s the largest LED sign in the world, at 37-feet high. There are approximately 50 super signs advertising everything from clothing to food products to banks. In 1917 the first large electric display billboard was installed. Eleven years later, the first running electric sign was lit for the first time, to announce Herbert Hoover’s victory in the Presidential elections. The billboards have become such a tourist attraction for the area, that the zoning now requires the buildings to be covered with billboards and it costs between $1.1 million and $4 million a year if you want to buy one. Anyone want to sponsor one for US City Traveler?!

6. The 1929 stock market crash led to the area being replaced with pornographic “peep shows.”  In 1913, it was estimated that 150,000 daily visits to prostitutes took place in Times Square. In the thirties, the Great Depression led to a sharp decline in theater attendance. Many businesses had to close down, and they were quickly replaced by strip teases and and peep shows. But after the Second World War, the Theater District was booming once again and yet again, by the end of the sixties, the area started to go downhill and by the mid-seventies, tourists just avoided Times square, which had become a dirty, crime-ridden and drug-infested place.

7. New York City began a slow but steady push to clean up Times Square in the 1990s, which was led by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. In fact, people referred to this as the ‘Disneyfication’. Why, one might ask? Well in the 1980s redevelopment proposals didn’t get too far off the ground, but when the Walt Disney Company opened a Disney store on Times Square in the 90’s, families once again flocked to this former hot spot. Today, it’s once again a thriving must-see tourist destination.

8. In 2011, Times Square became 100% smoke free. The measure fines any person smoking within the area a fee of $50. Smoke down the block and save that money for a taxi.

 

Times Square

Times Square’s shape is actually not that of a square but rather a bow tie, formed by the intersection of Seventh Avenue, 42nd Street and Broadway in Midtown Manhattan.

 

9. The first Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration was held in 1903 when a New York Times newspaper office decided to celebrate the company’s opening in Times Square. So it was actually named after the newspaper itself. Approximately 200,000 people attended the 1903 event and it was considered such a fantastic way to ring in the New Year that by 1904, going to Times Square to celebrate was a new tradition. In 1907, the firework show was replaced by an electrically lit ball which was lowered down a flagpole to symbolize the very second midnight hit and 1908 was officially declared.

The Times Square Ball has been dropped every single New Year’s Eve since, except for 1942 and 1943 in accordance of wartime blackouts. The original New Year’s Eve Ball contained 100 light bulbs and descended down a 141 foot pole while the current version has a computerized multi-colored LED lighting system and an outer surface made of highly-reflective triangle-shaped crystal panels that descends down a 475 foot pole. The ball is on display all year.

10. The ball was actually made by “Waterford Crystal,” a glassworks company that is located in the county of Waterford, Republic of Ireland. While it is a little ironic that this great American landmark wasn’t made in these great states, Waterford Crystal is proud to call the Times Square Ball one of its most famous products, having made the 2,668 crystals that adorn it.

46% of Americans pick Times Square as the #1 place to celebrate New Year’s Eve, while 56% of Americans will be watching the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration on TV, with over 100,000,000 U.S. television viewers and over one billion television viewers worldwide. Over 275 broadcasters worldwide carry the event.

11. Times Square is home to MTV’s headquarters and ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ is broadcast in front of a live audience from its office at 44th and Broadway. There are a variety of Broadway shows and well over 100 restaurants and shops in the area, including their flagship, super-sized 100,000 sq. ft. Toys”R”Us, which has a 60-ft indoor ferris wheel. They also have a 2 story doll house, a five-ton, 20 ft. high animatronic T-Rex, and they host a variety of characters like Barney and Spider-Man, along with celebrities like Vanessa Hudgens and Miranda Cosgrove. They offer 45-minute private walking tours that offer a behind-the-scenes look at the “world’s greatest toy store.” It was the world’s largest toy store when it opened in 2001. The Toys”R”US company also operates the FAO Schwarz toy brand, which includes their famous NYC toy store on fifth avenue, which is where kids can play on the giant piano from the Tom Hanks “Big” movie (they are actually currently considering leaving this iconic location).

12. Th Times Square Applebee’s rakes in over $13 million a year, making it the highest grossing location of any Applebee’s in the world. The highest grossing restaurant in all of NYC is called Smith & Wollensky, which makes over $25 million a year – it’s the 3rd Highest Grossing Restaurant In America.

One of Times Square’s most unique restaurants is called Ellen’s Stardust Diner and it is the home of the singing waitstaff! The sining begins at breakfast and runs late into the night and ranges from classics to today’s latest hits. This retro 1950s themed diner offers a diverse selection of American cuisine. Or you can get the feel of dining with the stars at the famous Times Square Hard Rock Cafe (which is actually open for breakfast!), it’s where you can dine while admiring memorabilia from The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Billy Joel, Madonna, Gwen Stefani and Elvis Presley.

13. It’s home to 6 massive hotels, with countless others just steps away. The hip, super trendy W Times Square (rates start at $469 a night) offers amazing views with all of the latest 21st century decor. Renaissance Hotel Times Square (rates start at $279 a night) is among the cheapest, while the Sheraton New York (rates start at $299 a night) recently underwent a massive $160 million renovation and offers a nice complimentary breakfast to its guests. The Doubletree Guest Suites (rates start at $314) is the only all-suites hotel on Broadway, which has 460 spacious rooms, offers warm complimentary cookies to each of it’s guests (as it has for the past 25 years) and welcomes guests to their popular 24-hour fitness and business centers. Crowne Plaza Times Square (rates start at $314 a night) has nearly 800 guest rooms in this prominent location.

Lastly, one of my favorites is the famous Marriott Marquis Hotel (rates start at $332 a night), which was built in 1985 and has become famous for it’s massive 45-story lobby. Floors 37-49 actually aren’t open to guests because they are used as offices. Parking costs $55 a day – that’s the price of a motel in many parts of the country! But this hotel’s most famous aspect brings us to our next fun fact.

But my favorite is the Yotel New York (rooms from $149), featuring an ultramodern atmosphere as you check in at touch-screen kiosks similar to those found at airports, but only a bazillion times cooler. Guestrooms are decked out with purple mood lighting, near-silent heating and cooling systems, a Techno Wall fitted with a flat-screen LCD TV, lots of power points for laptops and other devices, Wi-Fi, an iPod or MP3 connection for playing music through the TV speakers and a motorized bed that expands to full size at the push of a button. The hotel’s tech de resistance is the world’s first-ever robotic luggage handler. A 15-foot robotic arm towering in the lobby behind a glass window, the Yobot picks up your luggage and safely stores it in a wall of drawers before or after check-in. It’s just 2 blocks West of Times Square.

14. Dine at the Marriott Marquis’ restaurant is called “The View.” It’s the only revolving restaurant in all of New York, offering panoramic, 360 degree views of the city skyline. Some of their signature American cuisine specials from their 3-course prix-fixe (which is $79 a person + tax & gratuity) include the Sunchoke Tortellini, Wild Boar Chop and Lamb Ribeye.

 

TKTS

 TKTS Times Square is the ultimate NYC ticket shop.

 

15. Pictured above is the TKTS booth in Times Square, which sells day-of-performance show tickets at discounts of 20-50% off their face value! They alse sell full-price tickets to future performances and shows that are not discounted. They first opened in 1973 (they recently celebrated their 40th anniversary!) and now also have 2 other locations around town. The ticket booth you see above actually cost $19 million to build! Over $50 million tickets have been sold. They actually release new tickets throughout the day, with more tickets typically available within a few hours of showtime.

16. New York’s Madame Tussauds wax museum let’s you get a snapshot with over 200 of your favorite celebs. These include Obama, Miley Cryus, Justin Bieber, Madonna and my favorites – Paris Hilton and Kim K! It’s located right off the square, on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth.

17. Take some time out to tour NBC studios or catch a taping of “Saturday Night Live” or “Dateline NBC” (although you’ll have to make reservations well in advance). The NBC tour gives you a behind the scenes look at the studios of shows like the Today show, The Dr. Oz Show and MSNBC. You can also purchase some of your favorite TV show memorabilia at the building on 49th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.

18. You may run into the Naked Cowboy, Times Square’s most famous entertainer who can often be seen wearing nothing but cowboy boots, a hat and briefs, along with a guitar placed around his midsection. He actually ran for president in 2010 to represent the US Tea Party Movement. He even has his own website where he sells a “Fear God Hate Sin” DVD, Naked Cowboy Underwear and even an $800 guitar!

19. Planet Hollywood Times Square recently hosted Miley Cyrus for a CD signing. New York’s only Planet Hollywood, which is a chain that became famous from cool memorabilia and big-name Hollywood owners like Arnold Schwarzenegger, recently decided to split is three-story size in half, to make way for a new Buca di Beppo italian restaurant.

20. Look out for bogus super hero and sesame street creatures all over the place wanting to take photos with your kids. They go around in “ratchet” lookin’ sub par costumes, many of which, I think Walt himself would be rather ashamed of. One of the worst parts is that they demand a payback and will even go after you demanding more money, totally ruining the moment for you. Just say “hey kids, look over there, I think that’s Justinieber” and turn around and flip the bird, stand your ground and make a run for it so your kids don’t have to see how mommy and daddy Get into a fight with some greedy ball of fur! I recommend just staying away from them at all costs and visiting the real guys in the nearby Disney or Toys”R”Us stores instead.

Which of these surprised you the most? We would love to hear from you in the comments.

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Taylor Goldblatt

After years of research, travel, and dreams, I have created this website for people like you who want to experience the things that only America can offer. My passion is to explore and share America's greatest destinations and attractions. Follow me on Twitter @USCityTraveler for additional travel tips and ideas.

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