Sunday, January 30, 2022


With the street of Long Acre in London once home to coachbuilders and car showrooms, the similarly industrious Longacre Square in New York City, having taken its name, ironically also hosted horse stables, the American Horse Exchange finally closing in 1910. By then, “The New York Times” newspaper had built and opened its headquarters in the centre of the square, where Broadway intersects with 42nd Street, and convinced the city to rename the square after itself, something the other dozen or so daily papers at the time hadn’t done.

One Times Square, otherwise known as 1475 Broadway, opened in 1904, and remains the focal point of Times Square, hosting the New Year’s Eve ball drop first begun by the “Times” in 1907. The narrow end of the triangular building, which has famously hosted a Sony Jumbotron screen from 1990 to 1996, used by “The Late Show with David Letterman”, and displayed a realistically-steaming pot of Nissin Cup Noodle, now hosts a 350 foot-long advertising video wall projecting into the square, erected in 2019 to replace a number of smaller screens and billboards. However, it also resulted in removing the famous news ticker, or “zipper”, that had operated at various times since 1928. With similar video screens spreading around the building and across the square, its equivalent space in London has now moved to Piccadilly Circus.

For a building with so many eyes on it, I was surprised to hear it is mostly empty. I visited the ground level Walgreens drug store while on holiday in New York in 2011, but with only one floor towards the top used by the current organisers of the New Year’s Eve celebrations, the Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment LLC, the rest of the building is used either as storage, or is completely abandoned. It matters nothing its owners, Jamestown LP and Sherwood Equities, as the tens of millions of dollars they charge in rent is for its exterior: so long as it acts as a frame for the video screens, it remains profitable.

With only a 500m2  trapezoid-shaped footprint, and only twenty-five stories, it may be easier for most businesses looking for space to find one floor in another building, instead of two or three at One Times Square. Even “The New York Times” started moving out of the building as early as 1913, as its corporate headquarters moved to 229 West 43rd Street, itself extended in subsequent years. However, production of the newspaper continued at Times Square until the last section moved out in 1960 - even after the “Times” sold the building in 1961, the printing presses, situated in the four-storey-depth basement, ran until 1997, replaced by a more advanced facility based in Queens.

Allied Chemical, a multi-industrial corporation that, through a continued series of mergers, is the company now known as Honeywell, bought the building in 1963, two years after the “Times” sold it to advertising executive Douglas Leigh, and proceeded to re-skin it for the first time, replacing the original Gothic architecture, which made it look not unlike the Flatiron building, with modernist marble, not that you can see it properly now. The Allied Chemical Tower opened in December 1965, acting as headquarters of its Fibers division, and the Fabricated Products division. The first three floors, however, were more like what you would have found at the New York World’s Fair that closed earlier that year: the ground floor housed a demonstration of the upcoming Apollo space project, and an animated model of a city that could then be built on the moon. Displays of chemical processes took the next floor up, and the third floor fashion show displayed clothes made using Nylon produced by Allied Chemical.

One Times Square was already on sale by October 1972 for a minimum of $7 million, Allied Chemical acknowledging they had too much office space in New York City, that the displays should be dealt with by a group more experienced with dealing directly with the public, and that they were never going to get back the full cost of their renovations. The next buyer, real-estate developer Alex Parker, ultimately paid $6.25 million, and initial talk of exhibition spaces on most floors were replaced by hiring out office space to tenants, although a Song Writers Hall of Fame did open on the eighth floor. Between 1974 and 1997, the building was sold six more times, with unfulfilled proposals to replace the exterior with glass, or stripping it to a bare metal frame to use for floodlights. Demolition of the building had also been proposed in 1979 as part of a plan to create an urban renewal district in 42nd Street.

Having looked through the numerous news articles on the “Times” website about changes in ownership and intent, the lack of consistency is perhaps the major contributor to tenants dwindling away – by 1982, there was reference to leases lasting from month to month, with nothing in the long term. Outside of the “Times”, Walgreens is seemingly the longest-running tenant of the interior of One Times Square. Their lease, signed in 2007, actually covers most of the interior, even though only the first three floors are used. It replaced a Warner Bros. studio shop, operated from 1996-2001 to compete with Disney’s store, but Warner Bros. continued to pay for the lease until Walgreens took over. I have seen evidence that the store closed again on 27thDecember 2021, but with Walgreens’ lease continuing until 2027, and with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, I could not confirm if this was temporary or not.

The current value of One Times Square is dictated by its advertising potential: Lehman Brothers bought it in 1995 for $27.5m, with the first electronic billboards being installed in 1996. The following year, it was sold to its current owners for $110m. A four-week placement on the main billboard installed in 2019 costs from $2.5m. Perhaps One Times Square is at the point where any future construction means advertising revenue lost. Ironically, the original scoreboard-like ad screen, installed above the “zipper” in 1975, is more famous as an artwork, being the screen on which Jenny Holzer displayed the message, “PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT”.

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