NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, February 18, 2016, 9:15 AM
This certainly isn’t your father’s Times Square.
Throughout the 70s and 80s, it was a hotbed for getting hot and heavy, with everything from live sex shows to porn theaters but all that changed under an early 90s redevelopment and rezoning plan realized under former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The mid-1990s cleanup — the biggest one in recent memory was not the first — not by a long shot. Daily News clippings show records of cleanups, sometimes every other year, dating all the way back to the 1930s.
By the 1980s, things had become fairly unsavory. In 2007, the Associated Press recalled it as “a cesspool, overrun with crime and home to sex shops and peep shows. Drug addicts shot up on the street. Locals avoided the neighborhood.”
Rehabbing the neighborhood would take time, though.
First, during Ed Koch’s tenure as mayor in the 1980s, the city used eminent domain to reclaim decrepit and crumbling buildings.
Then, under the leadership of David Dinkins — Rudy Giuliani’s immediate predecessor — the city undertook the study that would allow them to rezone if they could find that the sex biz was harmful to surrounding areas.
Giuliani took office in 1994, and it was the following year the rezoning law passed, prohibiting sex businesses from operating within 500 feet of homes, places of worship, schools or — critically for Times Square — each other.
To help inject the area with new life, Giuliani used a team of developers to lure upscale businesses into the area.
Then — in a complete aboutface from the square’s tawdry past — Disney moved in. The animation giant got a low-interest loan to redo the historic 42nd Street New Amsterdam Theatre. Right now, after a long run of “Mary Poppins,” the theatre has been playing “Aladdin” since 2014.
Other changes have swept the area, too. The Harem was a XXX porn theatre was located at 249 W. 42nd St., according to John Cline and Robert Weiner’s grindhouse cinema text, “From the Arthouse to the Grindhouse.” At one time it had the distinction of being the only 24-hour porno grinder but also — but today the block is home to a Regal Cinemas.
Today, there are still sex industry stores to be found, but they’re a little more spaced out. There are some strip clubs and some stores from the old days have come back to the neighborhood, just in different locations.
Show World Center, formerly at 669 Eighth Ave., was once a sex facility featuring everything from strippers to adult movies to peep shows, according to a 2013 News report. It stopped live shows in 1998 and closed altogether in 2004 and today there’s a recently closed haunted house there — but a Show World Center is right next door.
With the lingering sex industry stores and the desnudas, some — including Gov. Andrew Cuomo — say the area is returning to its seedy roots.
“I was around for the bad old Times Square, and this is starting to remind me of the bad old Times Square,” he said in August, according to the Washington Post.
Alexander Reichl, a political science professor at CUNY-Queen College, said that the persistence of the sex biz isn’t a sign of any future reversion, in part because the redevelopment generated such a rent increase in the area that most shady businesses — as well as many other small businesses — can’t afford to be there.
“The balance of forces has shifted so completely that the presence of desnudas — along with a smattering of porn shops and gentlemen’s clubs — is not nearly enough to trigger any backsliding.
“If anything the desnudas and costumed characters are a testament to the irrepressible New York spirit of creative hustling that has always been a part of Times Square.”
with Cesar Bustamente, Jr.