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The Problem: 42nd St., Seventh to Eighth Avenues
Stills from "The 11th Hour" hosted by Robert Lipsyte
The broad definition of the Times Square district includes the blocks of W. 42nd St. between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. The concentration of theaters that lined these cross-town blocks from the early 20th century was the economic and social lifeblood of the area. By the 1970s, though, the theaters and movie palaces had moved dramatically downscale, featuring action films, porn, and peep shows. Crime was rampant and intractable: conditions seemed to defeat all attempts at urban renewal.
The opening words of this 1984 television talk show, "The 11th Hour," hosted by Robert Lipsyte set the scene and established the problem: "Times Square is an Oasis of Celebration and a sewer of crime." The discussion focuses not on Times Square of Broadway's legitimate theaters, but the blighted block of W. 42nd St. from Seventh to Eight Avenues, which one of the speakers, Carl Weisbrod, describes as "the single worst block in New York in terms of reported crime statistics."
The program features a conversation with Carl Weisbrod who was then the president of New York State's 42nd Street Development Project, (and today is the current chairman of the New York City Planning Commission), Paul Segal, past-president of the AIA (American Institute of Architecture), and Brendan Gill, an architecture critic for The New Yorker. The four men debate the merits and faults of Times Square as it was, as well as the proposed redevelopment plans, highlighting the filth and danger of 42nd street, and the importance of the lights and signs. Click here to view the full video.
Excerpts from "The 11th Hour" with Robert Lipsyte 1989
Film produced by WNET/THIRTEEN
This second video presents excerpts from three films: an 11-minute video made by the Municipal Art Society in 1985 and narrated by the actor Jason Robards that was created as a public relations piece that could be shown to government officials, civic groups, and other stakeholders in the fight to save Times Square's bright lights and historic theaters. The images and voiceover describe the unique character of historic Broadway theaters that "extend the atmosphere of the drama "into the street, in a single, playful experience" and analyze the brilliance of the "bowl of light" created by the signage that framed the bow-tie of Broadway north of 42nd Street.
A second set of clips presents interviews with veterans of Times Square, who have produced theatrical and advertising signage for a century, including Tama Starr, scion of the Artkaft Strauss family, who discusses the history of the neon lights of Broadway; Bert Gold, a theater producer; Lenny Schneider, a newsstand operator; and Leonard Clark, a movie house owner facing eviction by the redevelopment plans
Credits: (0:00 - 3:20) Clips from an 11-minute video made by The Municipal Art Society in 1985, narrated by Actor Jason Robards. Courtesy of The Municipal Art Society.
(3:21 - 3:55) Tama Starr: "The 11th Hour" with Robert Lipsyte (1989), a television program produced by WNET/THIRTEEN.
(4:05 - 8:43) "New Times for Times Square" (1984), a video produced and edited by Peter Bunche. Courtesy of Peter Bunche, and with thanks to Bill Schacht.
For a 2014, retrospective discussion of the government's 1980s efforts to renew Times Square, see the video of the 9/30/14 program TIMES SQUARE REVISITED: Urban Planning and Urban Design.