National Archives and Records AdministrationTwenty-five-cent peep shows were the first adult stores to arrive in Times Square beginning in 1966. Enormously profitable, they opened the door for adult movie theaters, strip clubs, and sex stores.
National Archives and Records AdministrationAs Times Square took on a new feel, the businesses of the previous generation fled. As the Guardian describes, "Times Square’s venerable old theatres and spectacular movie palaces were torn down for office buildings or allowed to slowly rot away, showing scratchy prints of cheesy second-run films or pornography, which any casual visitor might have thought was the city’s leading industry."
Maggie Hopp By the late 1970s, adult stores and theaters dominated Times Square, with Rolling Stone referring to it as the “sleaziest block in America" in 1981.
The sex trade arrived shortly after adult stores. With its proximity to highways and subways (and thus an unhindered flow of people), prostitution flourished without interference from law enforcement. In the photograph above, a prostitute rests on the hood of a police car in 1985.
Bettmann / GettyA group of prostitutes walk through the side streets of Broadway and Times Square in New York in the summer of 1971.
Maggie HoppA man looks at the offerings of a peep show store adjacent to a "sensitive meeting place" with "lovely girls." Brothels, typically operated by organized crime, ran in the open without any legal repercussions.
Allan Tannenbaum / GettySex wasn't the only trade of Times Square: the rise of crack-cocaine and the ability to operate on the street made the area a haven for drugs. In the above photograph, an undercover cop leads a man who's been arrested for selling crack in 1986.
Bettmann / GettyCrime also became a chronic issue for the subway stations at Times Square. Above, a team of the Guardian Angels -- a volunteer patrol group dedicated to making New York's subway system safe -- get ready to go on patrol in 1980.
National Archives and Records AdministrationThe homeless populations of Times Square and neighboring Port Authority skyrocketed during the 1970s and 1980s. Combined with the pervasiveness of the drug and sex enterprises, this proved to be a chaotic brew of ingredients for the area.
The New York Historical SocietyA homeless man sleeps on the sidewalk in front of the McAuley Cremorne Mission in 1985.
Allan Tannenbaum / GettyIn 1976, a group of Hare Krishna followers sing and play instruments in Times Square under the marquee of an adult theater advertising the film Sweet Cakes.
Wikimedia CommonsThe neighborhood also became home to non-traditional street acts. A man adorning only a leather hat and thong scales a Marlboro billboard on 44th Street in 1980.
Actor Bill Murray poses in front of the famous 25-cent peep shows of Times Square in the mid-1970s.
Frederic Lewis / GettyIn 1975, tourists look into the windows of Times Square as they pass under the marquee for the Globe theater advertising the "filthiest show in town."
Barbara Alper / GettyNot everyone was happy about Times Square's transition into a center of adult entertainment, including Women Against Pornography (WAP), which marched through the neighborhood in 1979.
Maggie HoppA man stands outside of a strip club on 42nd Street in the late 1970s.
National Archives and Records AdministrationPeople pass unperturbed by the offerings of Taboo II.
Steven SiegelA Christian proselytizer walks in front of an adult theater on 8th Avenue.
Spencer Platt / GettyExotic dancers await customers at an adult store in March 2005. Though the combined efforts of mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg have removed a majority of the adult stores in Times Square, a handful still operate.
Allan Tannenbaum / GettyWomen working in the private viewing booths in Times Square in 1997.
Leland BobbéPeople converse in front of the infamous "House of Paradise."
National Archives and Records AdministrationThe one non-adult mainstay of Times Square during its decline was the Howard Johnson's restaurant. Opened in 1955, the restaurant and the building it occupied were demolished in 2005.
Rainer Halama / Wikimedia CommonsAn advertisement for the musical Oh Calcutta dominates the corner of 8th Avenue and 42nd Street in 1981.
Waring Abbott / GettySinger Neil Diamond awaits the arrival of the 7 train in 1975.
Michael Ochs Archives / GettyArtists KRS-One and D-Nice pose for a photograph in Times Square in 1988.
National Archives and Records AdministrationA graffiti covered 7 train passes through the subway station at Times Square.
National Archives and Records AdministrationBy the mid 1990s, legislative efforts began to limit the density of adult stores in Times Square while actively fostering more family friendly replacements. Through zoning ordinances and business development, what dominated Times Square for so long were mostly dispatched by the conclusion of the century.
Like this gallery? Share it!