Times Square was not always the iconic tourist destination it is today. In fact, for the latter half of the 20th century the intersection served as a symbol of New York’s decay. In this All That is Interesting gallery, a collection of Times Square’s lowest moments are gathered, as prostitution and drugs ran rampant and it became the “sleaziest block in America” Check out the full article for even more images.
Twenty-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.
As 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."
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.
A group of prostitutes walk through the side streets of Broadway and Times Square in New York in the summer of 1971.
A 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.
Sex 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.
Crime 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.
The 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.
A homeless man sleeps on the sidewalk in front of the McAuley Cremorne Mission in 1985.