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Times Square New Year's Eve
When the ball drops in Times Square on New Year's this year, it's going to be marking it's 100th anniversary on the job.
The tradition of ringing in the New Year in Times Square was originated by then-New York Times owner Alfred Ochs, who had moved his newspaper to Longacre Square, which he lobbied to have renamed Times Square.
New York papers used to have a thing about Broadway intersections, and the city, evidently, was eager to oblige them. , Ochs's rival New York Herald, was already ensconced in Herald Square just a few blocks to the south. Immediately to the south of it was Greeley Square, named for Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune. His paper would eventually merge with the Herald and create the Times's chief competiton in the city for years to come.
Ochs decided to show off his new headquarters, then the second-tallest building in Manhattan, with a lavish all-day party culminating in a fireworks show at midnight on January 1, 1905. It was such a hit, he decided to make it an annual event.
But the city fathers outlawed the fireworks display for 1907, so Ochs arranged to have a large, illuminated seven-hundred-pound iron and wood ball lowered from the tower flagpole precisely at midnight to signal the end of 1907 and the beginning of 1908. Thus was introduced the New Year's Eve ball-drop, and it's been dropping ever since. Almost a million people are expected to fill the Square this New Year's Eve and an estimated billion more to watch on TV.
The Times didn't stay in the Square for long. It left for new quarters up the street and around the corner in 1913, but the it held on to the building, which had become a landmark, not to mention a wonderful promotion device for the paper, until 1961. In 1928, the famous electric news ticker display was installed, which ran around the entire building, providing all news all the time, a forerunner to CNN and cable news and maybe even the internet. It was first used to announce the results of the US presidential election of 1928. (Hoover beat Smith in a landslide.)
The original sign was made up of 14,800 lamps. The ticker went dark for a decade between 1975 and 1985. Then Newsday sponsored its revival. It's now sponsored by Dow Jones, the parent of The Wall Street Journal. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
In 1961, Douglas Leigh (the man who introduced animated billboards to Times Square as well as the Camel billboard that blew smoke rings in the '50s) purchased the tower and renamed it for the Allied Chemical Company, his chief tenant.
Leigh greatly modified the building's facade, replacing its intricate granite and terracotta elements with marble facing and simple concrete paneling. This refurbishment turned most of the building's exterior into a sheer wall. And cost the building a good deal of its charm in the eyes of many critics, including this one.
In 1996, the building again exchanged owners. Sherwood Outdoor and Jamestown, in preparing the building for upcoming use, decided it was not going to be cost effective to rehabilitate the building for new tenants. Insead, the new owners transformed the building basically into a sign tower. Today it is virtually tenantless.
To allow vinyl signs to be properly attached to the building, a billboard frame was placed completely around the exterior from just above the zipper all the way to the roof, 23 stories above. Given the space allotment for each potential billboard, the building sign grid was positioned for twenty-two different sign placements (five electronic and 17 vinyl).
The building is now called One Times Square, and everyone's glad it's still there, but a lot of New Yorkers feel a lot of the charm has gone out of the old place. Of course, a lot of New Yorkers feel a lot of the charm has gone out of Times Square itself. But both have a job to do every New Year's Eve.
Most people would agree they do it well, bringing tons of positive publicity to New York as the crossroads of the world. They keep a gaggle of aging and aspiring TV personalities emloyed and in the public eye, and they give the rest of us someplace important to go, either in person or virtually via telecasts, to ring out the old and ring in the new and celebrate the arrival of the new year and all the hope and promise it brings.
I had a friend who made the trip in every year unfailingly. I must confess, I spent a lot of New Year's Eves in New York in my youger years, but despite many invitations, I could never quite bring myself to go along with him. That's an awful lot of people, you could drink indoors in New York at 18 then, and in the old days it used to be freezing cold. Plus, you have to get there early. On the Today show, they were saying mid-morning would be good.
Looks great on TV though. In California, where New Year's came three hours later, I used to watch it live each year via earthcam.com (which you can link to from this page, top right). At least when I could get on. Like I say, always very popular.
Okay, that's it. See you next year, maybe in Times Square.