42nd Street is a major crosstown street in the New York City borough of Manhattan, known for its theaters, especially near the intersection with Broadway at Times Square. It is also the name of the region of the theater district (and, at times, the red-light district) near that intersection. The street has held a special place in the mind of New Yorkers since at least the turn of the 20th century, and hosts some of New York’s most important buildings, including (east to west) the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal, Times Square and the Port Authority Bus Terminal. The corner of 42nd Street and Broadway, at the southeast corner of Times Square, is the eastern terminus of the Lincoln Highway, the first road across the United States of America, which was conceived and mapped in 1913. The Lincoln Highway proceeded west on 42nd Street to the Weehawken Ferry. After crossing the Hudson River to Weehawken, New Jersey, the Lincoln Highway continued 3,389 miles across the country to its western terminus in Lincoln Park in San Francisco, California.
The former Longacre Square was renamed to honor The New York Times, which established its offices and printing plant nearby. For a long period in the mid-20th century, the area of 42nd Street near Times Square was home to activities often considered unsavory, including peep shows. A comedian once said, “They call it 42nd Street because you’re not safe if you spend more than forty seconds on it.” A popular 1933 movie musical named 42nd Street, set in Depression Manhattan, colorfully described the bawdy mixture of Broadway shows and prostitution during the early 20th century. In 1980, it was turned into a successful Broadway musical, which was revived in 2001 in a theatre that was itself on 42nd Street. The following is an excerpt from the musical:
In the heart of little old New York
you’ll find a thoroughfare;
It’s the part of little old New York
that runs into Times Square…
From the late 1950s until the late 1980s, 42nd Street was the cultural center of American grindhouse theatres, which spawned an entire subculture. The book Sleazoid Express, a travelogue of the 42nd Street grindhouses and the films they showed, describes in detail the unique blend of people who made up the theatre-goers, including black pimps, low-grade mafiosi, transvestites, Latino gangsters, “rough trade” homosexuals, aggressive lesbians, trench coat-clad perverts, and thrill-seeking squares. The street became the title of a film by Busby Berkeley in 1933 (42nd Street) and a stage musical based on it from 1980 (42nd Street), which experienced a revival in 2001.
In the early 1990s, city government encouraged a clean-up of the Times Square area. The block of 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues has again became home to a “legitimate” theatre, along with shops and restaurants that draw millions to the city every year. This area is now co-signed as “New 42nd St” to signify this change.
Every subway line that crosses 42nd Street has a stop on 42nd Street, whether the line is express or local:
- 42nd Street – Port Authority Bus Terminal (A C E trains)
Times Square – 42nd Street (1 2 3 7 <7> N Q R S trains)
42nd Street / Fifth Avenue – Bryant Park (7 <7> B D F M trains)
Grand Central – 42nd Street (4 5 6 <6> 7 <7> S trains)
The IRT 42nd Street Shuttle runs under 42nd Street between Broadway/Seventh Avenue (Times Square) and Park Avenue (Grand Central Terminal); the IRT Flushing Line begins at 41st Street/Seventh Avenue, runs between 41st and 42nd from Sixth Avenue to Park Avenue, curves onto 42nd Street between Park and Lexington Avenues, and continues under the East River to Queens. Each line stops at Times Square and Grand Central; the Flushing Line also stops at Fifth Avenue. Additionally, MTA New York City Transit’s M42 bus runs the length of 42nd Street between the Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises ferry terminal on the Hudson River and the headquarters of the United Nations on the East River. The 42nd Street Crosstown Line streetcar used 42nd Street.
Places located along 42nd Street include (from East to West):
- United Nations, First Avenue
Tudor City apartments, First Avenue
Ford Foundation, between First and Second Avenues, former site of the Hospital for the Ruptured and Crippled (now known as the Hospital for Special Surgery)
News Building (formerly the New York Daily News Building), Second Avenue
Chrysler Building, Lexington Avenue
Chanin Building, Lexington Avenue
Pershing Square, Park Avenue
Grand Central Terminal, Park Avenue
New York Public Library Main Branch, Fifth Avenue
University Optometric Center, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
SUNY College of Optometry, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
Bryant Park, Sixth Avenue
One Bryant Park @ corner of Sixth Avenue
Bush Tower, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues
Times Square, Broadway and Seventh Avenue
Port Authority Bus Terminal, Eighth Avenue
Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises ferry terminal, Twelfth Avenue
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