Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Few Colorful Vintage Times Square Shots

Times Square NYC
Times Square - Cagney's 'City for Conquest' was released on 21 September 1940, and note the 'London Can Take It' on the marquee. with both the Democrat candidate FDR and Republican candidate Wendell Wilkie jointly supporting England long before the US was officially in World War II.

The Big Apple Back in the Day

These shots all just seem to go together. I have no story to tell about them or anything, I just like them. Anyone who has spent time in New York City will probably recognize how much has changed - and how much hasn't. So, I am slowly adding shots of Times Square here down through the years, but looking uptown, not (as is almost always the case) downtown toward the Times building.

Times Square 1905. What is amazing is that way back in 1905, the main ad on the billboard was for Budweiser, and automaker Studebaker already had claimed the top spot, later to be taken over by Chevrolet for decades. The year 1905 saw the massive changeover from horse and buggies to motorcars, and the automakers were not slow on the uptake. Studebaker lasted until about 1965.
Why facing uptown? After all, that's away from where the ball drops. And the first ball drop in 1907 was quite an occasion.

Times Square 1907.
However, if you live in New York City below 42nd Street, that is the scene that greets you every time you walk to Times Square. It is the iconic view of Times Square. The opposite direction is a bit less well-known except to New Yorkers.

Times Square NYC
Times Square, 1908.
So, there is a method to my madness here. Also, I find a certain fascination with the changing signs and buildings at this, the 'intersection of the world.'

Times Square NYC
Times Square 1931. If you look very closely, you will see what appears to be a coffin on a caisson in front of the theater showing 'Dishonored,' which was released 4 April 1931. The same theater was still showing 'Up the River,' an October 1930 release that starred Spencer Tracey - as well as an unbilled nobody who went by the odd name of Humphrey Bogart.
So, we have the massive Chevrolet sign there in 1935, and still there in 1958. It's gone by the 1960s, though. And Coca-Cola has that prominent spot down near street level, eventually replaced by Pepsi by 1940. Pepsi lasted there at least through 1947, then switched locations to the east side of the Square. While Time Square can seem an ever-changing whirl, there are definite, deliberate changes that last for long periods of time, but then eventually change as well.

I keep changing this. You can find the year by hovering over the shot. I think they are all in chronological order, but the exact year doesn't really seem to make much difference unless you are really paying attention. The shots span the 1920s to 1960s.

Times Square
While of course Times Square is much more lit up now, there was something about the raw colors back in the day that definitely has been lost. There is something simply more intimate and grabbing about giant Pepsi bottles and pop-tops than banal arrays of blinking lights and advertising posters.
However, when you go through these, you start to notice things. Some billboards become old friends, then abruptly disappear. For instance, Chevrolet, Admiral Television, Canadian Club - all stalwarts throughout the 1950s. That Admiral Television sign - still there in 1959! Also the sign directly above it, the Canadian Club whiskey sign. But the Chevrolet sign? Gone. So, too, the one with the guy's face, replaced with a pineapple.

It all brings to mind that scene from "The Time Traveller," you know, the shot where the time traveler accelerates through time and watches the changing girls' fashions in the window across the street?


Vehicles were so colorful back then. Not like all the dull whites and greys you see today. They should bring back the two-tone look! And look at how much room all the cars have! And the sky - you can see the sky all around!

In another 50 years, they'll probably enclose the whole thing and they'll look back at pictures of Time Square from today, surrounded by humongous office towers, and go, "Wow, it was outside! Imagine that!"

Oh, and the Criterion theater on the lower right in the 1955 shot is showing the production of "Chicago." Some things truly never change. In the 1958 shot, it is "Moby Dick."

Postcard View, 1911.

Times Square NYC
Times Square north from New York Times Building, 1922. This appears to have been a postcard shot. Note that Macy's had the spot later taken by Chevrolet. The other signs are for plays, a local phenomenon. Those prime spots would soon be taken by large national corporations.

Times Square 1920s
Times Square in the 1920s. It looks surprisingly modern, the cars are definitely vintage, though. The signs are starting to change to major corporations - Chevrolet is on there, but not yet at the top, it is under 'Maxwell House Coffee.' Arrow Collars is there. The sign at the very bottom, though, which I can't really make out, appears to still be for a play. This is around 1926 - the signs are almost all the same as the 1926 shot below - but the bottom sign (for the play?) is different, along with some of the other signs along the side.
Times Square 1926
Broadway's birthday! Photo: A 1926 parade celebrating the 300th anniversary of the famous street. The sign on the right is advertising 'Beau Geste,' a 1926 film starring Ronald Colman which was remade in 1939, the latter being the one most people remember (Credit: The New York Times Photo Archives).

Times Square 1932
Times Square, early 1932 ('Strictly Dishonorable' was released 26 December 1931). This is the absolute height of the Depression. Note that the signs now all have changed from Broadway shows to the large corporations. Chevrolet has taken the Macy's top spot and would keep it for some time. This is a rare case where the entire billboard, all the way to the edge, is in use. This photo looks surprisingly modern, guys standing around in trenchcoats, the usual marquees lit up.

Times Square NYC
1934: the Coca-Cola has taken over the prime bottom spot, and Squibb took over from Pepsodent. The Chevrolet sign has changed and sits at the top. It is fair to say that James Cagney ruled Times Square during the decade of the '30s.
Times Square NYC
Times Square, 1935. Betty Boop on the marquee. The Astor on the left came down mid-sixties, along with Penn Station and Singer Building: a bad time for beaux-arts. Streetcars in the square, no overhead wires. Coca-Cola standing guard, the Chevrolet sign in all its glory.

Times Square NYC
A shot of Times Square around 46th Street. My source says this is from 1938. It could be, if in January or February. However, Ronald Colman's "Prisoner of Zenda" was released on 2 September 1937, and "Ellis Island" (which I assume is the film touted as "Mystery of Ellis Island") was released in 1936. Our best fix is John Ford's "The Hurricane," released on 9 November 1937 and getting the "premiere" treatment. Plus, the 1938 Chevrolets would have been "new" at the beginning of the model year in the final four months of 1937. Everybody is dressed warmly, as if in November or December.... So, I'm thinking this is from late 1937, maybe between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Nice shot of the Hotel Astor, too.

Times Square NYC
This daylight shot contrasts the Coca Cola sign nicely with the night-time shot directly above, where the sign is lit up and in all its glory. Real fur and fedoras were most definitely in style. My source says that this is 1936, but based on the similarities to the shot below, which definitely is early 1942, this is likely from that year as well.

Times Square NYC
Early 1942, right after the start of the war. "Lydia" was released in February '42. Quite possible that the same photographer took both this shot and the one above, maybe on the same day.

Times Square NYC
Times Square during wartime, 1943. After a couple of years of war, rationing has taken effect and there are fewer cars in sight. Pepsi has taken over from Coke. Also, note the very rare sight of an empty spot on the billboard with the plea for advertisers to give a call - Chey was not producing or selling cars at this point, it was doing war work, so nothing to sell. 

Times Square NYC
Chevrolet is gone as a sign, but not for long.
Times Square NYC
Notice how the Ruppert sign looks so cool all lit up? Very dull during the day. This would be 1946, when "The Best Years of Our Lives" was released.

Rainy night Times Square New York Walter Berk 1947
There was a recession after World War II, and passenger cars still were not plentiful. Thus, you still see uncrowded streets in 1947.
Times Square New York 1952
Martin and Lewis were breakout stars in 1952. That corner had some awesome wrap-around signs in those days.
Cars were so colorful in the '50s! Here in 1954, it is a beautiful blend of Kodachrome and pastels. Good times in America bring out the confident colors like these, less-confident times lead to cars that are all white, black, dull grey and muted. Chevrolet has returned, plenty of cars being sold now.

Times Square NYC
Pepsi has moved across to the right. This is a very professional shot.
Times Square NYC
Same spot as above, almost the same time, too, but a different shot - more of a snapshot.
Times Square NYC
Another shot from around the same time in 1955, but the lowest sign in the middle is slightly different than in the two shots above.
Times Square NYC
"Run Silent, Run Deep" was released 27 March 1958, so place this spring 1958.
Times Square NYC
The Automat at the left - Horn & Hardarts - was there for decades, from 1912 to the mid-'70s. Oh... an Automat was a place where you went in and put some coins in a slot and you could then reach in and get your dish. It had kind of a big wall full of different little niches with different kinds of food, like a slice of pie for $0.50, that kind of deal.
I know, there are several shots from roughly the same time here. But it allows you to imagine yourself there, walking about.
Times Square NYC
Chevrolet is not visible at this angle.
Times Square NYC
"The Horse Soldiers" was released June 12, 1959. This looks like summer, so probably not too long after that. "The Diary of Anne Frank" by George Stevens also is playing, it was released March 18, 1959. So, probably around June '59.
Times Square 1960
Great shot, Times Square at its peak as far as I'm concerned. Lots of smog, though, the air quality must have been miserable.

Times Square
Checker cabs were already on the way out in the mid-60s, but the myth lived on for decades.

Times Square NYC
Times Square NYC
Castro Convertible and Coke are both still on the billboards in 1979, though with updated logos. Change takes place in Times Square quite slowly.
Oh, and a couple of not-colorful shots to wind things up.

Regarding the two shots below, I know you're wondering because I was. Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire, "The Band Wagon" (1953). If you knew that without me telling you - you're good.

Fred Astaire Cyd Charisse NYC
Definitely a soundstage, nobody is going to slide along on a real Times Square subway platform.

Fred Astaire Cyd Charisse NYC

Grand Army Plaza NYC


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