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Commerce and Culture at the Crossroads of the World
Times Square, in its heyday, expressed American culture in the moment of vivid change. A stellar group of critics and scholars examines this transitional moment in Inventing Times Square, a study of the development of New York's central entertainment district. A fascinating visit to Times Square, from its christening in 1905 to its eventual decline after the Depression, the book explores the colorful configuration of institutions and cultural practices that propelled Times Square from a local and regional entertainment center to a national cultural marketplace. Changes in the economy, in religion, in leisure culture, and in aesthetics gave birth to a geographical space that fostered Vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley, Flo Ziegfeld and Billy Rose, the spectacle of the Hippodrome and the bright lights of the Great White Way. Out of this same place eventually came national network radio and many Hollywood films. Though conceived as a public space, Times Square was quickly transformed into a commercial center. Power brokers wielded their influence on a public ready to succumb to consumerism. Theatrical entertainment became a large-scale national business based in, and operated out of, Times Square. A new commercial aesthetic travelled with Joseph Urban from Vienna to Times Square to Palm Beach, bringing to society a sophisticated style that will forever say "Broadway." Times Square as the "center of the universe" had its darker sides as well, for it was the testing ground for a new morality. The packaging of sexuality on the stage gave it legitimacy on the streets, as hotels and sidewalks became the province of female prostitution, male hustling, and pornography. At the center of New York City, Times Square's commercial activities gave full rein to urban appetites and fantasies, and challenged and defied the norms of behavior that prevailed elsewhere in the city. Cultural history at its finest, Inventing Times Square portrays the vibrant convergence of social and economic forces on Forty-second Street.