While Times Square in New York City is often called the Crossroads of the World, The New York Times described the spot near where Broadway and 44th Street meet as the “Crossroads of the Crossroads” in a 2004 piece celebrating Times Square at 100.
At the turn of the century, Oscar Hammerstein, grandfather of the famous Broadway lyricist, had a dream. He built New York's first multi-purpose entertainment venue north of 42nd Street in what was then called Long Acre Square. Today, the flagship store of national toy retailer Toys “R” Us dominates what was once known as the Criterion Building but has since become known as the Bow-Tie building, named after the oddly-shaped intersection.
It may be a toy store today, but over the years, a string of theaters, clothing stores and nightclubs would dominate one of the most prominent sites in Times Square. Throughout the 20th century, the building played host to famous, and sometimes not-so-famous, shows and entertainers. The building at one time housed the storied Ziegfield Follies at the rooftop Jardin de Paris, the Bond clothing store and later the shortlived nightclub called Bond's International Casino, the venue for a storied eight-night New York City stand by iconic British punk band the Clash in 1981.
While family-friendly glitz and national chains like Disney have displaced the notorious peep shows and adult movie theaters that 42nd Street was once known for, the area around 44th Street and Broadway was never known for its sleaze. Throughout the century it attracted more and more attention thanks to the larger-than-life, and occasionally garish, signs that often captivated the city, including a giant neon fish pushing Wrigley's gum in the 30s and a pair of scandalous, nearly naked male and female mannequins hawking clothing in the 40s. These were later replaced by successive giant bottles of Pepsi and Gordon's Gin at the top of the then-Criterion.
“Civilizations had risen and fallen, and risen and fallen again, on this one rich archaeological site,” author James Traub wrote in his book The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square.
In the 1990s, the property survived a brush with high-rise development after German media giant Bertelsmann expressed a desire to build a new headquarters there for its Random House publishing division. The deal fell through and, despite rumors of a National Rifle Association-driven theme restaurant, national toy retailer Toys “R” Us opened its flagship store there in 2001, complete with enormous neon signs, a 60-foot high indoor Ferris wheel and a 4,000 square foot dream house for Times Square Barbie.
When buyout giant KKR, Bain Capital and Vornado Realty Trust teamed up to buy Toys “R” Us last year, the buzz was that they would sell off some stores in prime retail locations. And, although the world's largest toy store has become a tourist destination in its own right, locations don't get much better than Times Square.