Glimpses of the long-gone cool decaying seediness lost 42nd Street



A pitcher of Martinis you say? Why yes you may suggest that to me. Absolutely so.


They say that on Friday nights at midnight when the moon is full you can still see the ghost of Penn Jillette leading his wild-eyed band through the streets of Times Square in search of movie madness…

I know it’s strange to say this, but hose are incredibly beautiful photographs.

Judging from the movies playing and the Violent Femmes coming to the Beacon Theatre on July 18th, I know one set of these must be from early July, 1989. 25 years ago. Yikes. These photos are like the Internet K Hole, 42nd Street edition.


These are some great photographs, but I still don’t like the “back when it was cool” framing. If anyone wants a cheap holiday in other people’s misery, there are still plenty of places in just about any big city where you can hang around drug-addicted sex workers if that’s your thing.


Those are from 1991 (the Gil Scott Heron poster says Friday, July 19th which would have been that year. Plus Point Break was released in 1991). It’s kind of fun to look back at it now, but at the time it was pretty depressing to walk past those venues. Also, in the summertime there would be a nasty smell coming from some of the peep theaters onto the sidewalk area. I’m glad it’s cleaned up.

I once had a horse in Coney Island.

She got hit by a car.

I remember a lot of the peepshow places having pretty aggressive barkers out front too. The strangest thing I experienced on 42nd street was a few years after these pictures were taken, when they started cleaning the area up. All the marquees had cryptic three line titles displayed, that didn’t seem to correspond to movie titles or anything else I could discern. I puzzled over it for years (was it some kind of dirty movie secret code they had been forced to start using?) until I finally googled it a couple of years ago. After the theaters had been shut down a local group decided to use the signs to display haikus as an art project.

Samuel R Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue is a great meditation on the old Times Square and its replacement with the new one. It is also a rumination on public and private space, real estate, and social relations in particular the difference between contact and network. Very good book.

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you summed it up perfectly. K Hole was the first thing I thought ,too.

Did anyone actually buy one of those hot dogs that the XXX theater sold? On second thought, that’s a silly question.

I’m pretty sure that was set dressing for Last Action Hero. There was also a gigantic inflatable Arnold during the shoot.

Edit: Further research shows that there was also a Jenny Holzer project using the marquees, which is probably what you saw.


I lived on Long Island, and visited Manhattan a lot, to see my cousins. Times Square and such were just depressing, run down places; there was no glamour or “authenticity.” Just dumps.

My cousin and I saw “Star Trek 3” in a theater in TS; sticky floors, patrons talking, bad acoustics.

I remember buying a Nathan’s (maybe Nedick’s) hot dog and such at a Time Square outlet. Creepy patrons, bums getting out of the heat.

Wheeee. Such seedy. Much greasiness.

Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets…ooh, HOT DOGS!

I’m guessing the sign is telling us that you can find wieners in there?

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Can anyone explain the “No Unescorted Ladies” sign in the ticket booth?

An unescorted lady going into a porno theatre would most likely be a hooker. Not allowed (they probably had hookers on the payroll already inside…)

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the “back when it was cool” framing, I suspect is simply nostalgia for one’s own youth.

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Actually, the hot dog place was right next door to that theater. You can see how it all evolved; there were just nothing but first run movie theaters, and the stretch wasn’t seedy at all. I ate at that Howard Johnson’s just a few years later, in 1992. It looked much the same.

And, yes, the hot dog/hamburger place was okay for a quick lunch.