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Shocking Vintage Photos Show Time Square At The Peak Of Its Depravity In The 1970s and 1980s

Times Square is a major entertainment center and tourist destination of New York, attracting over 50 million visitors a year. However, before Time Square was a major attraction point, it was home to adult theaters, burlesque shows, go-go bars, sex shops, peep shows, and night clubs. The New York Times described 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenue as the worst place in town in the 1960s. During the 70s and 80s, the crime rates were high, and police morale was low, with over 2,300 crimes committed every year in a one-block radius.

After the Great Depression Times Square fell into disrepair, sex shops, grindhouses, and adult theaters slowly took over the music halls and boutique hotels. The neighborhood areas became an open market for drugs and prostitution. Buildings were left vacant, becoming home to squatters as they fell into disrepair. One of the city’s busiest corridors, every day, thousands of people would have to pass under the marquees of numerous adult theaters lining the street.

These vintage historical photographs will give you a glimpse of Time Square at the peak of its degradation in the 1970s and 1980s.

Also check, The Combat zone — adult enthronement district in downtown Boston in the 70s.

#1 A team of the Guardian Angels — a volunteer patrol group dedicated to making New York’s subway system safe — get ready to go on patrol in 1980.

A team of the Guardian Angels -- a volunteer patrol group dedicated to making New York's subway system safe -- get ready to go on patrol in 1980.

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#2 Actor Bill Murray poses in front of the famous 25-cent peep shows of Times Square in the mid-1970s.

Actor Bill Murray poses in front of the famous 25-cent peep shows of Times Square in the mid-1970s.

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#3 A man looks at the offerings of a peep show store adjacent to a “sensitive meeting place” with “lovely girls.” Brothels, typically operated by organized crime, ran in the open without any legal repercussions.

A man looks at the offerings of a peep show store adjacent to a "sensitive meeting place" with "lovely girls." Brothels, typically operated by organized crime, ran in the open without any legal repercussions.

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#4 A man walking past the entrance to a topless bar in Times Square, New York City, 1975.

A man walking past the entrance to a topless bar in Times Square, New York City, 1975.

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#5 An elderly man walks past signs, posted on glass doors, with illustrations depicting a scantily clad woman holding a bat on her fingertips, New York, 1981.

An elderly man walks past signs, posted on glass doors, with illustrations depicting a scantily clad woman holding a bat on her fingertips, New York, 1981.

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#6 A porn shop with cinema and live shows in the Times Square area in October 1975.

A porn shop with cinema and live shows in the Times Square area in October 1975.

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#7 The ‘Follies Burlesk’ showing the upcoming shows for ‘Valerie Craft’ and ‘Marinka’, 46th St. and Broadway, New York City, 1978.

The 'Follies Burlesk' showing the upcoming shows for 'Valerie Craft' and 'Marinka', 46th St. and Broadway, New York City, 1978.

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#8 The entrance to the ‘Rap Studio’, a strip club and adult book shop in New York City, 1978.

The entrance to the 'Rap Studio', a strip club and adult book shop in New York City, 1978.

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#9 The Roxy Burlesk Theater on 42nd Street, New York City, 1980.

The Roxy Burlesk Theater on 42nd Street, New York City, 1980.

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#10 Cinema signs on the Rivoli Theatre and surrounding cinemas on Broadway advertising adult films and shows, New York City, 1983.

Cinema signs on the Rivoli Theatre and surrounding cinemas on Broadway advertising adult films and shows, New York City, 1983.

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#11 Two young hustlers sharing their happy moment.

Two young hustlers sharing their happy moment.

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#12 A man adorning only a leather hat and thong scales a Marlboro billboard on 44th Street in 1980.

A man adorning only a leather hat and thong scales a Marlboro billboard on 44th Street in 1980.

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#13 Tourists looking into the windows of Times Square as they pass under the marquee for the Globe theater advertising the “filthiest show in town.”, 1975.

Tourists looking into the windows of Times Square as they pass under the marquee for the Globe theater advertising the "filthiest show in town.", 1975.

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#14 Women protesting against Pornography, which marched through the neighborhood in 1979.

Women protesting against Pornography, which marched through the neighborhood in 1979.

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#15 A man stands outside of a strip club on 42nd Street in the late 1970s.

A man stands outside of a strip club on 42nd Street in the late 1970s.

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#16 A Christian proselytizer walks in front of an adult theater on 8th Avenue.

A Christian proselytizer walks in front of an adult theater on 8th Avenue.

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#17 An advertisement for the musical Oh Calcutta dominates the corner of 8th Avenue and 42nd Street in 1981.

An advertisement for the musical Oh Calcutta dominates the corner of 8th Avenue and 42nd Street in 1981.

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#18 A family walks by “the world’s largest selection” of live nude girl models in 1970.

A family walks by "the world's largest selection" of live nude girl models in 1970.

The area now known for family fun and neon lights once held a different kind of attraction.

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#19 By the late 1970s, adult stores and theaters dominated Times Square, with Rolling Stone referring to it as the “sleaziest block in America” in 1981.

By the late 1970s, adult stores and theaters dominated Times Square, with Rolling Stone referring to it as the “sleaziest block in America" in 1981.

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#20 A group of prostitutes walk through the side streets of Broadway and Times Square in New York in the summer of 1971.

A group of prostitutes walk through the side streets of Broadway and Times Square in New York in the summer of 1971.

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    • John, a typical Congregation member, gives one of the Gals, Linda, a pizza slice; tells her to call him “Papa.” This Gal gets an offering/tithe/tip. That same tip/offering gets sliced just like a pizza pie, to her Pastor/Preacher Jim (aka a “Pimp.”)

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#21 An undercover cop leads a man who’s been arrested for selling crack in 1986.

An undercover cop leads a man who's been arrested for selling crack in 1986.

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#22 Posters advertising burlesque shows at the Follies Burlesk and Gaiety Theater in in Times Square, New York City, 1975.

Posters advertising burlesque shows at the Follies Burlesk and Gaiety Theater in in Times Square, New York City, 1975.

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#23 Men walking past the entrance to one of the strip clubs around Times Square, New York City, 1975.

Men walking past the entrance to one of the strip clubs around Times Square, New York City, 1975.

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#24 The ‘Follies Burlesk’ showing the upcoming show for the ‘Gaiety Male Theater’ above ‘Howard Johnson’s’ restaurant on 46th St. and Broadway, New York City, 1978.

The 'Follies Burlesk' showing the upcoming show for the 'Gaiety Male Theater' above 'Howard Johnson's' restaurant on 46th St. and Broadway, New York City, 1978.

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#25 A sign offers ‘Private Preview Booths’ at a peep show, New York City, circa 1978.

A sign offers 'Private Preview Booths' at a peep show, New York City, circa 1978.

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#26 Cinemas and burlesque theatres on 42nd Street, New York City, 1984.

Cinemas and burlesque theatres on 42nd Street, New York City, 1984.

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#27 A teenage hustler fooling around with two transvestites.

A teenage hustler fooling around with two transvestites.

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#28 The homeless populations of Times Square and neighboring Port Authority skyrocketed during the 1970s and 1980s.

The homeless populations of Times Square and neighboring Port Authority skyrocketed during the 1970s and 1980s.

Combined with the pervasiveness of the drug and sex enterprises, this proved to be a chaotic brew of ingredients for the area.

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#29 A salesman at a sex shop surveys his storefront as he waits for customers to stroll by. 1970

A salesman at a sex shop surveys his storefront as he waits for customers to stroll by. 1970

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#30 An usher stands near the box office of a movie theater that screens pornography films. No one under the age of 21 would be let in.

An usher stands near the box office of a movie theater that screens pornography films. No one under the age of 21 would be let in.

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#31 Twenty-five-cent peep shows were the first adult stores to arrive in Times Square beginning in 1966. Enormously profitable, they opened the door for adult movie theaters, strip clubs, and sex stores.

Twenty-five-cent peep shows were the first adult stores to arrive in Times Square beginning in 1966. Enormously profitable, they opened the door for adult movie theaters, strip clubs, and sex stores.

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#32 Street scene showing a sex shop and massage parlour titled ‘Porno House’, New York City, 1975.

Street scene showing a sex shop and massage parlour titled 'Porno House', New York City, 1975.

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#33 A view of the entrance to the ‘Live Nude Review’ on West 42nd Street, New York City, 1978.

A view of the entrance to the 'Live Nude Review' on West 42nd Street, New York City, 1978.

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#34 The ‘Whirly Girly Revue’ and ‘Bigtime Vaudeville’ strip club signs at the ‘Follies Burlesk’ on 46th St. and Broadway, New York City, 1978.

The 'Whirly Girly Revue' and 'Bigtime Vaudeville' strip club signs at the 'Follies Burlesk' on 46th St. and Broadway, New York City, 1978.

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#35 Two men walking past the entrance to a topless disco, New York City, circa 1980.

Two men walking past the entrance to a topless disco, New York City, circa 1980.

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#36 Peep show with sound onlly 25 cents.

Peep show with sound onlly 25 cents.

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#37 An exterior view of a cinema which is showing the adult film ‘The Filthy Rich’, New York City, 1982.

An exterior view of a cinema which is showing the adult film 'The Filthy Rich', New York City, 1982.

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#38 The Circus Cinema in Times Square, showing ‘Taboo II’, an incest-themed adult film, New York City, 1983.

The Circus Cinema in Times Square, showing 'Taboo II', an incest-themed adult film, New York City, 1983.

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#39 People converse in front of the infamous “House of Paradise.”

People converse in front of the infamous "House of Paradise."

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#40 Rolling Stone referred to Times Square as the “sleaziest block in America.”

Rolling Stone referred to Times Square as the “sleaziest block in America."

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#41 Black Jack Exotic Book Store on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenue features the “latest and greatest.” These stores were rampant in the 1970s.

Black Jack Exotic Book Store on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenue features the "latest and greatest." These stores were rampant in the 1970s.

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#42 Time square, 70s.

Time square, 70s.

As the Guardian describes, "Times Square’s venerable old theatres and spectacular movie palaces were torn down for office buildings or allowed to slowly rot away, showing scratchy prints of cheesy second-run films or pornography, which any casual visitor might have thought was the city’s leading industry."

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#43 Two teenage hustlers walk by an x-rated video store in Times Square that offered nude girls for 25 cents.

Two teenage hustlers walk by an x-rated video store in Times Square that offered nude girls for 25 cents.

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#44 Hustlers (center) and chicken hawks (left and right), older men who pay for sex with young boys.

Hustlers (center) and chicken hawks (left and right), older men who pay for sex with young boys.

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#45 Hustlers and chicken hawks.

Hustlers and chicken hawks.

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#46 Two young hustlers in Times Square.

Two young hustlers in Times Square.

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#47 A child prostitute and his friend in the subway, heading home in the Bronx after a night hustling in Times Square.

A child prostitute and his friend in the subway, heading home in the Bronx after a night hustling in Times Square.

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#48 Child prostitutes or also known as teenage hustlers share a cigarette while waiting for customers on 7th Avenue near 42nd Street.

Child prostitutes or also known as teenage hustlers share a cigarette while waiting for customers on 7th Avenue near 42nd Street.

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#49 A teenage hustler smoking in a telephone booth.

A teenage hustler smoking in a telephone booth.

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#50 A 16-year-old child prostitute (right) sniffs glue out of a paper bag as his friend (left), an older hustler, undresses him in 1979.

A 16-year-old child prostitute (right) sniffs glue out of a paper bag as his friend (left), an older hustler, undresses him in 1979.

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#51 Hustlers (center) and chicken hawks in Times Square.

Hustlers (center) and chicken hawks in Times Square.

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#52 People pass unperturbed by the offerings of Taboo II.

People pass unperturbed by the offerings of Taboo II.

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#53 Adult male hustler kisses a 16-year-old child prostitute in Times Square.

Adult male hustler kisses a 16-year-old child prostitute in Times Square.

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#54 Child prostitutes talk with chicken hawks, men who buy sex with boy prostitutes, in Times Square.

Child prostitutes talk with chicken hawks, men who buy sex with boy prostitutes, in Times Square.

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#55 Three boy prostitutes pose for the camera while waiting for customers.

Three boy prostitutes pose for the camera while waiting for customers.

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#56 A 12-year-old hustler on 7th Avenue near 42nd Street.

A 12-year-old hustler on 7th Avenue near 42nd Street.

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#57 In 1976, a group of Hare Krishna followers sing and play instruments in Times Square under the marquee of an adult theater advertising the film Sweet Cakes.

In 1976, a group of Hare Krishna followers sing and play instruments in Times Square under the marquee of an adult theater advertising the film Sweet Cakes.

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#58 A homeless man sleeps on the sidewalk in front of the McAuley Cremorne Mission in 1985.

A homeless man sleeps on the sidewalk in front of the McAuley Cremorne Mission in 1985.

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Written by Aurora Hale

I am a blogger, entrepreneur and small business coach. I'm an introvert and cat lover. My favourite hobbies are breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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27 Comments

  1. Is prostitution illegal in the United States? I was surprised to read that in one of the comments below.
    I had always wondered, however, what happened between the images of 60’s New York and the late 80’s New York when things appeared to be improving. After watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I felt enchanted about the city, and after watching Taxi Driver, I wondered, is this the city everyone wants to live in?

    I wonder what happened to those perverts looking for child prostitutes. I hope they are at least rotting now. It seems that most of the child prostitutes are black or Latino. How did things look for these groups in the 70s? Did New Yorkers suffer from poverty in general?

    • Yeah, that’s about where I stopped because of the weird reactionary language they used, describing children as “hustlers” and the woman as a “transvestite”, but the last half of the video contains some bizarre pictures. I agree with you, though I don’t think brothels should exist because that’s just another pimp sucking money from sex workers while not doing them any good.

      • Legalizing prostitution makes it safer for everyone involved. The brothels have to register with the police, the workers have to get regular health checks, and the brothels provide a safe work environment. Their employer even pays them superannuation, and then they have to pay tax like everyone else. The work conditions are 100 times better than in places run by a shady pimp with a gun where sex workers have no control over their wages or the safety of their work.

        • If prostitution is presented to me in any form, I will support it. In addition to the fact that it shouldn’t be unregulated or unsafe, it seems like an even more exploitative form of wage labor to allow businesses to profit from sex workers’ labor. Despite that, I believe their safety is compelling enough to justify their use. It seems like a brothel style model will keep the workers the safest, but I think proper regulation of independently operating sex workers could be less economically exploitative and equally safe.