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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.

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

#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.

#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.

  1. That’s a comic book character called Vampirella. She appeared in comics published by Warren publications, which also published Forry Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland.

#9 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.

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

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

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

#19 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.

#21 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.

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

#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.

#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.

#31 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.

#32 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.

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

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

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

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

#42 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.

#43 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."

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

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

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

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

#51 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.

#58 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.

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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