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Times Square: 1943

New York, March 1943. "Times Square on a rainy day." Medium-format nitrate negative by John Vachon for the Office of War Information. View full size.

New York, March 1943. "Times Square on a rainy day." Medium-format nitrate negative by John Vachon for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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About that traffic light

A couple commenters noticed the traffic light with only red and green; New York City didn't start using red-amber-green until the early 50's, and the transition took about 40 years to complete. I remember seeing some red-green signals still hanging on here and there in the city through the 70s.

The other interesting thing about this particular light is that you can see here that the lenses are masked for war-time darkening. There is only a very small cross of light visible for each indication, rather than the whole 8"-wide ball that would normally be visible. I find it amazing that anyone could see these signals darkened like that.

In Living Color

A large full colorized version can be found here.

More on the Checker Model A here.

Almost exact location, 11 years later

About 11 years later, my grandfather took a picture on a very similar, rainy day. He was about half a block farther south, and little bit to the left.

One thing that surprises me is that the first movie theater just south of 46th has a Planters ad over the marquee, and not an ad for what's showing, like in the 1954 image. Other little changes, like light poles are different, no WAAC globe in 54, and many more pigeons!

Locus of creativity

This wonderful image adds another dimension to the descriptive work from that era left to us by Kerouac; it is the Times Square of Edie Parker, Huncke, Lucien Carr, Burroughs, Ginsberg, and late-night camaraderies that inspired some of the best writing of that generation.

WAAC Booth

Here's a closer view of the WAAC booth with my Mom and her friends. Taken the same day as the pic below with Father Duffy.


Here is the view from the identical location and angle from August of 2009. As Azelzion noted, the Horn and Hardart Automat is visible on the right of the original photo (my father told me that the one time he visited New York City was when he was in the Marines in the early 1950's and had Thanksgiving dinner at that automat). The Grand Slam souvenir shop now occupies that site. I believe it is the same structure but under a new facade (no traces of the automat can be seen inside, either). The Globe Theater, which also has an "Orpheum" sign, next door to the automat was replaced by a Howard Johnson's restaurant in 1955 and was a Times Square landmark until it closed in July of 2005 (I was fortunate to have had lunch in the aged but still charming restaurant in November of 2004). The site is currently undergoing construction of a new building to house a retail store.

The 1943 Father Duffy area in 2009

As of 2009, the large Celtic looking stone cross to the left in the 1943 pic is now directly at the bottom of the steps of the TKTS booth in Times Square.

The other side of the cross has the statue of Father Duffy so the 1943 pic is facing south. I think that spot is still called, Duffy Square? Interesting how the subway entrance used to be in what is now pavement in the middle of the two streets.

Here's an example to compare it to. "Times Square: 1943"

And the ladies under the Father Duffy pic in 1944. "Mother & Father Duffy"

Times bldg. & Flatiron bldg.

Sorry, Dave, but according to Times is taller than Flatiron (110.64 m vs. 86.87 m).

Funny thing is that I too misidentificated these two buildings before I started read more about Manhattan skyscrapers. Now I'm old NYC highrise fan and I love your site.

[Maybe you're still a bit confused. The Times building is behind the "Buy War Bonds" building, which is just 16 stories tall. - Dave]

Horn and Hardart

The building just to the right of the Globe Theater (partially shown) is Horn and Hardart Automat. If this is 1943 it may not have been the Automat yet, as I didn't get to New York until 1947, at age 15, but by then it certainly was the Automat as I was in it a lot. Coming from Boston and all alone I was a scared kid to be in middle of Times Square. The Palace theater was across the street showing "The Spiral Staircase." I believe to the right of the Astor was the Victoria Theater, probably yet to be where the Laff Movie seems to be in 1943. I think the Globe was later to be the Times Square Theater or something like that. I remember seeing "An American in Paris" there around 1953.

Movie schedule

"The Human Comedy" opened at the Astor Tuesday, March 2 so that eliminates one day.

March 1-17, 1943

Well, the only way I can narrow down the date is to find out that the movie at the Globe changed beginning Thursday, March 18 (Saludos Amigos had its last showing on the 17th). Are there any other little hints in the picture to help date it?

The Lonely Crowd

I love the complete anonymity of the few people in this photo. You can't see their faces. They could be anyone, lost somewhere in the sprawling metropolis.

47th Street

This is looking south from 47th Street. The building on the right has been replaced by the W Hotel and the Marriott has replaced the building just south of that. This is where the TKTS booth is nowadays.

And as a matter of fact, my office window (where I am sitting right now) is on the left -- just to the right of the letter A in "State".

Admiral-Canadian Club Redux

That Admiral - Canadian Club stack of signs was at the north end of Times Square and not hung on the Times Tower on the south end. Notice that the Astor Hotel is on the left, or west, side of the Square. The Astor Theater was a favorite with my family, when we were in town just to see a movie, and not to go to the Paramount, Roxy or the Music Hall (or to the Center Theater for the ice show), all of which complemented their movies with stage musical and comedy shows, such as The Phil Spitalny All-Girl Orchestra featuring Evelyn and Her Magic Violin, Phil Silvers, and Danny Kaye. Wow! There were giants (managed by Bill Terry and Mel Ott) in NYC in Those Days!

And weren't those funny-looking cabs DeSotos?

[The ones in this photo are Checkers. - Dave]

Color me gray

This would be fun to see in color: the brightness of the billboards and the taxis would really stand out against the steely cold damp drabness of everything else. Colorizing after the fact wouldn't quite capture the atmosphere, but maybe I'll try anyway. Unless someone else wants to...?


That brilliant facade of the night, the signs that scream see this, drink this, buy this, are stripped of their promise by the harsh drab light of day. Across the street is the Orpheum. A gilded palace where baggy pant top bananas tell stale jokes and cheap B girls shimmy and strip to the cat calls and wolf whistles of the lonely and desperate. I pull up my collar against the wind and start across. My feet make pearlescent rings in the oil drenched street. It's a cold rain, but not enough rain to wash the dirt from this city. Depression is daylight, and rain and Times Square.

Crossed Streets

Perhaps Mr. Mel has Bway and Seventh reversed. In the foreground Broadway is on the right -- a two-way avenue at the time, one-way going south when I moved here, no-way as of last month (pedestrians only). Seventh Avenue is out of view on our left. In the distance where the Times building is (with a V for "Victory" and War Bonds), the two cross and Broadway goes away down the canyon to the left and Seventh Avenue continues down the canyon to the right.

WAAC = Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, soon changed to Women's Army Corps (the famous WACs of the WACs, WAVEs, WASPs, and SPARs).

Re the Flatiron Building misidentifications, I myself got the Times tower confused with yet a third building in the Central 40s (still standing) in another Shorpy last week. It's too easy to get confused because with the ugly sheathing obscuring all the turn- of- the- century beauty, the Times tower shell we see today isn't recognizable to its appearance in photos.

This is wartime and the neon signage is a sad subdued shadow of its peacetime glories.

Now that's Times Square!

Mysterious and alluring, rain or shine, night or day. Not the sterile, Disneyfied pedestrian mall that's closed off to traffic now.


Here, a 5/15/43 NY Times entry about the theater to the right of the Astor.

Parts of the 42nd Street sister-theater mentioned in the article have been put to good use as the AMC Empire 25.


Also visible is a billboard for "The Human Comedy," a superb movie, a bit maudlin now, but still a classic and well worth watching.

Trash baskets

I love the wire trash cans. They're right out of a Looney Toons reel. Do these still exist?

Taxi grab

That shot of the Checker Model A taxi is a frame grab from the film Kiss of Death (1949). The one where Richard Widmark pushes the old lady in a wheelchair down the stairs.

Some things never change

The manhole covers look the same today. The potholes, too.

Red and Green

I'm not sure when New York replaced all the older two-color lights, but I can remember them still being around during my childhood in the mid- to late-1950's. As I recall, at one point they had them showing both red and green to mean "caution" in place of the yellow light.

Admiral -- Canadian Club

Not only is that not the Flatiron, it's the building Times Square was named after -- the old New York Times headquarters. Known mainly for the past 60-odd years as the building that holds up the big billboards at the end of Times Square. It's encased almost entirely in signage.


It makes me shiver just to see this photo. How gray and cold that rain must be. I also notice the "Buy War Bonds" sign on the Flatiron Building, and the WAAC sign. Is that a recruiting station or something? Also visible above the marquee is an Orpheum sign, presumably from the old Vaudeville days. A real step back into America's past. I wonder if it was Sunday, with so few people on the street.

[That's not the Flatiron Building. Which is taller, and not on Times Square. - Dave]


This picture shows Seventh Avenue, which looks like it was a two way street then. Out of the photo, to the left, would be Broadway. Mayor Bloomberg has shut off any traffic between 47th and 42nd Streets on Broadway. It is now a mall, complete with folding chairs and is mobbed on the nicer days.

Stop n Go

Is that one of the old-fashioned stoplights that only had red and green lenses? I would have thought those were all gone by 1943.

Now you know the rest of the jingle

Schaefer is the one beer to have...when you're having more than one!
Schaefer's pleasure doesn't fade even when your thirst is done.
The most rewarding flavor in this man's world, for people who are having fun.
Schaefer is the one beer to have when you're having more than one.

I wonder how long it's been since that was on the airwaves...


Schaefer is the one beer to have...when you're having more than one!

Saludos Amigos en la Plaza del Tiempo

The Globe Theater on the right has put up a lavish display for Walt Disney's "Saludos Amigos," a 42-minute feature cartoon that encouraged our wartime "Good Neighbor Policy" with South America. Here's the Disney lobby poster that the Globe copied for its building-high banner.

Mother & Father Duffy

At the far left, you can see the Father Duffy Statue. Here's the statue in 1944. The pretty woman in the middle is my mother.


Those taxicabs look particularly strange, kinda like a 1930s front plastered on a 1940-ish body shell. And the coupelet back makes them even stranger! Any idea what they are?

[Circa 1940 Checker Model A. - Dave]


Check out the blackout headlights on the taxicabs. My mother remembers those.

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