.MNR: Nostalgia Series Blog #1- The Deuce (42nd Street/Times Square)
What comes to mind when I mention The Deuce? Dallas BBQ? Loews Theater? Port Authority? Word. I bet all that pops up in your mental. I’m sure you’ve heard all types of stories from your older NYC/Jerz family that’s true, but there’s so much more to the story. There’s an origin to everything. Much of it may surprise you. Example: I’m sure everyone’s familiar with the term gentrification (look out for my academic essay The Gentrification of East Harlem and America, an entry from my next book 100 Blocks Stories 2), but did you know that the gentrification of NYC actually has roots in Times Square or that the initiative began in the late ‘70s? Yup. But we’ll get to that later. Let’s begin with the crossroads of the world, Times Square.
Times Square actually used to be named Longacre Square. It was rechristened Times Square in 1904 when The New York Times moved its headquarters to the brand-new Times Building (now One Times Square). It grew as a performing arts mecca after World War II, becoming a hub for theater, music halls, and hotels. Its world-famous electric signs and marquees became part of Times Square in the ‘20s as advertising blew up. It became the location for New Years’ Eve and the iconic ball drop at midnight. Yadda, yadda, yadda…
42nd St began its decline in the ‘60s, but by the ‘70s its reputation as The Deuce was well earned as it became the scum bucket of the city. Fiscally, the city was dead broke, and when a city is dead broke, budgetary cuts to the public sector come first and they come heavy. With basically 30% of the NYPD lost to budget cuts and many of the pigs left being utterly fucking corrupt, The Deuce became the devil’s playground. Hookers openly turned tricks on The Deuce with little objection from the law, barely having to go a few steps to take a john to one of many short stay hotels that were established purely for hooker/john fuck sessions and transient stay. And when the squeeze did come, it was merely to take the sex trade indoors so that it was out of sight from the untrained eye. With this came the rise of indoor massage (sex) parlors and the evolution of XXX peep shops from just dirty magazines to reeled loops, the first XXX movies. Some unknown genius came up with the idea to make private stalls for dirty boys to shake one or more off in privacy. Private booths with windows that opened and shut were created to watch live naked ladies dance. Eventually the fiberglass shield was taken out the windows so men could touch the ladies for tips. Of course, the mob had its hands in it all, making money hand over fist. As the traditional pimp/whore relationship began to decline, the porn and sex industry began to explode. The Deuce was the east coast epicenter for it all. And Port Authority? Port Authority was absolutely disgusting. Many an out of town pilgrim cutie with hopes of big city fame and stardom fell victim to pimps before they made it from the basement to street level. The Deuce was absolutely out of control. But in the late ‘70s, along came an ambitious mayor named Edward Koch, a native New Yorker of Jewish descent. He was actually able to carry out the dream that began with mayors Lindsay and Beame. They realized that the key to getting NYC back on track was business and tourism. Business would inherently attract workers to move to the city seeking employment. More residents and big tourism feed and stimulate the city’s economy. So, in theory, economic redevelopment/revitalization led to the gentrification of cities. But they knew that a high crime area was a turnoff to tourists. So, they began to clean The Deuce slowly but surely. The groundwork had just begun but it would see itself through by the end of the millennium.
The ‘80s are now seen from a nostalgic standpoint. Most who are old enough to have frequented the Deuce during that era recall the kung-Fu and XXX theaters, sex shops like Playland and Show World, the Brooklyn wolf packs (groups of 10-40 kids who ran reckless through The Deuce) and the Lo Lifes (the BK crew that introduced the hood to Polo; they boosted from Macy’s and Bloomingdales in packs). Add them to all the aforementioned fuckery from the previous decade, and The Deuce was in its heyday. Port Authority was still shitty and dangerous, and the element of crime was still superfluous. But that change I spoke on? It was quietly making strides. Personally, I always look to one or two major changes when it comes to a city or an area of a city making its comeback. Many look at Magic bringing his movie theater to Harlem on 2fifth in spearheading Harlem’s comeback in the early ‘00s. It gives other businesses the green light of confidence to bring their industries into the mix. For The Deuce, it was the Marriott Marquis. The project began in the ‘70s as a Western International Hotels initiative but was abandoned for lack of cash flow. Marriott picked it up, it opened in ’85, and the rest is history. So back to this change that came to The Deuce. It came under the umbrella of economic redevelopment. The suits realized that Times Square was prime Manhattan real estate, ripe to explode. They also realized that they were bringing in little to no money in business taxation. As soon as they were able to dig through paperwork, they were able to identify the shady property owners throughout The Deuce and pressure them out in a variety of ways. Those more compliant would take buyouts. Massage parlors on The Deuce and gay bathhouses throughout the city were closed in the mid ‘80s amidst the AIDS scare (crisis). The initiative would come full circle in the ‘90s.
The ‘90s…that was my era. I was 16, 17 running wild through The Deuce during those unforgettable mid ‘90s summers. By then all of the theaters were shut down, from kung-Fu to XXX. But the sex shops were still in abundance, and I must admit, I was a dirty little boy. I can actually say that I’ve been in a booth with the raised window. I’ve touched plenty of titties for dollars. Window closed fast AF. But it was well worth it to a 16-year-old me. And the booths with the movies? Fuhgeddaboudit. By then they had evolved from a single loop to four screens at once with buttons to flip a channel at a time. And let me tell you: some of those channels had some utterly sick shit on ‘em. No problem. Just press the shit out that particular button. I had a time. Soon after, Giuliani got that law passed that a sex shop couldn’t be within 500 yards of a church or school. Try finding that shit in the city. So slowly but surely all the sex shops closed. Candy Land, NY began to take form. Fast forward to present time and The Deuce is absolutely nothing like it was. Now it’s Disney, Madam Toussaint’s, Dave & Busters. And that’s a good thing, culturally. And oh yeah, the hookers…you may wonder where they went. I mean, ain’t no business like hoe business. The game don’t stop. And you already know the answer to your question. They relocated to the X. Hunts Point. Pure facts. So, next time you’re upstairs at BBQ sipping on your Texas Size Famous Frozen Drink with the Coronita and shooter while you’re looking out the window waiting for your Hennessy wings, imagine it’s ’72 era outside downstairs and anything goes. That’s the MF Deuce. Peace y’all. It’s my time.