Anthony Bianco's Ghosts of 42nd Street is the dramatic and definitive story of this legendary strip, told through the people involved in its founding and its current renaissance -- from the bosses of the world's top media companies to premier property developers to the city's powerful political interests to the small-business proprietors, drug dealers, pimps, pornographers, and slumlords who have all called it home.
Larger-than-life characters such as Oscar Hammerstein I, Florenz Ziegfeld, Billy Minsky, and other show business stars bring the street's history to life. But at the heart of this fast-paced urban adventure is 42nd Street itself and its ten theaters:
• the Apollo • the Lyric • the Harris
• the New Victory • the New Amsterdam
• the Times Square • the Selwyn
• the Liberty • the Empire • the Rialto
Beginning in 1899, a burst of construction on the mid-Manhattan block of West 42nd Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue created the greatest concentration of theaters America had ever seen, giving birth to today's Broadway theater district. When the New York Times built a slender twenty-five-story tower on an odd, triangular site formed by the convergence of 42nd Street, Broadway, and Seventh Avenue, the city named the square facing the tower Times Square, which quickly became New York's gathering place for all important civic events.
In its heyday, 42nd Street was excessive, expensive, unpredictable, loud, fun, and, at times, dangerous. Forty-second Street's Golden Age of entertainment ended by 1930 and the street quickly devolved from the nation's first show business capital into its first retail porn center, becoming even more infamous for its squalor. Its denizens rechristened 42nd Street as "Forty Deuce" or simply "the Deuce." This downward trend continued into recent decades, when 42nd Street was largely demolished and rebuilt in the largest urban renewal project in New York history, creating the Times Square we know today -- still known far and wide as the "Crossroads of the World."
Part urban history, part cultural analysis, part business study, Ghosts of 42nd Street shows how this tiny, magical patch of midtown Manhattan looms large in the popular imagination as America's most culturally important thoroughfare.
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Anthony Bianco is a senior writer at Business Week. He is the author of two books, The Reichmanns: Family, Faith, Fortune and the Empire of the Olympia & York and Rainmaker: The Saga of Jeff Beck, Wall Street's Mad Dog. He lives in New York City.
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