Grindhouse movie theaters on 42nd Street in 1985 before its renovation; the 200 block of W. 42nd Street; former Lyric Theatre facade and nearby buildings
42nd Street is a major crosstown street in the New York City borough of Manhattan, known for its theaters, especially near the intersection with Broadway at Times Square in Midtown. It is also the name of the region of the theater district (and, at times, the red-light district) near that intersection. The street has held a special place in New Yorkers' imaginations since at least the turn of the 20th century, and is the site of some of New York's best known buildings, including (east to west) the headquarters of the United Nations, Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal, New York Public Library Main Branch, Times Square and the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
During the American Revolutionary War, a cornfield near 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue was where General George Washington angrily attempted to rally his troops after the British landing at Kip's Bay, which scattered many of the American militiamen. Washington's attempt put him in danger of being captured, and his officers had to persuade him to leave. The rout eventually subsided into an orderly retreat.
John Jacob Astor purchased a 70acre farm in 1803 that ran from 42nd Street to 46th Street west of Broadway to the Hudson River.
The street was designated by the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 that established the Manhattan street grid as one of 15 east-west streets that would be 100ft in width (while other streets were designated as 60ft in width).
In 1835, the city's Street Committee, after receiving numerous complaints about lack of access for development above 14th Street, decided to open up all lots which had already been plotted on the city grid up to 42nd Street, which thus became – for a time – the northern boundary of the city.
Cornelius Vanderbilt began the construction of Grand Central Depot in 1869 on 42nd Street at Fourth Avenue as the terminal for his Central, Hudson, Harlem and New Haven commuter rail lines, because city regulations required that trains be pulled by horse below 42nd Street. The Depot, which opened in 1871, was replaced by Grand Central Terminal in 1913.
Between the 1870s and 1890s, 42nd Street became the uptown boundary of the mainstream theatre district, which started around 23rd Street, as the entertainment district of the Tenderloin gradually moved northward.
The corner of 42nd Street and Broadway, at the southeast corner of Times Square, was the eastern terminus of the Lincoln Highway, the first road across the United States, which was conceived and mapped in 1913.
Lloyd Bacon and Busby Berkeley's 1933 film musical 42nd Street, starring 30s heartthrobs Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, displays the bawdy and colorful mixture of Broadway denizens and lowlifes in Manhattan during the Depression. In 1980, it was turned into a successful Broadway musical which ran until 1989, and which was revived for a four-year run in 2001. In the words of the Al Dubin and Harry Warren title song, on 42nd Street you can find:
Little from the Fifties, innocent and sweet,
Sexy ladies from the Eighties who are indiscreet,
They're side by side, they're glorified,
Where the underworld can meet the elite
Naughty, gawdy, bawdy, sporty, Forty-second Street!
From the late 1950s until the late 1980s, 42nd Street, nicknamed the "Deuce", was the cultural center of American grindhouse theaters, which spawned an entire subculture. The book Sleazoid Express, a travelogue of the 42nd Street grindhouses and the films they showed, describes the unique blend of people who made up the theater-goers:
depressives hiding from jobs, sexual obsessives, inner-city people seeking cheap diversions, teenagers skipping school, adventurous couples on dates, couples-chasers peeking on them, people getting high, homeless people sleeping, pickpockets...
While the street outside the theatres was populated with:
phony drug salesman ... low-level drug dealers, chain snatchers ... [j]unkies alone in their heroin/cocaine dreamworld ... predatory chickenhawks spying on underage trade looking for pickups ... male prostitutes of all ages ... [t]ranssexuals, hustlers, and closety gays with a fetishistic homo- or heterosexual itch to scratch ... It was common to see porn stars whose films were playing at the adult houses promenade down the block. ... Were you a freak? Not when you stepped onto the Deuce. Being a freak there would get you money, attention, entertainment, a starring part in a movie. Or maybe a robbery and a beating.
For much of the mid and late 20th century, the area of 42nd Street near Times Square
was home to activities often considered unsavory, including peep shows.
In the early 1990s, city government encouraged a cleanup of the Times Square area. In 1990, the city government took over six of the historic theatres on the block of 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, and New 42nd Street, a not-for-profit organization, was formed to oversee their renovation and reuse, as well as to construct new theatres and a rehearsal space.
In 1993, Disney Theatrical Productions bought the New Amsterdam Theatre, which it renovated a few years later. It is now the flagship for Disney's theatrical productions in New York.
Since the mid-1990s, the block has again become home to mainstream theatres and several multi-screen mainstream movie theatres, along with shops, restaurants, hotels, and attractions such as Madame Tussauds wax museum and Ripley's Believe It or Not that draw millions to the city every year. This area is now co-signed as "New 42nd Street" to signify this change.
Every New York City Subway line that crosses 42nd Street has a stop on 42nd Street:
There are two subway lines under 42nd Street. The IRT 42nd Street Shuttle runs under 42nd Street between Broadway/Seventh Avenue
(Times Square) and Park Avenue (Grand Central). The IRT Flushing Line curves from Eleventh Avenue
to 41st Street, under which it runs until Fifth Avenue
; shifts to 42nd Street between Fifth and Madison Avenue
s; and continues under the East River to Queens
. Each line stops at Times Square
and Grand Central
; the Flushing Line also stops at Fifth Avenue.
In the past, every former IRT elevated line had a station at 42nd Street:
- 42nd Street on the IRT Second Avenue Line
- 42nd Street on the IRT Third Avenue Line
- 42nd Street on the IRT Sixth Avenue Line
- 42nd Street on the IRT Ninth Avenue Line
A fifth station extended over 42nd Street as a western spur from the Third Avenue
Line to Grand Central Depot, later Grand Central Station, and finally Grand Central Terminal
Additionally, MTA Regional Bus Operations's M42 bus runs the length of 42nd Street between the Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises ferry terminal on the Hudson River and the headquarters of the United Nations on the East River. Its predecessor, the 42nd Street Crosstown Line streetcar, had used 42nd Street.
In popular culture
- The George M. Cohan song "Give My Regards to Broadway" includes the lyrics "Tell all the gang at Forty-Second Street / That I will soon be there".
- The Jim Croce song "You Don't Mess Around with Jim" includes the lyrics "42nd street got Big Jim Walker, he a pool shootin' son of a gun..."
- The Billy Joel song "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" includes the lyrics "We'd seen it all the time on 42nd Street..."
- The Scorpions song "The Zoo" talks about the busy nightlife in New York, it includes the lyrics "Enjoy the Zoo, walk down 42nd Street"
- The Bleachers song "Goodmorning" references "the kids at 42" who helped him out at one point in his life.
- The Don McLean song "Sister Fatima" on American Pie mentions 42nd Street as a way to set the scene of New York in the 1960s.
- The title track of rapper Kurtis Blow's second album Deuce also refers to the street and its nightlife.
- The novel Our Lady of the Inferno is largely set against the backdrop of 1980s 42nd Street; multiple reviews praised the book for its attention to detail in accurately recreating the environment as it existed.
In addition, "forty-deuce" is street slang for Manhattan's former live peep shows district on 42nd Street. The following works reference the phrase "forty-deuce":
- Forty Deuce, 1982 film
- The Deuce, 2017 TV series