Morality, Social Disorder, and the Working Class in Times Square, 1892-1954

This article examines efforts to order Times Square during the first five decades of its existence as a high profile commercial centre. Between 1892 and 1954, New York City powerholders launched a number of clean up campaigns that sought to minimize the working class attributes of the district and to transform it into a mainstream consumption space. These campaigns targeted commercial sex, gay nightclubs, burlesque theatres, street vendors, ‘disorderly’ people, and honky tonks. The strategies used to order Times Square included exclusionary zoning, moral campaigns and restrictive licensing, as well as the enforcement of curfews, building codes, anti-loitering legislation, and indecency statutes. Despite these efforts, the working class character of Times Square persisted, even though the operation of many working class establishments was disrupted and the freedom of ordinary people to frequent the district was compromised.

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