New Yorkers may find this hard to believe, but it is possible to find peace and quiet in the midst of the chaos in Times Square. Don’t believe us? Just take a seat on the Times Square Red Steps and see for yourself.
“It is oddly quiet once you get inside that glass,” said Victoria Bailey, executive director of the Theatre Development Fund (TDF), which runs the TKTS booth below the iconic Red Steps. “It’s this spot of some periodic tranquility in the midst of all of this.”
The Times Square Red Steps turned 10 this month, opening after a design competition drew 683 entrants from across the world to design a new TKTS booth.
“The booth had opened in 1973, and we were still basically a construction trailer,” Bailey said. “The thought was by 2000, it was time to build something permanent and not only to build a new booth, but to reimagine Times Square.”
At the time, the area “had the luxury of being in a situation where crime had gone way down, and people suddenly could raise their expectations of what this should be, what the streets, sidewalks and public spaces could be,” said Tim Tompkins, president of the nonprofit Times Square Alliance.
Times Square Red Steps celebrate the Great White Way
In addition to revamping perceptions — and becoming one of the city’s original shared streets where pedestrians can walk freely — the Times Square Red Steps also celebrate what’s at the district’s heart.
“There was nothing here that said theater; there was nothing on the ground that was about Broadway, which is, of course, the driver,” Bailey said.
Though not a design inspiration for the architects, the Times Square Red Steps even “mimic a Greek amphitheater,” Tompkins said. “We still say it’s the second-best show on Broadway to sit there and watch New York City go by.”
Before they were even finished, the Times Square Red Steps were already a movie star, having appeared, destroyed and covered in graffiti, in 2007’s “I Am Legend” starring Will Smith.
“It was ‘here’s what we don’t want to happen,’” Bailey said with a chuckle.
Since opening in 2008, the Red Steps have been Instagrammed likely millions of times and seen hundreds of wedding vow renewals every year.
But when the iconic glass stairs starred alongside Jay-Z and Alicia Keys in their 2009 music video for the anthemic “Empire State of Mind,” “we really knew we had touched something,” Tompkins said.
“It just has become not only for the tourists, it’s made Times Square better for New Yorkers,” Bailey said. “It’s become one of those things that are part of the city. A lot of those things are old and historic, and this is new and fresh.”