701 7th Avenue, former home to the Loews Mayfair Theater, is coming down. And it will take one of Times Square's loveliest buried secrets with it.
photo: Kevin Adams
Reader Kevin Adams sent in the sad news with a shot of the building at 7th and 47th, where recently the signage came down, revealing a relic of the 1980s--the old Panasonic sign.
That's not the lovely buried secret I'm referring to. As far as re-discovered signage goes, the Panasonic lacks a certain romance. It's no "All Live Whirly Girly Revue Big Time Vaudeville." But it does hold the outline of the past--and it's a tantalizing reminder that, underneath all those dumb jumbo TV screens and flat LED panels, there lies treasure just waiting to be found. Imagine stripping Times Square to the shale. What fossils would we find there?
But those treasures are destroyed forever when old buildings are torn down.
photo: Matt Weber, 1984
701 7th Avenue was built in 1909 with a theater inside it. Originally known as the Columbia, a vaudeville house, it was probably known best as the home of the Loews Mayfair, where that wraparound corner sign featured some of Times Square's most spectacular movie billboards.
Today, gorgeous little remnants of the Mayfair remain (I photographed and wrote about them here in 2011): terracotta details on the exterior; a vaulted, star-studded lobby ceiling; decorative grillwork; bits of banisters; carvings atop what was once a balcony. (And there's more.)
Later, it became the DeMille theater, and then the triplex Embassy 2-3-4. When movies died here, the Phantom of Broadway Gift Shop moved in. That's where you can go to see the artifacts of the Mayfair. But go now, because the Phantom of Broadway has already put up the "Going Out of Business" sign and all will soon be dust.
(The hidden "Toys, Souvenirs, Jokes" sign will also go with it.)
The Times reported last week that 701 7th Avenue will be "replaced by 85,000 square feet of retail space and a 500-room Marriott Edition boutique hotel." The retail space "will feature 25-foot glass storefronts" and "The building will have a 20,000-square-foot LED sign on its facade."
Take a look at the $800 million misery to come. The wraparound corner billboard that kept its shape right through the Panasonic days, and remained mostly the same up to today, will be replaced by a new wraparound--another dead television screen (the largest in Times Square) on another glass tower.
The new building is called 701TSQ--visit its website for more renderings and enthusiastic marketing copy. (There's a promo video celebrating "24/7/365 NON-STOP CONSUMER DEMAND" with a song that goes, "Never stop, never stop, never stop.")
They've included a Uniqlo on the ground floor where the Mayfair used to be.
What's next? I worry for this whole block.
As I said when I explored its history in 2011, "it's one of the few blocks in Times Square that has not been recently demolished for glass towers. Every building standing on it has been standing for a long time. You can actually imagine the past here."
After 701 falls and the new tower rises, the rest of this block's grubby little low-rises will become low-hanging fruit, ripe for the picking. Of the three to remain, one of those buildings includes the hidden remnants of an underground porno theater, formerly the Show Follies Center.
No one will be landmarking that one.
I also worry about the building across the square that once housed the greatest, grandest Automat and still contains fossils of that lost grandeur. It the Times article (which is just filled with horrors), the owner of its neighbor "is planning to refurbish or possibly demolish the building and replace it, and will expand the current two-story sign into a large 14-story LED sign."
These people won't be satisfied until they tear down all of old Times Square, until every cornice, lintel, and brick is replaced by the cold sheen of glass.
Bloomberg's monstrous tourist machine drives this destruction. And tourists will eat anything you put on their plate, as long as it's shiny and loaded with empty calories. As 701's developer told the Observer this past fall, “Our completed project will be the first building delivered in Times Square that is programmed and designed for the current massive consumption."
Between 47th and 48th
Toys, Souvenirs, Jokes
Show Follies Center
Secret Porn Theater