The Story Behind The Strangely Empty Times Square Building Where The New Year's Eve Ball Drops Every Year

Last year, The New Yorker released a fantastic video tour of the building that houses the New Year’s Eve Ball in New York City.

While it’s located in Times Square at the so-called “center of the universe,” the billboard-covered building is mostly empty. According to The New Yorker, The New York Times constructed the building at One Times Square as its headquarters in 1904, and staged a massive New Year’s Eve fireworks display to celebrate.

Wikimedia CommonsOne Times Square under construction in 1903.

But when the city outlawed the fireworks, The Times’ chief electrician Walter Palmer came up with the idea to drop a lighted ball from the top of the tower instead.

The New York Times owned the building for less than 10 years, and it fell into disrepair as Midtown grew seedy. According to a 1961 “Talk of the Town” piece, “There was a time when a speakeasy was going full blast in one of the basements (of One Times Square)…when the F.B.I.  — this was during the Second World War  — was holding pistol practice in a basement and using a 7th floor office to trap German spies.”

Wikimedia CommonsOne Times Square during a World Series game in 1919.

In 1995, Lehman Brothers bought the building, but instead of leasing office space, it turned the 25-story tower into a billboard and made a 300% profit in two years, according to The New Yorker.

Jamestown Properties has owned One Times Square since 1997. Filings from 2012 show that the billboards covering the building generate over $US23 million annually, which represents 85% of the building’s total revenue. The building itself has an estimated value between $US378 million and $US495 million.

Wikimedia CommonsThe billboard-covered building in 2012.

Walgreens leases the first three floors, with some storage space above that. The upper floors are used by the One Times Square Production Management Team for New Year’s Eve. But in between, there’s not much else.

Wikimedia CommonsThe current roof of One Times Square, featuring the New Year’s ball.


Check out The New Yorker’s video below:

Paige Cooperstein wrote the original version of this story.

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