The old Selwyn Theatre collapsed Tuesday morning, a few months before its scheduled demolition
Out with the old, in with the new
Times Square renovation thrills some, leaves others longing for old-time grittiness
January 1, 1998
Web posted at: 11:39 a.m. EST (1639 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- New York's New Year's Eve clean-up began a little early this year following the Tuesday morning collapse of part of the old Selwyn Theatre, home in recent years to a display on the history of 42nd Street and Times Square. But the fabled area has been undergoing a more extensive clean-up for several years.
Organizers of the New Year's Eve celebration salvaged 20,000 balloons stored in the Selwyn for the event. The collapse may have been caused by heavy rains and construction next door, but the building would have come down in the spring anyway, when it was slated for demolition.
It's just another event in a dizzying schedule of change for the New York intersection known as the "Crossroads of the World."
Times Square tour guides have a long list of new stores, signs, theaters and office towers to point out these days. Disney now dominates one corner on 42nd Street -- in its beautifully restored Amsterdam Theater, "The Lion King" is the hottest ticket on Broadway.
A Warner Brothers store is going into One Times Square -- the tower where
the ball drops on New Year's Eve. A branch of Madame Toussaud's Wax Museum will open in a building on the south side of 42nd Street, next to a 25-screen movieplex.
On the north side, crews are building "E-Walk", an entertainment complex
featuring 16 movie screens and a theme restaurant evoking Las Vegas.
"What's great about the new Times Square is that it's built on the roots of the old Times Square," says Times Square Business Improvement District president Gretchen Dykstra. "We're still the commercial and entertainment capital. We're all surprised at the speed with which it's moved ahead."
Gritty past vs. squeaky-clean future?
Some New Yorkers are dismayed by what they call the "Disney-fication" of the theater district. They miss the gritty -- even sleazy -- side of life that Times Square displayed for out-of-towners until reformers launched a clean-up campaign six years ago.
But lifelong New Yorker Fred Hakim, for one, looks forward to going back in time.
"It was great," he says. "You could come down and have a ball, day or night, and not worry."
Hakim was 11 when his father opened a Times Square burger joint in 1939.
At 17, he was in the crowd celebrating the end of World War II. He experienced the Fabulous Fifties, and by the mid-60s, ran his own burger stand, the Grand Luncheonette, on 42nd Street.
In October, the state closed it down ... and Tuesday, it was buried in the building collapse. Still, Hakim hopes developers will find a place for him before the new century in the new Times Square.
CNN Correspondent Brian Jenkins contributed to this report.
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