The near freezing weather and packed crowds aren’t enough to deter the thousands who cram into Times Square every December 31st to watch the ball drop from the top of One Times Square. The New Years Eve event often has nearly a billion people watching, but there’s more to the building than the flashy billboards and crystal ball.
Adolph Ochs was born to two German-Jewish immigrants in 1858. He started his newspaper career as a delivery boy and worked as an office worker and an apprentice printer before purchasing controlling interest in the Chattanooga Times Free Press when he was 19 years old. Nineteen years later, he purchased the struggling New York Times and in 1903, commissioned a building to house the newspaper.
Cyrus Eidlitz would be the architect to design the building that would change the surrounding area. Eidlitz was born to a Jewish father and a Christian mother in 1853. Educated in New York, Switzerland, and Germany, he came back to New York City in the 1870’s to join his father’s architectural firm.
The 25-story building he designed was the second tallest building in Manhattan at the time of its completion and would lend its name to the former Long Acre Square (also known as Satan’s Circus) in an attempt to gentrify the area.
Upon its completion, Ochs set off fireworks on New Year’s Eve 1904 to inaugurate One Times Square. Two years later, he would replace the firework display, and instead chose to ring in the year 1908 with the first New Year’s Eve ball drop, a tradition held every year after except for 1942 and 1943 due to wartime blackouts.
The One Times Square building would soon prove to be too small to house the booming New York Times and the newspaper would move down the road to the Time’s Annex on West 43rd Street. The Times would stay there for just under a century before moving to its current home on the border of Hudson Yards and Times Square in 2007.
Both Eidlitz and Ochs were innovators in their fields. The Architecture firm owned by Eidlitz and his partner Andrew McKenzie would be one of the first firms to consider engineers as equal to architects. Eidlitz would go on to found HLW International, one of the oldest architectural firms in America. Ochs took over a newspaper that was losing $1,000 a week and over the course of his nearly four-decade-long tenure, turned it into one of the most reputable newspapers in the world. He was a reformed Jew and his involvement with the Anti-Defamation League led him to use his substantial influence to successfully campaign against antisemitism in the American press.
- Aspen Scafa, Center for Jewish History intern. Aspen is a senior at The King’s College majoring in Religious and Theological Studies with a History Minor