I first laid eyes on Times Square in 1985. I had expected an awesome array of buildings and signs and was rather surprised at the modest, even shabby scale of most of the architecture. Of course, this is no longer the case. The towering skyscrapers I thought I would encounter then are now the norm and and small-scale edifices are hard to find.
For anyone wishing to understand what Times Square used to look like before Disney and the hotel chains and brokerages arrived in the neighborhood, take a look at the western half of W. 48th Street between Seventh and Sixth Avenues. The street is populated by old music stores like Sam Ash and has retained the dingy, personal, human look the area one boasted, when the "bigness" of Times Square had to do with the activity, the foot traffic and the importance of the people who did business there. The window frames look like they're original. Squint your eyes and you can spy dusty offices occupied by obscure practitioners or various odd jobs. There's even a theatre, the Cort, to tie the block into the area's theatrical past. There used to be two other theatres on the block, now long gone.