The prostitutes, pimps, hustlers, pickpockets and card sharks didn't even notice, but the Times Square ribbon of moving electric-light headlines that has flashed the history of nearly half a century to passersby on Broadway was shut down today for the first time since 1928.
Alex Parker, owner of the historic Times Tower Building around which news bulletins have flashed incestantly since Herbert Hoover was elected President, shut off the news signboard in protest of rising crime and pornography in the area.
With a wave to an electrician posted by a switch, Parker darkened the celebrated sign and promised to k eep it shut down until he gets 100,000 names on "rampant" pornography and sex-on "rampant" pornography and sex-for-sale in the Times Square area.
Parker, a real estate entrepreneur known for his lavish but mostly unfulfilled promises to restore the Great White Way to greatness, said he also will cancel the New Year's Eve tradition of lowering a glowing bulb from Times Tower at the stroke of midnight.
Parker's midmorning sidewalk press conference and sign-darkening ceremony was mostly ignored by the continuously passing stream of tourists and funseekers, who seemed more impressed by a few television caeras than by the ceremonious passing of a communications era. It was also ignored by most of the ladies in hot pants and leather boots who dominate the street, most of whom weren't up that early.
But the dearth of attention did not inhibit Parker's celebration of his cause.
"I'm throwing down the gauntlet. The battle lines have been drawn. I'm putting the lights out to throw some light on the politicians who refuse to clean up this neighborhood," Parker said with a theatrical flair that seemed appropriate for the setting.
Parker said it costs him $300,000 a year to operate the sign, by the time he pays Reuters Ltd. News Service for the news summaries that flash across the marquee, electricians for almost constant bulb-changing and Consolidated Edison Co. for "electricity bills that you can't believe."
"Why should i spend $300,000 a year to entertain pimps and prostitutes?" Parker asked in an interview.
He said the problem, as he sees it, is not merely the massage parlors, streetwalkers and pornographic theaters that around in the Times Square area, but the criminal element that accompanies such trade.
Parker said he has been told by pollsters that 100,000 signatures on petitions can be extrapolated to reflect 700,000 New Yorkers sympathetic to his cause, and that his campaign will be "a formidable weapon against the politicians who refuse to do anything about Times Square."
"I'm telling Mayor (Abraham D.) Beame, My dear friend. If you don't do something now, you won't be around very long," said Parker, adding that if the city takes action he will turn on the electric sign again.
"Actually the mayor, accompanied by photographers and television camera crews, has been making unannounced visits to numerous massage parlors and pronographic shops in Times Square and other sections of the city, promoting a strict zoning ordinance that he says will sharply curtail such operations.
Parker, however, attributed the current crackdown to "the usual instinct of a politician to survive," and suggested that after the campaign, the prostitutes and hustlers would be considerably more evident in Times Square than the politicians, their aides and reporters.
"I can be flim-flammed like that maybe 100 times, but the 101st time won't work. I don't know who he thinks he's fooling," said Parker.