A 1970s proposal to legalize prostitution

You know the story: After Times Square’s heyday through the 1950s, it slid into seediness and decay.

By the early 1970s, West 42nd Street was packed with sleazy characters, leaving the people who made their living in the Theater District feeling unsafe.

So a group of 62 performers came up with a radical idea.

They sent a letter to Mayor John Lindsay proposing that the city create a legal red-light district, where the “prostitutes, pimps, perverts, and panhandlers” who made Times Square so dangerous could ply their trade.

Needless to say, Mayor Lindsay vetoed what he called a “drastic suggestion,” according to a New York Times article on August 9, 1972:

“[Lindsay] spoke of the ‘basic moral question’ of legalizing prostitution, the perhaps insoluble task of finding a location for such a district and the additional problems of controlling the influx of prostitutes that would result from legalization.”

Lindsay’s plan was to have law enforcement beef up the arrests of streetwalkers and padlock massage parlors.

But it took another 20 years—and a different mayor—to make a real dent in Times Square’s rep as a hooker haven.

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6 Responses to “A 1970s proposal to legalize prostitution”

  1. Josie Says:

    Aw, they took the fun out of Times Square and appropriated it for the yuppies. I remember the good old days in the 1950s, 1960, even into the 1970s, going to endless movies and souvenir shops and cheap eateries and watching the diversity of street life. No one was ever in the least menaced by prostitution, peep shows, etc. They were just there if you were interested. They did not bother you if you were not. It was in the 1980s that real criminal elements took over at night. They literally brought huge wicker chairs that looked like thrones, lined the sidewalks with faux persian rugs, laid out their stolen goods for sale, and established themselves along the street. People were afraid to walk through there or even drive through there. Even the *cops* stayed away. With no more normal foot traffic on street level and lots of wilders and muggers in the subway stations (again, no cops around), department stores took to closing ridiculously early (including Macy’s etc. in Herald Square, blocks away). Eventually, yes, it was all “cleaned up” and the high rises started going up, it became a place for young stockbrokers to live and play, and no one will ever in the future count it as part of a colorful New York. Bah.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I’d love to see a photo of the wicker chair/stolen goods scene you describe. I do remember a similar scenario near Astor Place in the early 90s, with all kinds of lowlifes hawking anything they can on the sidewalks and in a parking lot on warm nights. Now that parking lot is the Sculpture for Living apartment building!

  3. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Hey, you should read my ‘100 Whores’ is you want to know what it was like


    A totally different world in the 60s

  4. Nabe News: February 16 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    […] to the Deuce in the 1970s, when a group of performers sent a proposal to Mayor Lindsay outlining a plan to legalize prostitution.  Can you imagine NYC with a red-light district? […]

  5. peep shows, the Blackout, economic crisis and looting. Ah, the good old days of NYC in the ’70s | New York Walkabouts Says:

    […] Micky Mouse. Who should have won? What did we lose in the sell-out? (as an aside, take a look at NYC 1970s proposal to legalize prostitution. Clearly, it didnt pass. No matter how shady, there will always be something alluring […]

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