How the New Year's Eve Ball Drop Became a New York Tradition

Analyzing the top news stories across the web
Dec. 31 2013 1:51 PM

The Story of the Strangely Empty Building Where the Ball Drops Every New Year's Eve

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Lady Gaga and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg rang in the new year in 2011.

Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

The New Yorker released a fantastic video tour of the building that houses the New Year's Eve Ball in New York City.

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While it's located at the so-called "center of the universe," the billboard-covered building is mostly empty. According to the New Yorker, the New York Times constructed the building at One Times Square as its headquarters in 1904, and staged a massive New Year's Eve firework display to celebrate.

But when the city outlawed the fireworks, The Times' chief electrician, Walter Palmer, came up with the idea to drop a lighted ball from the top of the tower instead.

The New York Times owned the building for less than 10 years, and it fell into disrepair as Midtown grew seedy. According to a 1961 "Talk of the Town" piece, "There was a time when a speakeasy was going full blast in one of the basements (of One Times Square)...when the F.B.I. – this was during the Second World War – was holding pistol practice in a basement and using a 7th floor office to trap German spies."

In 1995, Lehman Brothers bought the building, but instead of leasing office space, it turned the 25-story tower into a billboard and made a 300 percent profit in two years, according to the New Yorker.

Jamestown Properties has owned One Times Square since 1997. Filings from 2012 show that the billboards covering the building generate over $23 million annually, which represents 85 percent of the building's total revenue. The building itself has an estimated value between $378 million and $495 million.

Walgreens leases the first three floors, with some storage space above that. The upper floors are used by the One Times Square Production Management Team for New Year's Eve. But in between, there's not much else.

Check out The New Yorker's video below:

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