The Times Square Alliance is proud to continue to work to improve and promote Times Square, so that it retains the creativity, energy and edge that have made it an icon for entertainment, culture and urban life for over a century.
St. Malachy's Roman Catholic Church was founded in 1902. Although the succeeding years have seen many changes in the surrounding neighborhood, the church remains an active integral part of the unusual and dynamic community that is Times Square.
By 1920, St. Malachy's found itself in the heart of a burgeoning theater district that had exploded into life in the surrounding neighborhood. Seemingly overnight, the traditional parishioners had been replaced in the pews by hordes of actors, dancers, musicians, craftsmen, and tourists. St. Malachy's soon adapted to the needs of the new parishioners. Masses, confessions, and missions were all arranged to accommodate the rigors of theater and nightclub schedules. And with the construction of the Actors' Chapel below the main church in 1920, St. Malachy's cemented its reputation as a haven of worship for the entertainment community.
Douglas Fairbanks married Joan Crawford at St. Malachy's. Herb Shriner's children were baptized there. Thousands jammed West 49th Street outside the church in final tribute to Rudolph Valentino. George M. Cohan, Spencer Tracy, Perry Como, Irene Dunne, Florence Henderson, Elaine Stritch, Rosalind Russell, Danny Thomas, Bob and Dolores Hope, and Ricardo Montalban all worshipped at St. Malachy's. Fred Allen, Don Ameche, Cyril Ritchard, Pat O'Brien and Jimmy Durante served many a mass. As late as 1968, over 16,000 people monthly attended St. Malachy's; and on opening nights, many in show business came to light candles for the success of their shows.
But sweeping change came again. Madison Square Garden moved away. The night clubs closed. Massage parlors, porn shops, prostitution and drugs moved in. The neighborhood became unstable. Theater people and tourists feared lingering in the area and stopped visiting St. Malachy's. Much of the parish's congregation moved away. Most who stayed were elderly and poor. Many were held virtually under siege in decaying single-room occupancy hotels and tenements with tubs in kitchens and shared bathrooms in hallways.
The church and its people were suffering, and vandalism and theft were weekly occurrences. But by working together with local and community organizations and with support from groups like the Shubert Foundation and the Times Square Alliance (then the Times Square Business Improvement District), church officials and parishioners set in motion another wave of far-reaching changes to improve the quality of life for the elderly and to repair and restore the church. Today, St. Malachy's stands as a place of peace in an often hectic area, working to make the Times Square a place where visitors and theatergoers can come with delight rather than apprehension.
Cover photo credit: Scott Beale via Flickr