<b>Last of 42nd Street's Peep Shows Closes</b>
NEW YORK TIMES
August 1, 2002
By MARC SANTORA
The formal closing yesterday of the last peep palace on
42nd Street, Peep-O-Rama, was a coda in the rebirth of
Times Square as a kinder, gentler place. The sex shops and
naughty tape stores have been wiped clean from the famed
But the transition from the 42nd Street of neon love for
sale to the new Times Square of "The Lion King" is not the
end of the smut story.
While today's Times Square is a world away from what it was
only a decade ago, just steps from 42nd Street, for several
blocks on Eighth Avenue, porn and peeping rule.
The most basic peep is a video peep. For as little as a
quarter, some people find entertainment at a place like
Show World Center, where the deep red walls and runway
lighting recall its headier days. Once, topless girls rode
carousel horses and "booth babies" gave private dances.
Now, only video stalls remain. Customers are promised their
choice of 128 selections, and the routine is unvarying: a
man enters a booth, the video moans, a few minutes later
the man leaves and is followed by another man, this one
with a mop.
"We satisfy an urge," said George, the manager of Show
World, in a business where first names are often the only
The classic peep, with a live girl, can still be found on
the avenue as well. Three minutes in a booth with a girl,
separated by a glass wall, costs $25. The way it works is:
the man enters and a little sign commands him to talk to
the girl. She explains that $5 goes into the machine and
$20 is to be slipped into a slot for her. A visor lifts,
revealing the girl. She strips, the visor goes down, the
lights go on. Peep over.
"It's nice that there is no physical contact," said Angel,
who was working a booth in the back of a video store.
These two forms of peep are just the latest in New York's
long-running battle of sin and salvation.
As Mike Wallace and Edwin G. Burrows write in their history
of New York, "Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898,"
when vice becomes the defining characteristic of a
neighborhood, reformers move in to clean it up, and it goes
on living either in a slightly different form or in a
slightly different part of town.
Some of the first New York peeping can be traced back as
early as the 1830's in Downtown.
"The Five Points was notorious," the book recounts, "with
27 of the 43 blocks surrounding Paradise Square hosting
brothels in whose windows girls in varying stages of
undress paraded to lure street trade."
A reformer named John Robert McDowall took it upon himself
to arouse the anger of the more genteel citizenry,
publishing a screed on the sex business.
About a decade later, sex was thriving in paperback, as
publishers like William Haynes put out cheap erotic novels
like "Confessions of a Lady's Waiting Maid."
In response to rising naughtiness after the Civil War,
Anthony Comstock formed something of a one-man vice squad.
According to "Gotham," he particularly loathed pornography,
saying it "steals upon our youth in the home, school, and
college, silently striking its terrible talons into their
By 1874 Mr. Comstock had seized 130,000 pounds of books and
194,000 "bad pictures." Still, smut lived on.
Broadway began a decline during the Depression, when
burlesque and second-run movies thrived. But it was the
Times Square of the 1970's that is most associated with
places like Peep-O-Rama, whose closing to make room for a
new tower was first reported yesterday in The Daily News.
Like Comstock and McDowall before him, Mayor Rudolph W.
Giuliani felt it was his duty to rid Times Square of
wickedness. And his efforts appear to have been successful.
Still, just to the west on Eighth Avenue, the next reformer
might find a buffet of debauchery.
In addition to the various forms of peep, there are the
traditional strip clubs. At a place like Stiletto, the
girls are seen in their all-together, but no alcohol is
served. At Private Eyes, just off Eighth on 45th Street,
the dancers only go topless, but there is a fully stocked
The most crowded pornography stops along the avenue are the
Asked why people would want to shop in public for what they
can now get online or through their cable provider, Tom,
the owner of a Triple X video store on the avenue,
explained, "People who like these tapes like to come in and
check out the boxes front ways, side ways, upside down,