As Times Square became the subject of a several-decades-long public debate, a site for the city to hash out its ideas about urbanism and development, 1515 Broadway embodied the district’s fevered oscillations between entertainment and enterprise. In the 1980s, Alvin Ailey made its home in the building, but a change in ownership (Tishman Speyer purchased the building for $190 million-18 times what Minskoff paid for the Astor) pushed the dance company out to make way for more lucrative office space. The building also housed the below-ground Loews Astor Plaza, the largest single-screen movie theater in the country. In 2004, when the building was again bought and sold, this time to SL Green, the age of the multiplex had rendered the theater unprofitable.
Where once Times Square vaudeville acts had given way to the silver screen, in a curious inversion of history, it was a live concert hall, the Nokia, that replaced the Astor Plaza.
And then there is Viacom. Sumner Redstone began his memoir, A Passion to Win, with the pronouncement: “Viacom is me.” The octogenarian mogul, whose age and ego are surpassed only by his litany of media acquisitions, likes to claim he’ll never die. Which may explain his recent erratic plunges into the spotlight: The man who owns MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, CBS, Simon & Schuster, Paramount Pictures, Showtime, Comedy Central, Blockbuster and TV Land has carried on a highly public feud with his daughter over the future dominion of his empire, and—should there remain any doubt about who’s running the show—he made a few very public firings, namely the longtime head of MTV and one Tom Cruise. When you own the media, publicity is, after all, somewhat easy to mistake for immortality. Or just as likely, Mr. Redstone’s companies each harbor a bit of his leathered soul, through which, Voldemort-style, he really will live forever.
Viacom moved to 1515 Broadway in 1993, just as the media magnate was waging his unlikely battle to buy Paramount Pictures. Mr. Redstone won, of course (he always wins-winning is his passion), solving the minor complication of cash flow by purchasing Blockbuster. As the amoeboid conglomeration expanded, so did its square feet, rising up 1515 Broadway’s glassy facade with every successive purchase.
With the passing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress dismantled the regulatory framework set up in the 1930s, declaring a new world order in which, as Bill Clinton called it at the time, the “information superhighway” made the old rules obsolete, stifling competition and dragging like dead weights on the soul of free enterprise. The new rules set the scene for a seismic shift in the media landscape and sparked a bout of mega-consolidations. Time Warner subsumed Turner Broadcasting and CNN. Disney merged with ABC. Then in 1999, the F.C.C. decreed that companies could own more than one station in the same local market. That was the year that TRL reached its frenzied peak, and Mr. Redstone did the only logical thing: He merged his entertainment panoply with a major news network. In the biggest broadcast merger in history, Viacom acquired CBS.