Father Duffy Square

Father Duffy Square

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

The northern triangle of Times Square, located between 45th and 47th Streets, Broadway and Seventh Avenue, Duffy Square, has been a magnet for tourists, a staging area for public rallies, the scene of victory celebrations, and since 1973 a destination point for those in search of reduced-price theater tickets. Dominated in 1909 by a temporary eight-ton, fifty-foot statue by Leo Lentelli entitled Purity (Defeat of Slander), today this square—so central to the theater district--is defined by statues of George M. Cohan and Father Duffy, as well as a large public viewing grandstand along the north side.

At the base of this bleacher stands the statue honoring the park’s namesake. Father Francis Patrick Duffy (1871-1932) was a military chaplain and a priest in the Times Square area. Born in Cobourg, Canada, Father Duffy moved to New York City in 1893 to teach French at the College of St. Francis Xavier (now Xavier High School). He was later ordained as a priest and in 1898, he accepted a teaching position at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York, where he remained for the next fourteen years.

Father Duffy’s military service began in the Spanish-American War of 1898, serving as First Lieutenant and chaplain of the legendary Fighting 69th Infantry of the National Guard as well as Post Chaplain at the military hospital in Montauk Point, Long Island. In 1912, Father Duffy left St. Joseph’s Seminary and moved to New York City to establish the Parish of Our Savior in the Bronx.

In 1916, Father Duffy returned to the 69th Infantry, serving in Europe during World War I as part of the Rainbow Division and earning a number of medals. After the close of the war, Father Duffy returned to New York, and in 1920, was appointed pastor of the Holy Cross Church, located at 237 West 42nd Street. Serving the theater-district community for over a decade, Father Duffy died on June 26, 1932. In 1949 veteran character actor Pat O’Brien portrayed Duffy in the Hollywood film based on his life, The Fighting 69th, which also starred James Cagney.

This parkland was acquired by the City of New York in 1872 by condemnation for street purposes and transferred to Parks on January 31, 1934. Three years later, on what would have been Father Duffy’s sixty-sixth birthday, Parks dedicated this bronze statue of Father Duffy, standing in front of a granite Celtic cross and facing towards his old church, designed by sculptor Charles Keck (1875-1951). In 1939, a local law named this parkland in his honor.

The bronze statue at the park’s southern end depicts composer, playwright, and actor George M. Cohan (1878-1942). The statue was designed by Georg John Lober (1892-1961) and dedicated in 1959. Cohan is best known for his hit song whose opening line, “Give my regards to Broadway / Remember me in Herald Square / Tell all the gang at 42nd Street that I will soon be there,” captured the city’s spirit at the time. In 1942, James Cagney won an Academy Award as best actor for his portrayal of song and danceman Cohan in the film Yankee Doodle Dandy.

In 1973 the first TKTS booth, designed by Mayers and Schiff, was built at the square’s north end. The facility, sponsored by the Theater Development Fund, was intended to provide affordable theater admission, and boost the numbers attending Broadway shows--the lifeblood of the surrounding district. In 1997 the statues of Cohan and Duffy were conserved in a project financed by the Times Square Business Improvement District (later renamed the Times Square Alliance.) The rapidly increasing volume of tourists frequenting the revitalized Duffy Square spurred a comprehensive redesign, renovation and expansion. A world-wide competition to improve this public space, sponsored by the Van Alen Institute in 1999, generated 683 entries, from which a concept by Australian architects John Choi and Tai Ropiha was the winning entry. This conceptual plan was then developed by the Times Square Alliance in conjunction with the Theater Development Fund and Coalition for Father Duffy.

The firm of Perkins Eastman further refined the most significant feature of this improved Duffy Square--a new TKTS glassed-in sales center whose canopy doubles as a red staircase from which visitors may view the bustling activity at this “crossroads of the world.” Further improvements by architect William Fellows removed fencing and established a more open plaza of 3800 granite pavers, creating a more hospitable environment in which pedestrians may congregate. The newly designed Duffy Square reopened in the autumn of 2008. Subsequently the adjacent portions of Broadway were closed to vehicular traffic, and seating installed by the City in what was formerly roadbed, producing a greatly enlarged public plaza. Today, Duffy Square functions as an expansive piazza welcoming visitors from around the globe.

Directions to Father Duffy Square

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