The Times Square Ball Drop is Epic. This is the Family Behind the New Year’s Tradition.By Diana Hubbell
“TEN … NINE … EIGHT… ”
More than a million revelers from all corners of the globe swarm New York City to chant the countdown in unison. All eyes are on the rooftop of One Times Square, where the descent of the massive, luminous Times Square Ball marks the passage of another year. When the clock strikes midnight, the crowd erupts into ecstatic cheers, friends and strangers kiss and hug, confetti flies and Champagne flows.
But that iconic ball doesn’t drop on its own — which begs the question: Who exactly is behind one of the most epic celebrations on Earth?
Even in a city with as many proud traditions as this one, the annual New Year’s Eve ball drop holds a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers.
Since 1998 the responsibility for making sure this operation goes off without a hitch has fallen to the Calvano family. In the late 1960s, Anthony Calvano got a job in the sign industry, working with Artkraft Strauss, the company that was then responsible for the New Year’s Eve ball drop.
Anthony worked for Artkraft Strauss for 10 years, and when he left he started Landmark Signs & Electrical Maintenance, and ultimately secured the contract to drop the New Year’s Eve ball. The family has been involved in the even for almost 20 years, along with many other companies who make sure the show goes off without a hitch.
Thanks to Anthony’s savvy business sense, the company grew and eventually came to manage approximately 75 percent of Times Square’s signature multi-hued, moving signs.
Though the company and the family behind it play a vital role in the city year-round, it’s best known and loved by New Yorkers for its role in the New Year’s Eve festivities.
“[Anthony] became Mister New Years Eve,” Lynn remembers. “We’d get visitors from all over the world, and people really loved him. They all wanted to take pictures with the man who drops the New Year’s Eve ball.”
Even in a city with as many proud traditions as this one, the annual New Year’s Eve ball drop holds a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers. What started out around 1906 under Artkraft Strauss as a makeshift ball with a few 25-watt bulbs has evolved into a 11,875-pound colossus wrapped in more than 32,000 LED lights and more than 2,000 Waterford crystals. Its annual descent is one of the most-watched events on the planet, with a projected audience of roughly a billion.
While his technical know-how was beyond repute, Anthony’s charisma and boundless enthusiasm were what made him indispensable. He relished the spotlight and never tired of shaking hands, snapping photos and personally welcoming everyone.
“He lived for the New Year’s Eve event,” says Heather Calvano, one of Lynn’s three children, who, in addition to a successful career of her own, acts as the family’s legal council. “Being part of the center of the city was always something that he said he loved.”
It never gets old. You realize how big of an event it is worldwide, and you get to be a part of it.
When Anthony passed away in 2014, most of the signs in Times Square set aside their usual advertisements to showcase a memorial tribute. Both his presence and his memory were so important that the local business community felt it needed to do something to celebrate his life.
“Everybody had something nice to say about him. He was just that kind of person,” Lynn says. “You met him once, and you remembered him.”
These days the Calvano clan continues to oversee the New Year’s event, with all seven grandchildren watching the action. After Tony’s passing, his son, Joseph Calvano took over as President of the business, and holds the licenses and years of experience. Joseph now takes his father’s place on New Year’s Eve at the ball drop, alongside the many other people and companies involved in the tradition.
Even after all this time, the annual New Year’s Eve festivities in Times Square remain the highlight of their year.
“It never gets old. You realize how big of an event it is worldwide, and you get to be a part of it,” Heather says.
I still remember them pulling the ball down with pulleys and ropes. I feel like the event gets bigger and bigger each year.
“[The Renaissance] spares no expense. There are a lot of parties all over the city, but none of them have this view,” Heather says. Each year the extravagant New Year’s Eve bash has a different theme, and it draws a cosmopolitan crowd. “I’ve been coming here as long as I can remember, and the warm reception you get from the moment you come off the sidewalk—it’s incredible. It really is like a second home to us.”
For the Calvano family, the Renaissance property has a special sentimental pull. Anthony watched the hotel rise up from the dust of a construction site while the rest of Times Square morphed from a gritty stretch of Midtown into the glittering hub that it is today.
“It’s part of our whole history, part of our life,” Lynn says. “We couldn’t be anywhere but here on New Year’s.”
One reason that it never gets old is that the event itself has evolved quite a bit, even over the last 40 years. The Calvanos recall the millennium, when the city partied ceaselessly for a whole day, as well as back when the ball itself was a much simpler device.
“I still remember them pulling the ball down with pulleys and ropes,” Heather says with a laugh. “I feel like the event gets bigger and bigger each year.”
Nowadays the team uses the latest technology and conducts multiple dress rehearsals before the big day to ensure that everything runs like a Swiss watch. All sorts of extra precautions are in place to err on the safe side.
“My husband always said it’s so stressful because this is the only job where everybody around the world is watching,” Lynn says. “And if you’re wrong, there are no retakes!”
Thanks to careful preparations and a top-notch team, so far the event has always been fiasco-free. Yet even after watching the ball drop dozens of times, the Calvanos still feel proud to be part of New York’s living cultural history.
“I just can’t help it. Every year my heart starts pounding,” Lynn says, “like it’s the very first time.”