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The pre-history of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue Apple Store cube

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When it comes to Apple's retail stores, probably the most iconic is the one in the plaza of the GM Building on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The store's signature architectural feature -- a 32-foot glass cube emblazoned with a glowing Apple logo -- is immediately recognizable . NY Magazine's Vicky Ward provided the back story to the origins of the cube in an article published yesterday, and it's fascinating.

The story began in 2003, when property developer Harry Macklowe bought the GM Building for US$1.4 billion in borrowed money. One issue with the building at the time was the huge and useless open plaza that spread from the front of the building to Fifth Avenue. Architects hated the plaza, and those in the business of building, buying, and leasing skyscrapers saw it as a waste of space.

Macklowe was aware that Apple was stretching its wings in the retail business, so he began to bother George Blankenship, who was then Apple's vice-president of real estate. Macklowe's persistence paid off when he was invited to meet with Steve Jobs in November of 2003.

Jobs and his team already had an idea of a 40-foot glass cube for the plaza, which would take advantage of an unused basement located below the plaza. But Macklowe realized at a glance at a model provided by Apple that the cube was too large, both in terms of violating zoning laws and its scale from the street level.

Macklowe realized that he wouldn't be able to just talk to Jobs about the cube being too big; he'd have to show Apple and let the company come to the conclusion. He invited two Apple retail development execs, Ron Johnson and Rob Briger, to come see a scaffold mockup of the cube built on the plaza in the middle of the night since regulations forbade Macklowe to put up the mockup in the day.

The executives met with Macklowe and his team at around 2 AM, and the Apple team immediately realized that the 40-foot cube was too large. Macklowe then pulled a "magic trick", having the model dismantled to reveal a 30-foot cube underneath -- which the Apple team loved. In the end, the store opened on May 19, 2006 as a 32-foot cube.

There's more to the story of the Fifth Avenue Apple Store, which became not only symbolic of Apple's rising success in the consumer electronics market, but also marked Harry Macklowe's success in the development business. Be sure to check out the NY Magazine post for the rest of the amazing story.

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