Site cleared for Apple’s new flagship retail store at San Francisco’s Union Square
March 24th, 2015
Daniel Eran Dilger
Apple’s efforts to build a large new flagship store at Union Square in San Francisco have nearly completed the demolition of the existing building on the site, where little remains apart from a concrete foundation, steps and a folk art fountain that will be relocated as part of the construction project.
An oddly triangular building that formerly occupied the prominent Union Square corner (most recently serving as a retail outlet for Levi’s) has been dismantled and trucked away for materials recycling. In its place, Apple plans to build a new glass and steel retail palace similar in design to the West Lake store featured in a grand opening video during the company’s “Spring Forward” event earlier this month.
The new San Francisco store is unique in that it will incorporate giant sliding doors on the front of the building, enabling the location to take full advantage of the city’s pleasant climate during business hours.
Three months ago, the work to remove the former building (below) was just getting started. Despite the demolition progress, a source familiar with Apple’s construction timeline said the new Union Store location isn’t expected to open until the summer of 2016.
Winter Walk makes way for continued Central Subway construction
Apple’s existing flagship store in San Francisco opened just over eleven years ago in February 2004, as noted by retail watchdog site ifoAppleStore . It was one of the company’s first “high profile” retail locations, featuring a prominent glass stairway positioned under a large skylight. As with its new location, Apple built its existing store from the ground up after demolishing the previous building on the site.
At the time the was built, the Union Square shopping district was struggling to recover from the Dot-Com Boom, and Apple’s entry into the neighborhood was greeted as a force for helping to accelerate a recovery.
Since then, Apple’s San Francisco retail store helped launched iPhone in 2007 and iPad in 2010. The store has outlasted may of its neighbors, including the “old media” Virgin Megastore across the street (now a Forever 21) and a CompUSA store nearby (which closed when the entire electronics chain went through bankruptcy).
Apple’s current store, located three blocks away from the new construction site, is at the intersection of Stockton, Ellis and Market Streets. The location has been plagued with nonstop construction of the Central Subway, which has dug underneath Stockton using tunnel boring machines over the past year.
While intended to be minimally invasive compared to digging a “cut and cover” subway passage, the tunnel boring work has closed Stockton Street for more than two years. The street (which passes in front of the current Apple Store) isn’t expected to reopen until 2017 at the earliest.
The construction work over the last two and a half years hasn’t stopped customers from lining up around the block for the iPhone 5, iPhone 5s and iPhone 6 product launches, and Apple’s store remains very busy most of the time, particularly during the holidays.
To mitigate the subway’s construction on Union Square’ holiday traffic, surface level street work related to the Central Subway project was put on hold at the end of last year, and the closed street was temporarily reopened as “Winter Walk SF,” a pedestrian mall covered in astroturf (below).
After the holidays ended, the intersection in front of the Apple Store at Stockton and Market has returned to being an open pit, offering a glimpse into the former pedestrian pathways that once connected BART and Muni’s Powell Station to a metro entrance incorporated into the corner of the store.
Once the Central Subway is finished (perhaps as early as the end of 2019), new pedestrian walkways will connect the existing Powell Station to a new Union Square station a couple blocks away, on the opposite corner of the park from Apple’s new store.