Apple Store: History of Princes Street corner

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It is the ultimate must-have in today’s digital world – the Apple iPhone.

Understandably, there was great excitement among Capital shoppers yesterday following news that Edinburgh was to become home to a flagship Apple store.

The east end of Princes Street in 1854; below, Woolworths in the site in 1982. Main picture: City of Edinburgh Council Libraries (www.capitalcollections.org.uk)

The east end of Princes Street in 1854; below, Woolworths in the site in 1982. Main picture: City of Edinburgh Council Libraries (www.capitalcollections.org.uk)

In a few weeks the ground floor of 10-15 Princes Street will be transformed into a hot-spot for city tech enthusiasts. But the site at the gateway to Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare already has a long history of reinventing itself.

The first building at the corner of Princes Street and West Register Street was a three-storey house made of apartments, completed in 1769. They were the first private homes built on the street, which until then had been dominated by businesses. By the 19th century, the building had been turned into the Crowne Hotel, as shown in this 1854 print from the city council.

In 1925, F W Woolworth’s as it was then known – with initials and an apostrophe – took over the entire block, including 10-15 Princes Street and 16 West Register Street, and knocked it down to build its flagship city store. Architect W Priddle designed most of the building that stands today, adding the distinctive octagonal tower to the roof. The new store, which occupied the entire ground floor, was a regular fixture in the shopping plans of residents for almost 40 years. The building was extended by a third in 1955, when the next door Palace Cinema was knocked down.

By the 1980s, however, shoppers were going elsewhere, and when Woolworths was sold to Kingfisher Group in 1984, the new owners abandoned Princes Street in favour of Lothian Road and Raeburn Place.

With the decline of Woolworths, the building fell on hard times, too. The shop front was divided and hosted a number of short-lived tenants, including Waterstones, Boots, Evans and the Disney Store. A metal awning above divided opinion. The retail unit on the corner became a Wimpy burger restaurant, which was later taken over by Burger King – a notorious late-night feeding zone.

By 2011, the building lay empty and was added to the Scottish register of Buildings at Risk. Planning permission had been granted in 2010 for redevelopment, the impact of the recession meant it took until 2012 for work to begin, and rumours to swirl about potential tenants.