The Hidden History of the General Motors Building

general motors building

Just about every New Yorker or visitor to the city has seen the vertical white façade and hulking mass of that office building on the corner of 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. The General Motors Building – located at 767 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan – in fact boasts quite a history to it, including being the most highly valued commercial property in the United States. Here’s a quick look at the hidden history of this very visible yet sometimes overlooked behemoth in Midtown Manhattan.

The General Motors Building was built between 1964 and 1968 at the height of the International Modernism architectural era. The tower, one of only a handful in New York City to occupy a whole city block, replaced the elegant Savoy-Plaza Hotel which had stood on the site since 1927. Originally owned by General Motors, the building was designed by Edward Durrell Stone & Associates with Emery Roth & Sons. Although it quickly commanded some of the highest rents in Manhattan thanks to its prime Fifth Avenue location and striking views of Central Park, many architecture critics like Ada Louis Huxtable and Paul Goldberger were very critical of the tower.

In recent years, the building has seen many changes. It held FAO Schwartz’s flagship store until July 2015 and still holds the iconic glass cube of the flagship Apple Store at its base. General Motors sold the building in 1998 and it later became home to CBS’ The Early Show from 1999 until 2012. The building was again sold in 2003 to the Macklowe Organization for a record $1.4 billion and again in 2008 for a new staggering $2.8 billion, the largest real estate transaction of the year. In 2015, the skyscraper again broke records by becoming the first commercial property in New York City to command starting rents of more than $200 per square foot.

To most people, the General Motors Building is just another tower in New York City’s sea of skyscrapers. But next time you see the building, take a second to reflect on its interesting history – and eye-popping financial figures.