The View, Marriott's Revolving Restaurant — Some Architectural History (New York City)
By Richard “Zippy” Grigonis — February 9, 2011
Yours Truly has a fascination with revolving restaurants, and upon learning that Interesting America’s food critic was planning on visiting one such restaurant—The View—at the New York Marriott Marquis (also known as the Marriott Marquis Times Square), I just couldn’t resist writing something about it from an architectural and historical perspective.
"The view" is one of the world's better expressions of a revolving restaurant, both in terms of decor and food.
(Photo © richard grigonis.)
Once upon a time—the 1960s and 1970s, to be exact—everyone was agog over revolving restaurants. They were descended from the little carousel-themed rotating bars earlier in the 20th century, such as the six-booth, pipe organ-equipped Merry-Go-Round Café near the University of Miami—itself a vague spiritual descendant of the stationary Merry-Go-Round Café situated on San Francisco’s O’Farrell Street in 1920s, which had a glass-enclosed conveyor belt running around the inner edge of its huge circular counter, passing goods from the kitchen past customers.
Customers at the San Francisco Merry-Go-Round Café could reach forward, open a glass door in front of them and help themselves to an appetizing item before it moved by. (Thus, instead of a moving panoramic view of the city, the Merry-Go-Round Café offered a moving panorama of food for the taking.)
Advertising card and complementary toothpick from the merry-go-round cafe in san francisco, 1920s.
A similar Merry-Go-Round Café appeared in Long Beach, California, in 1930, which involved customers ordering and receiving a meat entrée, then being allowed to reach forward to open the glass doors and avail themselves of the salads, fruits, vegetables and desserts that continuously revolved in front of them. Merry-Go-Round Cafés by 1931 had sprung up in 13 locations from Southern California to Seattle.
The modern, more elaborate revolving restaurant came about in West Germany in 1959 as a sort of three-way intersection of tower/skyscraper construction techniques, interest in the space-age technologies (which also explains the name and theme of 1962’s “The Space Needle” and its “Eye of the Needle” restaurant in Seattle, Washington), the perennial desire for restaurant diners to have a good seat and “a view,” and the needs of telephone, radio and television companies that required tall towers for their antennas (which provided additional income for the towers’ owners).
1955 postcard of the merry-go-round cafe that flourished across the street from the univeristy of miami (seen the background at left).
The towers housing revolving restaurants in their “heads” have a stationary service core housing elevators, stairs, restrooms, food preparation space and dishwashing facilities. The customers, tables and chairs revolve around the building’s core on a turntable riding on rubber rollers set into the floor. One 250-seat revolving restaurant built in 1966 on top of a 15-story doctors’ office building in Memphis, Tennessee, had a platform mounted on 75 passenger-car tires instead of hard-rubber rollers. They made a complete circuit around the core in 80 minutes, or about a mile a day, giving the restaurant’s guests alternating views of Memphis and the Mississippi River. Indeed, through trial-and-error it has been found that the optimal revolution rate for such revolving restaurants is between 45 minutes and 90 minutes—the most popular is an hour. The power to accomplish this feat is a small (1 horsepower or less) electric motor, geared down to a very slow speed.
Another angle of "the view" revolving restaurant's interior. The view is new york's only revolving restaurant. it's At the new york Marriott Marquis on times square. (Photo © richard grigonis)
In some cases the turntable is a flat ring so that the tower head’s exterior glass walls remain fixed; in other cases (such as The View on Times Square), the exterior walls and ceiling are part of the moving structure, though in the case of The View the restaurant’s exterior window wall revolves too but it is contained and protected from the elements by its placement within the exterior glass-and-metal structure of the Marriott Marquis Hotel building. Thus, diners at The View look out through two layers of glass.
Every rotating restaurant relies on its being a part of some other “host” structure, with the latter taking on one of three possible forms: vertical purpose-built towers, commercial or industrial buildings (as in the case of The View), or mountain tops. The most common of these configurations is having the revolving restaurant sit above the building, on or near the rooftop, such as The View, which is above a hotel. (Marriott, Radisson and Holiday Inn have at one time or other built revolving restaurants and placed them above their hotels. In addition to The View, Marriott also has CK’s Revolving Rooftop Restaurant in the Tampa, Florida Airport.)
Currently observable buildings from the view revolving restaurant and lounge, the marriott marquis, Times Square, New York city. This map is also printed on the restaurant's napkins.
The architect of The View and its underlying Marriott Marquis hotel, John C. Portman, was also a co-developer. His “warm-up” for The View was his 1967 design for the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. Just as New York’s Times Square was a district of run-down buildings and pornographic movie houses at the time of The View’s construction in the mid-1980s, so too was Atlanta suffering urban blight in the late 1960s. Portman’s team was out to infuse some life into the old Atlanta hotel and attract tourists, local citizens and developers back to downtown Atlanta with a rooftop revolving restaurant that was a destination in itself. To this end he added an awesome hollow interior to the building and glass-walled elevators running up its sides, almost like an amusement park thrill ride, up to a stunning saucer-shaped revolving restaurant set into the rooftop. It was the same design he would later adapt to the Marriott Marquis on Times Square, and this atrium/restaurant concept has echoed down the years in the work of other hotel developers.
Escalators to the new York marriotT marquis third floor, where one boards the elevators to "the view" revolving restaurant and lounge, which begins on the 47th floor. (Photo © richard grigonis)
As Chad Randl wrote in his book, Revolving architecture: A History of Buildings that Rotate, Swivel, and Pivot:
Like Disneyland’s Main Street of twenty-first-century fast-food outlets modeled after 1950s diners, revolving restaurants reflect the power of narrative, the human desire to be told a story, to be a part of that story, and to feel and connection with a particular place and time. They offer the opportunity to escape daily life. In their influential study of the Las Vegas Strip, architects Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steve Izenour note that 'essential to the imagery of pleasure-zone architecture are lightness, the quality of being in an oasis in a hostile context, heightened symbolism, and the ability to engulf the visitor in a new role: vacation from everyday reality.'
In the ease of early revolving restaurants, space travel and futurism were often the themes, the visitor taking an elevator to an otherworldly flying saucer-shaped realm of tomorrow.
central column in the 400-foot tall atrium at the new York marriotT marquis, with glass-enclosed elevators running along the outside. (Photo © richard grigonis)
In the skyscraper city of New York, there used to be an informal rule that the higher your status, they higher up in the sky you ate your lunch. Thus, some people wished revolving restaurants situated atop the highest buildings to become the new lofty, exclusive luncheon and dinner haunts of the wealthy and corporate elite, replacing such now long-gone locales as the private Cloud Club on the 66th, 67th and 68th floors of the Chrysler Building; the Rockefeller Center Club on the 65th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza; the Hemisphere Club and Tower Site on the 48th floor of the Time-Life Building; the Pinnacle Club near the top of the 45-story Socony-Mobil Building; and the Sky Club, on the 56th floor of the Pan Am Building.
Charles McGrath, writing in the May 26, 2005 edition of The New York Times, commented how, “The only place where you can pretend to be a tycoon and sip a martini while looking down on the city is The View, the cocktail lounge at the top of the Marriott Marquis, a space so unglamorous that it makes you understand the current fashion for hanging out not at the tops of buildings but in their atriums.” (He obviously hadn’t seen the restaurant’s redesign that had begun in the spring of 2004.)
the view from the view: viacom building at left, followed by penn plaza and new York times building. (Photo © richard grigonis)
Alas, rather than become the private sky-lairs of economic and cultural elite, the reputations of many revolving restaurants soon began to, shall we say, revolve in the opposite direction. The revolving restaurant concept was overdone in the 1960s and 1970s, becoming a tiresome cliché in the 1980s and 1990s to point of being declared kitsch. Many developers thought that rotation alone could keep bringing in customers, rather than the cleverly-named, high-priced food, tacked on almost as an afterthought. They were wrong. Moreover, guests were shuffled out the door as soon as possible, often past a souvenir shop, giving such places a tourist trap ambience.
By the beginning of the 21st century, many of these restaurants had either closed or in a few cases had simply stopped rotating, but, ironically, this period of the revolving restaurant’s decline in the West was paralleled by an explosion in their popularity in China and the rest of Asia. Perhaps the most extreme example of this is the unfinished 3,000 room Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, the upper floors of which were designed to house no less than five revolving restaurants.
from left: penn plaza, New york times building, the old green mcgraw-hill building (1931), port authority, manhattan plaza, and the javits center (somewhere down there), as seen from the view restaurant at the new york marriott marquis on times square. (Photo © richard grigonis)
It was against the mid-1980s backdrop of the revolving restaurants’ declining status in America and western Europe that Marriott stepped forward with New York Marriott Marquis and The View restaurant and lounge. These managed to weather the subsequent economic and cultural storms quite well, which as it turned out was all the more remarkable since the hotel’s architecture was something of a modernist throwback.
The New York Marriott Marquis project was announced back in 1972 but wasn’t finished until 1985. Built in the 1980s but designed back in the 1970s, the architects were therefore influenced by a style of architecture known as “Brutalism.” (Probably from the French phrase beton brut, or “tough concrete.”) Brutalist architecture, which flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, is rugged, direct and honest. Such structures display striking repetitive angular geometries, natural colored surfaces and rough blocky appearances, with the expression of rough-hewn structural materials and in some cases services on its exterior. When concrete is used—the preferred Brutalist building material—the surfaces are laid out in patterns boldly revealing the texture of the wooden forms used for its in-place casting, as can be seen in such structures as the Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles (1946-52) and the Maisons Jaoul (Neuilly, 1954) by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier.
Detail of exterior of the new york marriott marquis, also known as the marriott marquis times square. brutalist architectural style is evident in the treatment of its concrete. (Photo © Sepavo | Dreamstime.com)
Still, just as the Empire State Building was designed at the tail-end of the Art Deco era and yet anticipates some elements of both Art Deco and the future International Style movement, so too does the inward-looking, then ultra-modern New York Marriott Marquis not entirely adhere to a Brutalist sensibility. (That no doubt would have been a relief to the financiers behind the project, as at its height Brutalism as an architectural philosophy, rather than just a style, was often associated with a socialist utopian ideology.)
One reason the building appears a bit anachronistic is because its construction was delayed by a citizen’s group for five years, this owing to a controversy that arouse because five historic theaters—the Helen Hayes, the Morosco, the Astor, the Bijou, and the Gaiety—were to be demolished to clear the site. Various celebrity protesters such as Joseph Papp, Jose Ferrer, Celeste Holm, Tammy Grimes, Treat Williams, Colleen Dewhurst, Estelle Parsons and Christopher Reeve (then at the height of his Superman fame) became involved, but on March 22, 1982 the United States Supreme Court lifted a temporary stay and removed the last major impediment to construction of the 56-story hotel. “The Great Theater Massacre of 1982” finally began the next day and work on the hotel went forward.
from left: world wide plaza building (with pyramidial top) and somewhere below to the left is the passenger ship terminal, as seen from the view restaurant, new York marriott marquis on times square. (Photo © richard grigonis)
However, the New York Marriott Marquis is still considered the first major project in the Times Square revitalization, and was the harbinger of the great things that happened to Times Square. This is exactly what John C. Portman did for Atlanta back in 1967. Few people realize that Portman was a co-developer as well as an architect. Indeed, Portman collected 90 percent of the financial backing for the project. When it opened, The New York Marriott Marquis was owned and operated by the Times Square Hotel Co., which was jointly owned by the Marriott Corp. and John Portman and Associates Inc.
John C. Portman’s initial plan was a building in the form of two parallel slabs, connected by a few five-story bridges. He eventually reverted to his signature design that he had used in Atlanta back in 1967: a revolving restaurant on the 47th through 49th floors, atop an interior 37-story atrium rising from the 10th floor—at 400-foot feet, the tallest atrium in the world in 1985—around which the rooms are situated on 36 guest room floors. A center column in the Atrium is ringed by exposed elevators giving visitors a breathtaking view of all floors. (The elevators for The View are boarded on the third floor, adjacent to the hotel’s internal 1,500-seat theater, which opened in the spring of 1986 and was initially operated by the Nederlander Organization.)
Another vista from the view revolving restaurant at the new york marriotT marquis on times square. from left: world wide plaza building (with pyramidial top) followed by morgan stanley building on the right. (Photo © richard grigonis)
In their October 28, 1985 issue, the New Yorker magazine related how a new hotel called the Marriott Marquis had opened on Broadway between 45th and 46th streets.
At the hotel’s festive opening, its architect, John C. Portman, Jr., said, “I want to congratulate New York on Mayor Koch.” Koch, in turn, responded with, “I am declaring today that the Marriott Marquis is the center of the City of New York from this day forward.”
from left: morgan stanley building at center of photo as seen from the view revolving restaurant, new York marriotT marquis on times square. (Photo © richard grigonis)
The celebration included a man on stilts, a man on a unicycle, a plexiglas-and-metal time capsule containing various items such as a Tina Turner video (embedded in the hotel somewhere, perhaps?), two large banners depicting the Statue of Liberty, and an equally large banner depicting the Brooklyn Bridge.
Also present was J. Willard Marriott, Jr., the president of the Marriott Corporation, who reminisced about how, when he was eight years old, he came to New York for the first time with his family, and they stayed in the Astor Hotel, which used to be across the street from the Marriott on Times Square until it was torn down in 1967 and replaced with an office tower.
from left: w hotel, carnegie tower, city spire, equitable center, barclays capital, time-life building 1250 avenue of the americas and the 1972 mcgraw-hill building, all seen from a table at the view revolving restaurant atop the new york marriott marquis on times square. (Photo © richard grigonis)
Admittedly, the reviews were mixed when the 1,876-room hotel (at the time New York’s second largest) opened its doors. The New Yorker was not impressed at that time with the New York Marriott Marquis or its revolving restaurant and lounge, commenting that from the outside “it looks like a glass drum enclosed in a cement sandwich,” no doubt a not-so-subtle reference to its Brutalist architectural style.
At the time of its completion it was reportedly the most expensive hotel ever built, and it has the city’s largest ballroom, at 29,000-square-feet. With its two other ballrooms and a total of 100,000 square feet (9,300 square meters) of meeting, banquet and exhibition space, it is one of New York’s largest hotels. To be precise, The New York Hilton was (and still is) the New York City’s largest hotel, with 1,980 rooms. Today, the New York Marriott Marquis is still the second largest in New York, though through some redesign work, its occupant capacity has expanded to 1,949 rooms. (The Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers is third with 1,750 rooms, and the Hotel Pennsylvania is fourth with 1,700 rooms.)
from left: piers and passenger ship terminal, as seen from the view restaurant in the marriott marquis hotel on times square, new york city. (Photo © richard grigonis)
The Great Renovation
In the spring of 2004, the owners of The View shut the place down to perform a $4 million renovation. “People were just sitting at their tables and looking straight out,” said Olvia Demetriou, the architect who oversaw an overhaul that eliminated rug art on the entry wall, a white popcorn spray-on wall treatment, burgundy colors, brass, many mirrors, a tatty carpet and not-so-attractive upholstery. It was replaced with a more enticing décor consisting of an aubergine carpet, poppy-colored leather, cherry, maple and ebony verneers, and a silver beaded curtain. Also, the quality of the food was upgraded, and it’s still great, as evidenced by our review.
One original feature that remained in The View’s renovation was the little 0.75 horsepower electric motor nestled beneath the center of the restaurant’s floor, enabling the restaurant to revolve once every 58 minutes.
in the distance on the right, one can see the chrysler building from the view revolving restaurant. (Photo © richard grigonis)
The rehabilitation of The View was simply the beginning of an even larger $150 million renovation of the hotel that lasted until the end of 2007. It brought new rooms, escalators and elevators. The hotel is served by 12 scenic elevators, four non-scenic passenger elevators, and six non-scenic service elevators. The cabs swiftly travel at 1,000 feet (300 meters) per minute. They received a major modernization in 2005 that included replacing the glass-enclosed Tivoli-lit cabs with fiber optic lighted cabs and installing a new high-speed system (Schindler’s Miconic 10 Elevator System) which reduced waiting times from 30 minutes to less than five minutes.
The New York Marriott Marquis and The View are as exciting now as they ever were. Moreover, The View Restaurant and Lounge continues to offer spectacular views of the greatest skyline in the world.
Best of all, the food and drinks are great too!
Note: Another article on Revolving Restaurants can be found here.