The Revolving Fortunes of Rotating Restaurants

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From the 1940s to the 1980s, vast areas of North American cities were demolished and replaced with freeways and large concrete skyscrapers. This process, which came to be known as Urban Renewal, did not hit Quebec City quite as hard as Montreal or other cities in Canada. Though the old city was left untouched, over 1,200 homes were demolished to widen boulevards and make way for skyscrapers in historic neighbourhoods immediately outside the city walls. In 1974 alone, four of the city’s ten tallest skyscrapers were inaugurated. One of these was topped with a revolving restaurant on the 31st floor.

The restaurant in question, L’Astral, tops the Loews le Concorde hotel. The Italianate home of Cyrille Duquet, little-known inventor of the double-ended telephone handset, once stood on the site of this hotel. Promotional literature of the time claimed Le Concorde provided the “sophistication of the vieux regime with a bold contemporary statement.” Though it’s difficult to see the link between a mass of brutalist concrete and the traditions of New France, there’s no doubt that the building was bold.

I went to this rotating restaurant for the first time a few weeks ago. The whole idea of lunching at L’Astral had always seemed a bit corny. A few work colleagues managed to talk me into it with promises of nice views. To be fair, it was better than other tourist traps on the same strip, and it got me mind thinking about revolving restaurants.


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View of the Plains of Abraham from L’Astral…

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…and 90 degrees to the left–a view of Old Quebec.

The revolving restaurant was invented by an American architect named John Graham, who was inspired by spinning cars at car showrooms. The world’s first revolving restaurant was called La Ronde, built in 1961 on a revolving floorplate atop an office building in Honolulu. A year later, Graham was asked to design the Space Needle for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, which also included a revolving restaurant. The concept took off, and soon every city wanted one. There are at least a dozen in Canada, providing views of everything from Niagara Falls to Edmonton’s suburban sprawl. As revolving restaurants spread, they quickly lost their novelty value. This emblem of progress and prosperity soon came to be seen as sixties’ kitsch. Revolving restaurants are no longer being built in the West, and many have stopped turning altogether. Nevertheless, they are still seen as a symbol of progress in some parts of Asia. In certain cases, the progress is illusory—Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, has 10 revolving restaurants, seven of which have been unfinished for years. Taipei even has a revolving restaurant on top of a waste incinerator!

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Beitou Incinerator and Revolving Restaurant, Taipei.
Photo by Assassin.Chen

This entry was written by Patrick Donovan , posted on Thursday November 08 2007at 11:11 pm , filed under Architecture, Canada, Society and Culture and tagged . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Response to “The Revolving Fortunes of Rotating Restaurants”

  • Corny, yes, and wonderful at the same time! I’ve only been to the revolving restaurant in the Berlin TV-tower, but I love it. That building in Quebec City looks really cool – and a bit scary. I’ll definitely go there if I ever come to Quebec.