In the architecturally decadent 1960s, the Universal Marion building at 21 W. Church Street was built to be a world-class office tower.
The nineteen-story building was set to top out as one of the city’s tallest structures. And, as a distinctive feature, its top floor would house a revolving restaurant.
Revolving restaurants were another fad borne from the ‘60s; the Universal Marion building’s restaurant was modeled after La Ronde, the earliest example of a revolving restaurant that was located in Hawaii and has since closed.
Once the building was complete in 1963, Embers Restaurant was chosen to occupy the unique space. Embers was a chain of restaurants that mostly operated in the Midwest; the Jax location was its first foray into rotating spaces, though.
The Embers, as it came to be known, was billed as “the world’s largest revolving restaurant” upon opening in the mid-‘60s. The 250-seat restaurant featured a full, stationary bar planted right in the middle of the room, around which its tables slowly revolved. A full, 360-degree rotation supposedly took well over an hour.
The restaurant’s kitchen was located a floor below the platform, serving “American-Continental” lunch and dinner menus.
The Embers was popular with locals, offering classy cuisine and unbeatable views of downtown and the St. Johns River. But the revolving restaurant fad as a whole turned out to be relatively short-lived, relying perhaps a bit too strongly upon the novelty of the concept.
By the mid-‘70s, the Embers had closed its doors permanently. A little over a decade later, public utility JEA took over the building and converted it into its new headquarters. The former Embers space was converted into (stationary) office space.
With JEA set to leave the building in the near future, it’s possible that the former restaurant space could be brought back by a new owner eventually. It probably won’t rotate like the Embers did, but it might give its former customers another look at the views they used to enjoy.