In the novel, “Red Clay and Roses”, Sybil has occasion to dine in one of Atlanta’s most famous hotels, The Hyatt Regency, which was relatively new at that time. While atrium hotels and rooftop restaurants are commonplace nowadays, such was not so when the hotel first opened its doors in 1967.
The crowning- literally crowning- glory of the hotel was the Polaris. The revolving rooftop restaurant was an instant hit; everybody who was anybody had to take the space-age elevators up for lunch, dinner, or just plain gawking. As children, we saw the futuristic rooftop as the coming of our own personal futures, a “Jetsons” cartoon come to life.
Atlanta has grown by leaps and bounds in the past forty to fifty years. There were few tall buildings there in my childhood, as Atlanta tended to sprawl rather than to build upward. Dwarfed now, by the skyscrapers built up around it, the hotel was once one of the tallest buildings in the downtown area at 22 stories.
John Portman’s vision for the Regency was simple; it would be a world-class hotel where none had ever existed before, and its architecture would be so distinctive that the hotel would need no further recommendation as Atlanta’s premier place for visitors to stay. From the outside, the Regency went up as a fairly severe 22-story box that gave very little hint of what was to be found inside, until one looked up at the roof. Where most downtown buildings have nothing whatever, the Regency had a shimmering blue Plexiglas bubble of a revolving restaurant, known then and now as the Polaris.
It was only upon entering the hotel that a first-time visitor saw the considerable lengths to which its designer had gone to make this the most memorable hotel of its day. Portman had taken more than a few cues from an architect he respected highly; his respect was well-founded, since the architect was Frank Lloyd Wright. Portman’s first and greatest homage was to Wright’s Johnson Wax building. Its modern glass elevators were also a hit, and many would come to tour, just to say that they had ridden in a glass elevator.
The Regency is unusual among iconic Modernist buildings in that it is still in use for its original purpose, still owned by its original owners, and all the considerable renovation and addition it has undergone has been at the direction of its original architect. The hotel is now twice the size it was originally; a circular bronze-glass International Tower was added in the 70’s, and 1996 saw the addition of another tower that neatly duplicates the original 1967 facade of the main building. The hotel has evolved in décor and amenities; the first iteration of the rooms was Sixties basic. The Polaris Restaurant still exists for diners today by that iconic name. Today, Hyatt offers visitors rooms ranging from businesslike-but-cozy to sybaritic. The staff has functionaries unheard-of in 1967 Atlanta, among them a concierge.
Visit the homepage of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta at: www.atlantaregency.hyatt.com
Visit the homepage of John Portman Associates at: www.portmanusa.com
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