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Atlanta’s own ‘spaceship’ lands again

POSTED: May 18, 2014 1:00 a.m.

When I was a kid, it towered over the heart of downtown, but then, taller buildings came and dwarfed it.

But in its moment, the Polaris Restaurant and Lounge and the Hyatt Regency was the place to see and be seen in Atlanta.

The restaurant, which resembles a science-fiction flying saucer, was an integral part of the Atlanta skyline when it opened in 1967. It opened when TV gave us “Lost in Space” and it was shaped like the series spacecraft, Jupiter II.

It was also at the time that the Apollo program was springing to life at NASA. Astronauts who served in the U.S. space program had become superstars. We knew the faces of John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Scott Carpenter, Gus Grissom and Gordon Cooper. They were on variety TV shows and on the cover of magazines.

So, trailblazing Atlanta architect John Portman decided to add a spacelike feature to the top of the city’s newest luxury hotel.

The Polaris not only looked like a spaceship, it orbited Atlanta. Well, that’s the way we saw it. The restaurant was built with a giant turntable, allowing diners to revolve around under the blue dome.

We went there once when my dad’s cousin was visiting from out of town and was staying at the Hyatt. In those days, we called it the Regency Hyatt House. Somewhere they reversed the order of that.

I don’t remember what we ate, but I’m sure it was fancy and, at the time, expensive. I remember my mama put her pocketbook on a nonmoving portion of the room and we had to go back and retrieve it.

If you went to the restroom, you would come back and search for your party. They were slowly revolving around the Polaris.

I went there with a date the night Joe Frank Harris was inaugurated as governor. It was bittersweet, because two days later, I learned my dad had cancer that would take his life 18 months later.

Bigger and even fancier hotels were built, but there was always something about the Hyatt and its blue bubbletop restaurant.

About a decade ago, I had lunch with Jerry Mathers, who played the title role in “Leave it to Beaver.” We weren’t in the Polaris, but hey, I was having lunch with “Beave” at the Hyatt.

When it opened in 1967, in the midst of the civil rights struggle, it was integrated from Day One. It set a new tone in the emerging and revitalized downtown business district.

A decade ago, the Hyatt put the Polaris in mothballs. The spinning restaurant had become dated.

Last month, the Polaris, which had undergone a major face-lift, reopened.

I haven’t been yet, but I want to go. When we would draw pictures of Atlanta, we would always pull out our blue crayon and scribble something that looked like the Polaris.

My mother was a teetotaler, but somewhere along the way, my vast collection of stuff included a cocktail stirrer in the shape of the blue dome.

I remember riding by as a child and looking up at the great sphere in awe. Last week, I rode by just for a chance to look up and see it again. It was like an old friend was smiling down once again.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.


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