St John’s beacon has been a landmark of the Liverpool skyline since it opened in 1969. Originally designed as the ventilation tower for the new St John’s Market, the architects took advantage of the tall building’s opportunity to add something else. This is a flying-saucer-shaped gallery originally used for a revolving restaurant and later a (static) Buck Rogers themed eatery.
Perhaps this mechanical marvel, its extraterrestrial feel, and the sci-fi theming are the reason Historic England said “embodies the technological bravura and spirit of the space age” when it granted St John’s Beacon Grade II Listed status in 2020.
Sadly, neither restaurant attempt lasted, and from 1983 until 1999 the place remained closed. With no use for it, and the 1960s architectural ambition from which it sprang seeing a fall in popularity, the beacon became something of a white elephant.
Radio City Tower, and the viewing gallery
Its resurgence began in 1998 when Radio City’s owners EMAP (a “business-to-business media business”, as Wikipedia intriguingly puts it) promised to refurbish it and broadcast Radio City 96.7 and Magic 1548 from there.
The radio stations continue operations from the Beacon today, but since 2010 visitors have been able to zoom up the lift and walk around the viewing gallery. This was once the restaurant space, with the studios in the centre and windows looking out in every diretion.
I went up to the viewing gallery in 2021, and the things that you can see from up there reveal some interesting tid-bits about Liverpool’s historic landscape.
Liverpool from on high
To the south we can see the two cathdrals – Catholic to the left and Anglican to the right – and Renshaw Street heading into the distance. These are modern cathedrals by the standards of your Yorks and Elys, but it somehow seems fitting that they dominate the skyline, at least in this direction!
Further round we look inland to Renshaw Street and the former Blackler’s building. The Adelphi and the controversial Lime Street development can be seen too.
Lime Street station is much more visibly linked to the North Western Hotel, which was built to take advantage of the new transport system. The photo below shows how the rail sheds butt right up against the hotel building.
Finally, the unique vantage point offered by St John’s Beacon gives amazing views over the Mersey, Liverpool Bay, Wirral and Wales.
You can book your own tour at the St John’s Beacon website: https://stjohnsbeacon.co.uk/
Historic England’s reasons for designation are on their List: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1471669?section=official-list-entry