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The history of Liverpool’s iconic St. John’s Beacon

1 month ago

By Chris Grundy

The history of Liverpool’s iconic St. John’s Beacon
St John's Beacon. Credit: @Dronecapturedmoments (Instagram)

Whether you call it St. John’s Beacon or Radio City Tower, there’s no denying that this iconic structure is an integral part of Liverpool’s skyline.

St. John’s Beacon stands proudly as a radio and observation tower nestled in the heart of Liverpool’s city centre. Crafted by James A. Roberts Associates, this architectural gem was built in 1969 and ceremoniously opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

Soaring to a height of 138 meters (453 ft), the tower claims the title of Liverpool’s second-tallest free-standing structure. Factor in its impressive 10 m (33 ft) antenna atop the roof, and it surpasses all others to become the tallest structure in Liverpool!

The design, hailed by Historic England as a manifestation of “technological bravura and the spirit of the space age,” culminated in the tower receiving Grade II listing status in November 2020.

St. John’s Beacon stands not just as a physical structure but as a symbol of innovation and the ever-evolving spirit of Liverpool’s skyline.

St John's Beacon. Credit: @Dronecapturedmoments (Instagram)
St John’s Beacon. Credit: @Dronecapturedmoments (Instagram)

Perched atop the tower once stood the lavish 5-star The Tower Restaurant, where both the facade and the restaurant floor seamlessly rotated as a single unit. Meanwhile, the roof served as an observation platform, offering breathtaking views to visitors.

To reach your destination in the sky, you could conquer 558 stairs or… as is more popular today… opt for one of the two lift shafts, which propel eager guests to the summit in a mere 30 seconds!

The Tower Restaurant closed its doors in 1979 due to health and safety concerns. A re-opening occurred in the early 1980s, featuring a reduced capacity and enhanced fire prevention measures.

By 1983, the restaurant underwent a transformation into a Buck Rogers space-themed eatery, only to face closure once again due to a lack of customers. Sadly, at this time, both the observation deck and the restaurant fell into disuse.

In the following years, the tower laid in a state of abandonment and neglect, earning it the dubious reputation of an “eyesore” among Scousers.

To enhance its visual appeal, blue “UFO style” neon strip lights were added to the tower’s perimeter in 1994, though they were later removed during a refurbishment.

St John's Beacon. Credit: @Dronecapturedmoments (Instagram)
St John’s Beacon. Credit: @Dronecapturedmoments (Instagram)

In late 1998, Radio City, under the ownership of Emap Radio at the time, expressed keen interest in revitalising the tower to accommodate Radio City and Magic 1548.

This entailed the creation of studios and requisite office space. The ambitious plan was unveiled to the public, with Radio City broadcasting regularly from the beacon during the interim period.

The Lightshow Festival in late 1999 saw the tower illuminated with an array of patterned and colored lights.

In 1999 the refurbishment commenced and the grand reopening took place in August 2000, transforming the iconic structure into the new home for Radio City 96.7 and Magic 1548.

The exterior observation deck, formerly perched atop the restaurant, was repurposed into a second floor, now housing offices and conference rooms for both radio stations. The lower floor, once the site of the restaurant, was home to the studios. Remarkably, the original revolving structure and machinery were preserved during the refurbishment, with added brackets ensuring its stability.

The tower has been known to sway in heavy winds ā€“ a deliberate construction element to prevent structural issues. This phenomenon is common in skyscrapers and tall buildings, safeguarding against potential base snapping or shaft cracking.

The refurbishment also introduced various illuminations, such as the Radio City 96.7 lettering on the tower’s exterior, glowing in yellow during the night.

Lights were strategically placed on the crow’s nest structure, changing colors throughout the day. Special displays, including Christmas-themed images, are projected onto the tower’s base during the festive season. The 2nd-floor windows are illuminated at night, sometimes adopting specific colours to mark significant events.

Radio City Tower
Radio City Tower

An advertising framework was added to the top of the tower, so that fabric banners could be placed… however due to the wind, these are no longer used.

In 2010, the first floor of the Radio City Tower welcomed the public on a full-time basis, requiring an entrance fee for admission.

You can get tickets priced at Ā£7.50 for adults and Ā£5.50 for children. Visitors are granted the freedom to explore the tower at their leisure, offering a unique opportunity to behold Liverpool from a breathtaking 360Ā° panoramic perspective.

In late June 2020, ZipWorldUK proposed a new permanent Ā£5 million zip wire project starting from the second floor of the Beacon and ending at Liverpool’s Central Library.

The initiative generated diverse public opinions, with some expressing concerns about the potential permanent alteration of one of the city’s iconic landmarks.

Others argued that the zip wire’s noise might disturb library users. The proposal underwent evaluation by Liverpool City Council, and on June 30, 2020, the plans received approval.

However, on September 2, 2020, reports surfaced that Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson was rescinding permission for the use of Central Library, effectively ending the proposal.

The tower remained a hub for the studios of local programming for Radio City until January 2024 when it was announced that Radio City will be changing its name to Hits Radio, after broadcasting in the city since October 1974.

It is uncertain at the moment as to what will happen to the Radio City signage atop St John’s Beacon, as of the moment there are no plans to move the station away from the tower itself. But one thing is for certain, the tower will always be a shining beacon of “home” for Scousers.

You can book tickets for St. John’s Beacon HERE. For the latest news in Liverpool click HERE.

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