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The Top of Carolina, Capstone: 1970s (open again)   30 comments

Posted at 3:15 am in Uncategorized

The Top of Carolina opened in 1967 and was the first (and I think still the only) revolving restaurant in the Carolinas. The revolving platform was built from equipment donated after the 1964 New York World's Fair. I don't know if the Capstone domitory on which The Top of Carolina sits was originally planned with that end in mind or not.

I remember it was quite a big deal when the restaurant opened (I would have been 6), and although our "eating out" was generally reserved for Sunday lunch in fairly prosaic spots (The Russell House, McDonalds, Ponderosa Steak Barn, Frank 'n Stein), my parents made it a point to take us kids.

We were fascinated by the whole "revolve" thing, and at seeing Columbia in a panarama below us. The food however, at least from a child's point of view, left a lot to be desired. As I recall, the only choice available was a buffet, and it didn't have sandwiches or hamburgers or spaghetti or indeed anything I liked. I believe my parents were less than impressed with it as well, though I may be projecting my feelings onto them. At any rate, we never went back after that one time while the place was in its initial mode of operation.

At some point -- it couldn't have been long after The Tricentennial, if indeed the place lasted that long -- the Top of Carolina folded as a retail operation. I'm not sure of all the reasons. I believe USC had always owned and run the place, and I'm sure the college "industrial food" mindset didn't help. Also, as far as I can recall, there was never a parking lot dedicated to the restaurant which can't have helped matters either.

After that, the University would still (and do still, I think) rent the place out for banquets, and I believe I attended one such function in the 80s. I can still recall noticing, and being pleased by how many trees downtown Columbia still had as I looked down on them.

Often we used the word Capstone to invoke The Top of Carolina, but actually Capstone is the name of the building on which TTOC sits. During my tenure at USC, Capstone was a girls' dorm (one of my cousins lived there a few years) with one of the University cafeterias as the ground floor. I often ate there, and vividly remeber a particular meal when ARA acted out a bad punchline come to life. I had gotten a burger and fries, and the food lady told me:

I burned the fries, so I gave you some extra.

As the comic said, if there's one thing I like more than bad food, it's more of it!.

The Capstone cafeteria was also the site of an incident which put me off of my habit of drinking tea and reading a book after eating and before my next class, something I enjoyed quite a bit. The tables were not exclusive, but generally if there was space, nobody would crowd. I was a bit miffed then when someone sat down by me and started a conversation, especially as looking up I saw that there were plenty of empty tables, but he leveraged the title of the book I was reading, got me to tell him a bit about it and started making general chit-chat. I was annoyed, but figured he was a new guy trying to make friends and didn't want to be rude, so I made an effort to be courteous and talked for 10 or 15 minutes, at which time of course he dropped the "would you like to come to our prayer group" bomb. I'm afraid that for the rest of my time at USC I was pretty uncommunicative verging on rude to anyone I didn't know taking a seat at "my" table, and didn't take up lunch reading again until I started working.

I think Capstone is still a dorm, but I believe the cafeteria is now gone. I believe you can still have a banquet at The Top of Carolina though I would still expect the view to be better than the food.

UPDATE 3 Dec 08

Commenter Dennis sends the following notes and picture:

I was always very interested in this place because of my great interest in the 1964 World's Fair, but have only managed to get in and eat once. It is impossible to get information about the rare times it is open to the public. On USC websites it is referred to as the Top of Carolina Conference Center and it seems you can only rent the place for events, but they sure don't advertise or make it easy to get info.

Anyway, I found this dated April 2007. Don't know if they ever did this renovation:

In addition to receiving that report, the University's Buildings and Grounds Committee approved a plan to use about $700,000 in Sodexho dining services funds to renovate the Top of Carolina facility at Capstone in summer 2008. The revolving restaurant atop the 18-story residence hall has been an icon in Columbia since it was built in 1967. The facility was used for 32 Sunday brunches and 44 catered University events in the past fiscal year.

"We're planning to replace carpet, window treatments, and the heating/cooling system along with making the facility ADA accessible," said Rick Kelly, vice president for business and finance.

After renovations are completed, Top of Carolina will be the venue for catered events throughout the academic year, said Michael Scheffres, general manager of University dining services. Sunday brunch at the facility is open to the public during the fall and spring semesters.

The picture conveys what I didn't really note in my initial post. The "revolve" part of the restaurant is a circular band which orbits a non-moving core. Essentially, only the guest seating rotates.

UPDATE 1 November 2009: Open again!

Written by ted on December 3rd, 2008

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30 Responses to 'The Top of Carolina, Capstone: 1970s (open again)'

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  1. A few years ago Capstone was open on Sundays to the public for brunch.

    When I was at USC ARA was there too. I used to joke that we didn't have any food fights out of fear that someone hit with an ARA hamburger might get a concussion.


    3 Dec 08 at 7:04 am

  2. There is definitely still a dining hall on the bottom level there as well.


    3 Dec 08 at 9:57 am

  3. My husband and I had brunch there earlier this year (they close for the summer, while the hospitality students that waitstaff the place are on break). The food was okay, nothing spectacular,but the meal wasn't an unpleasant experience. I think if you call the number on the webpage, you can get reservations.


    4 Dec 08 at 11:10 am

  4. I graduated from USC back in 1983 and lived in the then "all girls" Capstone dorm for 3 1/2 years while I was there. I loved the dorm! I ate at "The Top of Carolina" restuarant once on a date. Don't remember much about the food, but enjoyed the view and the experience. Thanks for your article, giving me a chance to go down memory lane.


    5 Dec 08 at 6:29 pm

  5. Years ago someone hired me to work for a wedding reception DJ -- Which was ok if the floor was turned off -- Sometime during the event the bride wanted the floor on -- I am stationed in the nonmoving center -- so there the wedding party goes around -- then slowly here thay come again and again -- It was a very funny sight to see people keep walking back to dance.


    8 Dec 08 at 5:33 pm

  6. That's a real sitcom moment..


    8 Dec 08 at 9:31 pm

  7. Capstone is still a dorm and has a pretty decent dining hall on the bottom floor. It beats walking all the way to the Russell House for something to eat between classes if you're on that end of campus.

    On a random side note: You may want to check the status of the Zaxby's on Bush River. I ate a late lunch there on Monday and they ran out of all fried chicken, fried mushrooms, ketchup, and a few other "mundane" things.


    17 Dec 08 at 3:01 pm

  8. Hahahaha, KC, I think I was a bridesmaid AT that wedding!


    25 Aug 09 at 1:33 pm

  9. capstone / top of carolina is back!
    Top of Carolina Sunday Brunch Open to Public

    Welcome November with a delicious brunch at the Top of Carolina this Sunday, November 1, 2009.

    Under the supervision of Presidential Chef James A. Ellison CEC, the menu features culinary specialties as well as comfort food and delicious desserts. The menu includes an all-you-can eat buffet with breakfast and lunch items, a hot buffet, salads, desserts, breads and beverages.

    This Sunday's menu includes Napa Cabbage & Glass Noodle Slaw Orzo, Dried Tomato & Blue Crab Salad, Waldorf Salad, Fresh Fruit Salad, Garden Salad. Hot Entrees include Apple Wood Smoked Bacon, Turkey Sausage, Grilled Flank Steak with Orange Chimichurri, Turkey Scaloppini Saltimbocca, Purple Potatoes Au Gratin, Farfalle with Charred Peppers & Pesto, Broiled Tomatoes Stuffed With Spinach & Mozzarella, Roasted Fall Squash with Cinnamon & Honey and a Display Station featuring Shrimp & Grits.

    Weekly staples include the Omelet Station with Chopped Bacon, Diced Ham, Diced Turkey, Shredded Cheddar, Sliced Mushrooms, Chopped Onions,

    Diced Green Peppers, Diced Tomatoes and Diced Jalapeño Peppers; the Belgian Waffle Station with Blueberry Topping, Strawberry Topping, Maple Syrup,

    Whipped Margarine, Whipped Cream and Powdered Sugar, Assorted Desserts and Assorted Fresh Baked Breads and Danish with Butter.

    The Top of Carolina will be open from 10:30 am - 1:30 pm every Sunday during the academic year. Located at 900 Barnwell Street, parking is available in the lot at the corner of Barnwell and Pickens streets. Reservations are required. For reservations, call 803-777-0848 on the weekend

    For more information, call 803-777-7919 or visit our website at http://sc,edu/dining

    Cynthia Steele
    803-777-6601 (fax)
    Become a fan of Carolina Dining Services on Facebook and receive discount coupons each week for our on-campus dining locations

    john burbage

    30 Oct 09 at 5:14 am

  10. Yep, I see a story on it this Sunday's State too. I find it amazing that all the rotation is done bay a 3/4 HP motor!

    But why have they never served "normal" food there? Brunch or barbecue? That's just odd.


    2 Nov 09 at 12:17 am

  11. i go to usc and capstone is now a residence hall for freshmen.


    14 Dec 09 at 7:43 am

  12. The Top of Carolina was originally open daily for lunch and dinner. I suppose the lack of available parking and the novelty wearing off is what caused the dining service to cut back on their schedule.


    14 Dec 09 at 10:19 am

  13. I remember attending a reception at Top of Carolina during my sophomore year in the late 90's. I soon discovered that the revolving platform was not a good place to be when you have motion sickness, lol. I spent the evening feeling queasy, and I couldn't wait to leave.


    26 Dec 09 at 5:21 am

  14. I dined at The Top Of Carolina regularly in the early 80's when I was on the faculty there. It was always a special occasion for my family or other visitors that I invited. The wonderful view, the revolving dining and the food made the experience a real treat. My children loved it and want to go back. The main difficulty I encounter is making reservations by phone. That perhaps has to do with the irregular hours and the University schedule. You can't just pick up a phone and get in touch. Then you must remember to call back some other time. Anna

    Anna Hite

    9 Jan 10 at 12:33 pm

  15. Never managed to get to any functions at the TOC when I was at Carolina... like the Golden Spur, my buds and I managed to sneak in there a couple of times just to have a look around and maybe "borrow" some flatware and/or dishes.
    But I will say this - the view from the restaurant was nice, but the view from the roof was even better. :)


    28 Jan 10 at 12:55 pm

  16. One of the reasons we were able to get in so easily - Capstone had a controlled-entry policy by 1985 - was that we were able to circumvent that by going through the electrical access tunnels. We would open the access cover in front of Gambrell Hall and go through the tunnels to an (locked on the tunnel side) access door in the bottom floor of Capstone. You could also get into Columbia Hall that way, but the access there wasn't controlled so it didn't matter so much.


    3 Mar 10 at 12:50 pm

  17. Why even bother going there since they're only opened for 3 hrs.? I bet it's REALY expensive also...unless they have a discount for those of us 50 and older.


    24 Aug 10 at 8:59 pm

  18. The BBQ buffet they have now is actually pretty good. It's only around 10 bucks so it's not expensive. It is a nice setting to relax and eat lunch while getting a nice view of the city.


    25 Aug 10 at 9:01 am

  19. Here is a home-made panoramic view from the restaurant

    Terry Edwards

    5 Sep 10 at 5:39 am

  20. Very nice Terry!

    I recall I had a similar impression about how green Columbia was..


    5 Sep 10 at 11:59 am

  21. Very cool Terry!!! Who doesn't enjoy panoramas? Nice write-up as well.

    Michael Taylor

    6 Sep 10 at 12:02 am

  22. I went to the TOC in the early 90"s (it had to be) but it was an evening function during the Christmas holidays. I t was such a beautiful view at night. I"ve lived here all my life and never saw Columbia look so beautiful. The city lights and view were spectacular. I quess it was a catered affair, since they don't open in the evenings. They should consider opening during the Christmas and New year holidays. I'm sure it would be magnificent. They could hire a chef and waitstaff from an agency. I know I would like to have our office Christmas party there. Or spend New year's eve in a comfortable and safe environment.


    15 Oct 10 at 10:46 am

  23. Thanks for your interesting article/recounting of childhood tales. I appreciate your sense of humor (especially about where your parents used to treat you all to Sunday dinner)!

    Owing to the date of your post, this comment will probably be quite obsolete, but I would like to make it anyway.

    I was somewhat surprised to read your paragraph about the reason you were persuaded to not take tea and read at lunch, in public, for the remainder of your college career--As a USC student I too have found myself approached by Christians at lunch, and rather enjoyed that someone would take time to get to know me (and even to invite me to activities that I know mean a lot to them). I'm sorry that was offensive to you and that it indeed ruined something you "enjoyed quite a bit" for quite so long, but happy to hear you've taken it up again =)


    26 Oct 11 at 6:09 pm

  24. Top of Carolina is now open for lunch on Fridays and for brunch on Sundays -- but only when school is in session. I was there yesterday and it is the best kept secret in Columbia as most residents do not know that it is open. I do not know the price of the Friday BBQ lunch but the brunch is outstanding and costs $21, with a 10% discount if you are 65 or older. That includes tax and your drink. There is an omelet station and numerous other choices, both breakfast and lunch items, and desserts. The restaurant makes a full revolution each hour and the view is tremendous. All tables are at the window and it is amazing how different things look from up there.


    20 Feb 12 at 12:55 pm

  25. There are a number of uncanny connections here. In 1957 I attended the 7th grade at University High School. Our family later moved to Charleston and I graduated from St. Andrew's Parish High School in 1964. Our Senior Trip was to the New York World's Fair where I first ate at this restaurant. The guy in Greenville who was King of Barbeque King purchased the restaurant when the fair was broken down and donated it to the University. I hope to dine there soon during a pending visit to Columbia. Gamecock for life, I hope it will remain open forever!

    Dr. David Leapard

    13 Nov 12 at 7:37 pm

  26. I don't know why USC did not put offices in that building and have the restruant open year round for the public to enjoy. Louisville Kentucky has a rotating resturant and it is wonderful, brings a lot ot people just for the view. Charleston has a nice resturant with a view. There is a lot ot room to build dorms for the freshman. Columbia needs this.

    Ann Jones

    2 Dec 12 at 10:16 am

  27. I don't know why USC did not put offices in that building and have the restruant open year round for the public to enjoy. Louisville Kentucky has a rotating resturant and it is wonderful, brings a lot ot people just for the view. Charleston has a nice resturant with a view. There is a lot ot room to build dorms for the freshman. Columbia needs this, something to think about.

    Anna Jones

    2 Dec 12 at 10:18 am

  28. Why USC did not use that building for offices and rent office space out rather than student dorm. The resturant should be used year round. Louisville Kentucky has a rotating resturant and brings a lot of poeple just for the view. Charleston also has a resturant for the public with a view. There is pleanty of space for freashman dorms. It is a shame to keep this closed.

    Anna Jones

    2 Dec 12 at 10:21 am

  29. As a recent University of South Carolina graduate, what I can say is that it is home to a program called Capstone Scholars


    3 Dec 12 at 12:29 am

  30. Didn’t a tornado come near that dorm on 12 November 1975? It was traced from Gregg st to Owens Field and rated an F2. Back in the 80’s I heard it referred to as the Five Points Tornado. Also heard it blew fown the WISTV antenna on Gervais St.


    21 May 24 at 11:42 pm

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