Historic Structures

Cincinnati Union Terminal, Cincinnati Ohio

Date added: October 27, 2016 Categories: Ohio Train Station

Union Terminal was a transportation hub for rail passengers, visitors, and workers designed to accommodate 17,000 people and 216 trains daily. The Union Terminal was used to sell Cincinnati to the travelling world. From 1972 to 1980 the Union Terminal remained vacant until the building was leased to Joseph Skilken Corp. for adaptive-reuse as an urban shopping mall.

The Cincinnati Union Terminal was designed by architects Alfred Fellheimer and Stewart Wagner of New York who were nationally recognized as railroad architects and were responsible for the design of numerous rail terminals and facilities throughout the United States.

German-born artist Winold Reiss, whose significance for American Art History is still emerging through current documentation, prepared the cartoons from which all the wall mosaic murals were executed, and designed the color scheme for the rotunda ceiling.

Maxfield Keck, who designed the exterior sculpture for the State of New York building in Albany, prepared the models and supervised the stone carving on the exterior.

Col. Henry M. Waite, Chief Engineer for CUT Company, supervised the design and construction of the building as well as all other aspects of the Terminal development.

The general contractor was James Stewart and Company, Inc. of New York.

The Terminal was built in the old Mill Creek "bottoms" on a 287 acre site, north of the Ohio River and west of Cincinnati's Central Business Districts. Before Union Terminal was built, most of the area was covered with yard tracks, some of the land was waste and used as a refuse dump. In addition, there were houses, grain silos, an ice warehouse and Lincoln Park located on the site. Lincoln Park was created in the late 1860's. It included a small lake with an island in the center. On the island was a gingerbread gazebo with a cupola which served as a bandstand. The Park was a favorite gathering place for Cincinnatians, especially on Sunday afternoons when musicians played in the island gazebo as people gathered around the lake shores to listen. The broad grassy area along the drive in front of the Terminal is what remains of Lincoln Park. The drive to the building was first called Laurel Street, then changed to Lincoln Park Drive and is now called Ezzard Charles Drive, honoring a famous Cincinnati heavyweight boxer. Before Lincoln Park, there was a house for people with contagious diseases and a cemetery on the site.

The Union Terminal project, in addition to the building of the passenger terminal and concourse, included the demolition of two viaducts spanning the Mill Creek valley, the construction of the Western Hills viaduct, the erection of 22 other buildings, and the placement of 34 miles of track. One hundred and thirty acres are occupied by the Terminal proper and one hundred and fifty-seven acres are occupied by the railroad facilities. The Terminal was a part of a vast public works project.

More than five million cubic yards of fill were necessary to achieve the proper grade above the high water level, making Terminal operations independent-of the river stage. Bald Knob, a high, round, thorncrown hill west of the Mill Creek was the source for the bulk of the material. Bald Knob consisted of thin, nearly horizontal strata of fossil limestone, inter-bedded with clay and weak shale. Unfortunately the material did not consolidate properly, which lead Terminal Company engineers to abandon Bald Knob as a source of material. The remaining grading was finished with bank-run gravel from the pit of Miami town, located near the C&O railroad, approximately sixteen miles from Cincinnati.

The Western Hills Viaduct was built by the Union Terminal Company in conjunction with the city. The Viaduct extends from Central Parkway, at McMillan Street, westward to Harrison Avenue, near Beekman Street, a distance of approximately 3,500 feet. It is a double-deck structure, the upper level designed for passenger vehicles and pedestrians, the lower level designed to facilitate street car and truck traffic. The lower deck is reached from Spring Grove Avenue, while the upper empties onto the Parkway.

Simplicity and strength characterize the architectural treatment. Vertical planes and sharp, clear lines emphasize the verticality of the structure and produce a feeling of strength. The style, in keeping with Union Terminal, is Art Moderne.

The Western Hills Viaduct was built to permit removal of the old Harrison Avenue Viaduct, and the Liberty Street Viaduct, which, because of their location and low under-clearance, blocked expansion of the Terminal project to the north.

The Terminal station itself is only one of the project's 22 distinct buildings. Built north of the Terminal station was a mail handling building and an express building equipped v/ith a complete mail handling unit which extended from the buildings' receiving platforms to the U.S. Post Office located between Flint and Wade Streets. Located northwest of the Terminal and south of the Western Hills Viaduct was a utility group including the watertower, coal tipple, and yard service building. The boiler house and engine roundhouse - where locomotive inspection and repairs were made after each run - were built on the north side of the Western Hills Viaduct.

The Cincinnati Union Terminal dominates the view from the basin and surrounding hills of the city to this day. From Music Hall westward, the approach to the Terminal was along Laurel Street. Laurel Street was widened and improved by the city and in essence a thoroughfare between Music Hall and the Terminal was carved out. With public housing in the 1940's, the advent of Urban Renewal in the 50's, and the Interstate Highway in the 60's, the West End of Cincinnati was remade and with it the Terminal's surroundings were significantly altered.

Today the Union Terminal is surrounded by commercial and industrial buildings and is adjacent to 1-75. Parking space has been added by the Developers (Joseph Skilken Organization) on both sides of the Ezzard Charles Drive approach and parking is proposed for the rear of the building to the direct north and south.