Terminal Tower Building - Cleveland Union Terminal, Cleveland Ohio

Date added: October 28, 2016 Categories: Ohio Train Station Commercial Retail

The Terminal Tower Building is one of seven buildings built in the 1920s, known as the Terminal Group, an urban business complex comparable to and predating Rockefeller Center in New York City. Air rights, then a new concept, were required to construct the complex consisting of the train station (Cleveland Union Terminal) on the lower levels and the various buildings on top of it. Literally built in layers, the railroad tracks run directly beneath the buildings. For the first time in the United States, electric locomotives were in operation.

Cleveland's Chamber of Commerce appointed a committee in 1899 to develop a plan for Cleveland's public buildings. In 1902, Daniel Burnham, John M. Carrere and Arnold R. Brunner were appointed to the newly created Board of City Planning. The Burnham Mall Plan or Group Plan, as it has come to be called, proposed a grand scheme patterned after the "City Beautiful" movement. Burnham's Beaux-Arts Style "White City" on Chicago's lakeshore and the Nee-Classicism of European metropolises greatly influenced his plan. In Cleveland, Burnham proposed a large Mall stretching from Public Square to Lake Erie. Necessary state legislation authorizing construction of a new terminal and its approaches was not passed until 1915.

Burnham would have located the new terminal at the northernmost point of the Mall at the lakefront. His Union Terminal would stretch the width of the Mall and the grassy, open Mall would lead to the terminal. Existing tracks would be utilized and were incorporated into the design of the new terminal.

Public Square had long been considered the town's center since Cleveland was first platted in 1796. By the 1910s, however, the focus of downtown had shifted east, to the Playhouse Square area (vicinity East 14th Street and Euclid Avenue). There, major department stores were located, several elaborate theaters had opened, and office buildings had been constructed. By contrast, the buildings facing the southwest quadrant of Public Square, and those to the south and west, were for the most part deteriorating.

In the early 1900s, the Van Sweringen Brothers, Oris Paxton and Mantis James, were developing Shaker Heights, Ohio. This garden community was the first planned suburb in America and by 1910, all the necessary preparations were complete. They knew from experience that success depended upon the availability of transportation from downtown to Shaker Heights. Of the three miles downtown, two miles of right-of-way were needed from the Nickel Plate Railroad. Because the Railroad would not allow the right-of-way, the Van Sweringens bought the Nickel Plate Railroad. In 1916, construction of the Cleveland Interurban Line began, and the idea of locating Cleveland's new terminal at the Van Sweringens' Public Square stop was well rooted. Cleveland's earlier Union Depots had been located on the lakefront near the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. The architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White was retained and plans for the Union Terminal at Public Square were begun.

Cleveland now had two proposed sites for the new Cleveland Union Terminal. The controversy caused much open battling and political maneuvering. A vote was put on a special referendum, now known as the Referendum of 1919, and was held on January 6, 1919. By a vote of 30,758 to 19,916, the citizens of Cleveland chose the Van Sweringens' Public Square site. Excavation began in 1920. Construction began in 1923 and in 1930 the Terminal was officially open to the general public.

Railroad patrons could enter Cleveland and find all of their needs met without stepping outdoors. The complex was an engineering, construction, and logistics marvel. The skyscraper was the tallest building outside of New York City at the time. By 1929, the Van Sweringens, who had risen out of poverty, were prominent real-estate developers and businessmen. Their wealth heavily dependent on stock value, began to lose value after the stock market crash of 1929. In May 1935, the brothers defaulted on $48 million in loans, and the collateral was sold at auction that fall.

Of the originally planned buildings of the Mall Plan, five were built and remain: Cuyahoga County Courthouse, 1912; Cleveland City Hall, 1916; Public Auditorium, l922; Cleveland Public Library, 1925; and Cleveland Board of Education, 1931. The Terminal Tower Building completes the Mall arrangement at its southern point.

Almost from its inception, the new Union Terminal at Public Square was hailed as Cleveland's unofficial gateway and landmark.