I want you to just take a look at the historic photograph above for a few minutes and just absorb what you’re seeing. In the background, Irish Bend and the Flats spread out in the distance, the engine house of the industrial heart of the city at its height can be seen, while in the foreground one of the greatest architectural compositions in America lies before us.
Holding the rank of the second tallest building outside of New York for much of the Twentieth Century, and now only the second tallest building in Ohio after the Key Tower, it is still one of the great masterpieces of the Beaux-Arts skyscraper. I was shocked at just how many truly ugly and mediocre super tall skyscrapers have been built in the last twenty years, particularly in New York City, where there seems to be a competition afoot to bastardize its iconic skyline as much as possible.
Designed by the firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, the successors of Burnham and Root, the building was at least partly inspired by the Manhattan Municipal Building.
However, beyond a doubt the building is also inspired one of the Seven Wonders of the World, which is the Great Lighthouse, or Pharos of Alexandria. The tripartite design of the tower, and even the placement of the beacon high in the building that freighters could use to guide themselves to Cleveland’s docks further prove my point.
Originally opening in 1927, the Terminal Tower was the brainchild of the Van Sweringen Brothers, who made a fortune in the railroads and in real estate development, particularly Shaker Heights, a community famous for its building code convents. As mentioned a few days ago, I demurred from visiting the suburb.
I’m sure, much like was intended for the Empire State Building, if there had been a practical way to moor dirigibles on the roof, they would have added it to the design.
There is in fact an observation deck, but it was closed the day I visited.
Of course, there are multiple other buildings in what is known as Tower City. The lower levels of the tower itself are now luxury apartments.
I believe the building above and below to the north of the Terminal Tower is the old Cleveland Hotel, built in 1915.
Moving around to the east onto Ontario Street we reach the old Higbee’s Department Store, which is now a casino. The trains from Shaker Heights went straight here for shoppers’ convenience.
Long story, but the Van Sweringens acquired the chain, it eventually became Dillard’s, and then it went out of business.
It had to be built over the tunnels for the railroads coming into the train station under the tower.
It’s a great example of the Art-Deco, but yet due to using similar stone, meshes well with the other buildings in the complex.
Originally, like a movie out of the Golden Age of Hollywood, you could have walked straight off the main streets of Cleveland, taken some escalators down a couple of floors and walked right onto the train platforms of the city’s Union Terminal.
Today, the old Union Terminal platforms are used for the two light rail lines that pass underneath; one of them loops around and serves the Amtrak station. What an ignoble way to go.
There’s a whole maze of other buildings back behind the main tower.
There’s a post office and another federal building.
The main lobby of the Terminal Tower is pretty spectacular, modeled off ancient Roman baths and basilicas.
Oh, and they even had their own failed “urban shopping mall from the last decades of the Twentieth Century, too! Read a little about it here.
Out front, the entrance portals befit an emperor.