Terminal Tower

Formally dedicated in 1930 following over four years of extensive demolition, excavation, and construction, the Cleveland Union Terminal centralized the city's passenger rail service and gave Cleveland a signature landmark, the 52-story, 708-foot tall Terminal Tower.

The Union Terminal project was conceived by brothers Oris P. and Mantis J. Van Sweringen in conjunction with the development of their other major project, the suburban community of Shaker Heights. They had initially planned to build only a small train station near Public Square in order to facilitate a quicker commute between Shaker and downtown. Eventually, however, the project grew more ambitious when the brothers proposed Public Square as an ideal site for a new, centralized rail station - originally planned to be built on the north end of the Mall as part of Daniel Burnham's Group Plan. In addition, the Van Sweringens scrapped the initial plans for a more modest 14-story office building to sit atop the new train station in favor of the massive 52-story Terminal Tower.

The shy, reclusive Van Sweringen brothers always shunned the spotlight, even opting not to attend the Union Terminal's grand opening ceremonies in 1930. Their effect on Cleveland and its development in the twentieth-century, however, remains on display today.

Images Show

Terminal Tower, 1928

Terminal Tower, 1928

While the Terminal Tower itself was complete by 1928, the train station underneath it was not finished until 1930. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections View File Details Page

Tower Construction, 1927

Tower Construction, 1927

The concrete and steel supports for the tower reach nearly 250 feet below ground level. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Early Tower Sketch, ca. 1919

Early Tower Sketch, ca. 1919

A shorter version of the Terminal Tower is seen in this conceptual postcard, ca. 1919, made ahead of a public referendum on funding for the project. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Train Schedule, 1930

Train Schedule, 1930

The Union Terminal station, which saw peak use during World War II, was used for inter-city passenger trains until 1977. Today, the infrastructure is used as a hub for the city's rapid transit commuter trains. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Terminal Station Postcard, 1927

Terminal Station Postcard, 1927

This postcard depicts the subterranean train depot that would debut when the Union Terminal construction was completed in 1930. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Public Square Portico

Public Square Portico

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress View File Details Page

Terminal Tower Main Lobby

Terminal Tower Main Lobby

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress View File Details Page

Excavation, 1926

Excavation, 1926

The unprecedented engineering for the project included the demolition of more than 1,000 buildings and the construction of many bridges and viaducts for the railroad approaches. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Audio Show

It Was Like The Emerald City

Author Shawn Hoeffler remembers the excitement of approaching the city during family trips to Cleveland View File Details Page

An Ornate Skyscraper

Shawn Hoeffler on Terminal Tower's size and decoration View File Details Page

Ethnic Influences On The Tower

Norman Krumholz of Cleveland State University talks about what he sees as the ethnic influences on the Terminal Tower's architecture and design View File Details Page

Video Show

The Van Sweringens

"What An Idea!" View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

“Terminal Tower,” Cleveland Historical, accessed March 30, 2015, http://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/21.
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