Know Ohio: Terminal Tower

NEW YORK’S GOT THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING, SEATTLE’S GOT THE SPACE NEEDLE, CHICAGO’S GOT SEAR’S TOWER – AND, HERE IN CLEVELAND, WE’VE GOT OUR OWN ARCHITECTURAL ICON. TERMINAL TOWER IS A BUILDING SO SYMBOLIC OF THIS CITY, THAT YOU MIGHT THINK IT’S BEEN HERE FOREVER! WELL – NOT QUITE. BUT IT HAS
BEEN TOWERING OVER THE FOREST CITY FOR 87 YEARS!

IT’S CALLED TERMINAL TOWER, BECAUSE IT’S CENTERED ABOVE A LARGE RAILROAD STATION – AND WHEN IT WAS COMPLETED IN 1930, IT WAS THE SECOND TALLEST BUILDING IN THE WORLD. BUT THE PROJECT WAS INITIALLY A BIT MORE LOW-KEY.

THE VAN SWERINGEN (SWEAR-EN-JIN) BROTHERS – OTIS AND MANTIS THOUGHT UP THE IDEA FOR CLEVELAND UNION TERMINAL – A MODEST 14-STORY TRAIN STAIN NEAR PUBLIC SQUARE FOR THOSE COMMUTING FROM SHAKER HEIGHTS, A COMMUNITY NEAR CLEVELAND THAT THEY HAD JUST FINISHED DEVELOPING. BUT, IN 1919, WHEN VOTERS AGREED TO LET THEM BUILD THE STATION IN A PRIME SPOT ACROSS FROM PUBLIC SQUARE, THEY DECIDED TO GO BIG OR GO HOME.

THIS MONUMENTAL BUILDING TOOK A MONUMENTAL 10 YEARS TO COMPLETE – THE SPOT TERMINAL TOWER SITS ON TODAY WAS ONCE PART OF THE HAYMARKET DISTRICT -- A POOR SLUM CENTERED AROUND A MARKET. SO, TO BUILD THE FAMOUS SKYSCRAPER, THEY HAD TO FIRST DEMOLISH AND THEN EXCAVATE.

EXCAVATE MEANS THEY DUG UP THE EARTH TO CREATE UNDERGROUND TRAIN TUNNELS. AND THIS EXCAVATION WAS THE LARGEST IN HISTORY – THEY MOVED MORE DIRT HERE IN CLEVELAND THAN THEY DID TO BUILD THE PANAMA CANAL!

BY THE TIME IT WAS COMPLETED, THE TOWER STRETCHED 52-STORIES AND 708-FEET INTO THE SKY – AND BENEATH IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL, PALACE-LIKE COMPLEX OF OFFICES, RETAIL STORES, RESTAURANTS, A HOTEL, AND, OF COURSE, A CENTRAL LOCATION FOR ALL TRAINS COMING AND GOING FROM CLEVELAND. THE SO-CALLED CITY-WITHIN-A-CITY MADE PUBLIC SQUARE THE CENTER OF CLEVELAND AGAIN – JUST AS OUR FOUNDER, MOSES CLEVELAND INTENDED.

TERMINAL TOWER HAD A GRAND OPENING IN 1930 – BUT TWO PEOPLE THAT WERE ABSENT FROM THE PARTY WERE THE VAN SWERINGEN BROTHERS, THE CREATORS OF THE LANDMARK. THE BROTHERS WERE NOTORIOUSLY SHY, AND KEPT OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT, BUT THEY WERE VERY PROUD OF THEIR CREATION. BILLIONAIRES WHEN TERMINAL TOWER WAS BUILT –THEIR FORTUNE CHANGED WHEN THE GREAT DEPRESSION HIT. THEY WERE HEAVILY INVESTED IN THE RAILROAD, AT A TIME WHEN CARS WERE BECOMING THE MOST POPULAR MODE OF TRANSPORTATION. WITHIN JUST SIX YEARS OF THE COMPLETION OF TERMINAL TOWER, BOTH BROTHERS WOULD DIE WITH LESS THAN 3,000 DOLLARS TO THEIR NAME.

BUT THE TOWER THEY LEFT BEHIND STANDS STRONG! ALTHOUGH IT WAS SURPASSED BY KEY TOWER AS CLEVELAND’S TALLEST BUILDING IN 1991, TERMINAL TOWER IS STILL THE MOST RECOGNIZABLE FIGURE IN OUR SKYLINE. TODAY, THE TOWER IS KNOWN FOR ITS OBSERVATION DECK ON THE 42ND FLOOR, WHICH PROVIDES ONE OF THE MOST UNIQUE VIEWS OF OUR CITY – AND FOR THE BRILLIANT COLORED LIGHTS PROJECTED ON THE TOWER AT NIGHT. JUST LIKE THE REST OF US HERE IN CLEVELAND, THE TOWER WORE WINE AND GOLD WHEN THE CAVS WERE IN THE FINALS AND SCARLET AND GRAY WHEN OHIO STATE BECAME NATIONAL FOOTBALL CHAMPIONS.

AND, OF COURSE, IT’S STILL A BIG TRAIN STATION FOR DOWNTOWN COMMUTERS – LIKE YOURS TRULY. AND WHEN I WALK THROUGH THE GRANDEUR OF TOWER CITY, I CAN’T HELP BUT FEEL LIKE I’M A PART OF THIS CITY’S PAST – AND PRESENT.


Instructional Links


Online Reference Book: Cleveland Historical, The Terminal Tower | Includes history, images, audio files, & video

Online Reference Book, The Encyclopedia of Cleveland, Cleveland Union Terminal

Primary Sources: The Cleveland Memory Project, the Cleveland Union Terminal Collection | Info and links to archives

Website: Twitter, Terminal Tower, @TowerLightsCLE

Support Provided By

More Wcpn Schedule
More Wclv Schedule
Schedule
Donate
90.3 WCPN
WCLV Classical 104.9
NPR Hourly Newscast
The Latest News and Headlines from NPR
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.