Dieselpunks

Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

To tell you the truth, I could post this entry three years ago. But I've been posting everything else. Why?

Tower City Front Exterior, 1950

With so many Americans in our community (including at least half a dozen Cleveland citizens), who am I to tell about this Diesel Era marvel? Alas, those who see the tower every day do not feel like telling about it. And yours truly, hoping to see it one day, is here with a bit of info and some photographs.

Aerial view of downtown Cleveland, circa 1931

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.

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.

Public Square showing Euclid Avenue, Business SectionPublic Square showing Euclid Avenue, Business Section. 1910s postcard

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.

Early Terminal Building design

In addition, the Van Sweringens scrapped the initial plans for a more modest 14-story office building (above) to sit atop the new train station in favor of the massive 52-story Terminal Tower.

Beginning of construction at Terminal Tower 1926

Beginning of construction at Terminal Tower 1926

Terminal Tower (Robert Smith)

Terminal Tower construction - north side 1928

Terminal Tower construction - north side. 1928

Drug Shop Construction

Drug Shop Construction

The architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White designed the structure in a style known as Beaux-Arts.

Military aircraft 1934Military aircraft over the Tower. 1934

The tower, especially its top, bears more than a passing resemplance to the Municipal Building in New York (completed in 1914).

O.P. & M.J. Van Sveringen

O.P. & M.J. Van Sveringen

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.

Builder's Photo, Cleveland Union Terminal Electrification and Cleveland Union Terminals Company logoAt fifty-two stories and 708 feet tall (771 feet including the flag pole), the Terminal Tower was the tallest building in the world outside of New York City until the completion of the main building of Moscow State University in Moscow in 1953 and would continue as the tallest building in North America, outside of New York City, until the Prudential Center in Boston, Massachusetts was completed in 1964.

Train leaving Terminal Tower Station 1930Train leaving Terminal Tower Station, 1930

Terminal Tower schedule 1930

Terminal Tower schedule, 1930

Terminal Tower interior by Margaret Bourke-White

Terminal Tower interior by Margaret Bourke-White

Terminal Tower (Robert Smith) 3

Pullman Passengers' Gate, 1930

Terminal Tower interior, June 30, 1939

Terminal Tower interior, June 30, 1939

Like Union Terminal in Cincinnati, the Terminal Tower served as a major hub for passenger rail service in the Midwest. Beginning in the 1950s, the railroads faced stiff competition from automobiles and passenger airline service. Eventually, the terminal no longer operated as a passenger station. In more recent years, the city of Cleveland has renovated the building, turning the original terminal into a shopping center and has developed other commercial uses for the site.

View of Terminal Tower, October 10, 1931View of Terminal Tower, October 10, 1931

Seaplane taking off from Cleveland Harbor, 1931Seaplane taking off from Cleveland Harbor, 1931

Goodyear Blimp 1937

Above and below: pictures taken during the Great Lakes Exposition, 1937

Aerial view of Downtown Cleveland and the Great Lakes Exposition

View of Terminal Tower, August 30, 1976

View of Terminal Tower, August 30, 1976

Union Terminal Tower, October 9, 1973, photo by Bill Nehez, Cleveland Press

Union Terminal Tower, October 9, 1973, photo by Bill Nehez, Cleveland Press

Cleveland lakefront, 1940

P.S. Cleveland Memory Project (CSU Library) displays nearly 500 photographs online, reflecting every stage of construction. You're welcome!

Terminal Tower (Robert Smith) 2

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Tags: 1920s, architecture, art, history, transportation, us

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Comment by lord_k on September 20, 2012 at 10:28am

To Athenaprime:

Union Terminal in Cincinnati is on my waiting list, btw.. Got some awesome archive shots of it.

Comment by Athenaprime on September 20, 2012 at 10:26am

Now you're making me feel guilty for not posting more pics of Union Terminal in Cincinnati. Maybe because I take terrible pictures, LOL.

Comment by BandNerd 51 on September 19, 2012 at 7:50pm

I was always struck as to how similar Moscow University looks to it.

Comment by Stephen Statler on September 18, 2012 at 12:51pm

From 1961 to 1969 I lived in the Cleveland area. I remember the pigeons, bus diesels, Checker cabs and crowds on the sidewalk at the base of the Terminal tower. About 1965 some Gemini astroanuts made an appearance there, just like at the big Texas barbecue in Texas with LBJ in the movie THE RIGHT STUFF, even including yellow 4 door 1964-65 Lincoln convertibles which the astronauts arrived in.   

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