Terminal Tower - just the name conjures of images of beauty and wonder in a building. Terminal Tower has a castle-like turret on the top, complete with detailed dome. At ground level, the building is graced with thirty feet tall columns guarding the doors and windows of the main entrance. The Terminal Tower enjoys other architectural characteristics such as arched windows, classical details, raised first story, symmetry in design, figured sculptures, murals, and a myriad of other designs. Fountains and skylights catch the eye upon entering Terminal Tower.
Completed in 1930, the Cleveland Union Tower later became known as the Terminal Tower. It stood 708 feet tall and boasted of fifty-two stories. With its sixty-three flagpole, the Terminal Tower reached 771 feet. The Terminal Tower was the second tallest building in the world in 1930, being dwarfed only by the 1,453 feet high, 85-story Empire State Building in NYC. Although the Terminal Tower's structural construction was completed in 1927, the building did not open until January 26, 1930.
The concept of the Terminal Tower was the brainstorm of Oris Paxton and his brother Mantis James Van Sweringen. They were railroad barons who were born in a farming district near Wooster, Ohio. They wanted Terminal Tower to be a thriving, active area, full of railroad commerce, shops, and offices.
In order to build the Terminal Tower and surrounding complex, more than 1000 buildings were removed, streets were eliminated, and new streets were built. The brothers obtained "air rights" to the building, which was built over railroad tracks. Air Rights is a legal term implying that the owner of the building or land can claim ownership to the center of the earth and as high as the heavens. The supports are concrete reinforced with steel and are sunk about 250 into the ground. The complex covers 35 acres in downtown Cleveland.
The Terminal Tower was the largest Cleveland construction project of the 1920s. The cost to build the Terminal Tower was $179 million. Originally, the Terminal Tower was planned for 14 stories. Subsequently, it was decided to expand the building to a height of 52 floors. An observation deck on the forty-second floor and was used for tourist attraction. It allowed visitors to see about 30 miles in any direction. However, since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York City, the observation deck on the Terminal Tower has remained closed.
The first train entered the Terminal Tower depot on October 23, 1929, and the formal opening took place on June 30, 1930. Unfortunately, rail service was on a decline. By 1932, the number of trains departing Cleveland had dropped to 78 from 94 only ten years earlier. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Terminal Tower operated with rail service from Nickel Plate, Big Four, Erie, and Baltimore railroads. However, rail service continued to deteriorate and the last recorded train departure from the Terminal Tower was in 1977.
Operating as a passenger station and home for several businesses, the original Terminal Tower employed many of our parents or grandparents. Imagine a young working girl in the 1940s, who enjoyed the trip by rail to her job at the Terminal Tower. She might have worked for the Nickel Plate Railroad Company on the sixth floor. Another grandparent might have worked below the Terminal Tower in the train station itself. Each of these people was an integral part in the structure of the Terminal Tower.
Time went on, but the Van Sweringen brothers did not see much of the Terminal Tower after its opening in 1930. They suffered severe financial problems and both died within one year of each other. Mantis was the younger brother, who died in 1935 at the age of 54. Oris died in 1936 at the age of 57. Nevertheless, the brothers left a legacy to the people of Cleveland - a building that is truly a work of art. In 1983, Forest City Enterprises acquired the Terminal Tower.
In 1991, Terminal Tower lost its billing as the tallest building in Cleveland. The Society Center (now named Key Tower) was completed. At a height of 888 feet (948 feet counting the spire), the Key Tower was developed by the R. E. Jacobs Group. Key Tower is located just down the street from the Terminal Tower.
Yet, the Terminal Tower has a unique character that cannot be shadowed by a taller building. The Terminal Tower is a popular site for movies and has been used in several films, including Proximity, The Fortune Cookie, A Christmas Story, and Spiderman 3.
There is a spectacular Christmas lighting display every year, both inside and outside the building. Year round, the outside of the building is lit in a golden color, but has been occasionally changed for holiday or special events.
In a building that is now home to a hotel, numerous stores, train stations, movie theaters, and offices, there is a new family in town. A pair of peregrine falcons has decided that they like the view so much that they have nested on a ledge near the top of the Tower. The ledge is tracked by webcam and, in May 2009, viewers were able to see three of their four eggs hatch. The Ohio Division of Wildlife has banded the baby birds in an attempt to monitor their life style, growth, and migration habits. For a look at the Terminal Tower's wildest occupants, click here (a new window will open).
The Terminal Tower will remain a classic piece of architecture for many years, so check it out when you visit Cleveland.