A soaring Art Deco masterpiece and a National Historic Landmark, Cincinnati Union Terminal is also a museum and cultural center where discoveries await.
1301 Western Avenue Cincinnati Union Terminal Cincinnati, OH 45203
- Annual Station Revenue (2013)
- Annual Station Ridership (2013)
|Facility Ownership||City of Cincinnati|
|Parking Lot Ownership||City of Cincinnati|
|10 Short Term Parking Spaces||1300 Long Term Parking Spaces||ATM|
|Accessible Payphones||Accessible Platform||Accessible Restrooms|
|Accessible Ticket Office||Accessible Waiting Room||Accessible Water Fountain|
|Bike Boxes||Checked Baggage||Dedicated Parking|
|Elevator||Elevator Accessible||Enclosed Waiting Area|
|Help With Luggage||Parking Attendant||Pay Phones|
|Restrooms||Shipping Boxes||Ticket Office|
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Cincinnati Union Terminal, one of America’s great Art Deco rail stations, was completed in 1933. Its principal architects were Alfred T. Fellheimer and Steward Wagner, with architects Paul Phillippe Cret and Roland Wank brought in as design consultants. New York-based Fellheimer and Wagner were well known for their work on train stations by the 1920s, which included structures in Erie, Pa., South Bend, Ind., Buffalo, N.Y., and Greensboro, N.C. In Cincinnati, their famed Art Deco terminal remains a symbol of the railroads’ power and glory in the first half of the 20th century. However, Cret was largely responsible for the building’s signature style, and is often credited as the building’s architect. Its ten-story, half-domed limestone and glass main entrance hall was the only half dome in the Western Hemisphere and the largest in existence when it was constructed.
Standing one mile north of the center of Cincinnati, the main facade faces east over a quarter-mile plaza on what was once Lincoln Park. An illuminated fountain, cascade, and pool further landscape the entry. The dome is flanked on either side by curving wings, and on either side of the main entry doors, Maxfield Keck’s bas reliefs depicting transportation and commerce keep watch.
German artist Winold Reiss designed and created two 22-foot high by 110-foot long color mosaic murals depicting the history of Cincinnati for the entry rotunda interior, two murals for the baggage lobby, two murals for the departing and arriving train boards, 14 smaller murals for the train concourse representing local industries and a large world map mural located at the rear of the concourse. Reiss spent nearly two years completing these works. The fourteen industry murals were removed during demolition of most of the passenger concourse in 1974 and found a home on display at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. The world map is the only mural not preserved.
As a major center of railroad traffic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and an interchange point between the Northeastern and Midwestern states, Cincinnati had no fewer than five passenger stations downtown. As early as the 1890s, the railroads began negotiations to create a Union Station to consolidate and simplify passenger traffic; however it would take until 1928 for the seven railroads and the city to come to agreement, after intense lobbying led by Phillip Carey Company president George Crabbs. The seven railroads involved in the agreements were the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad; the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis (“Big Four”) Railway; the Louisville and Nashville Railroad; the Norfolk and Western Railway; the Pennsylvania Railroad; and the Southern Railway.
Construction began in 1928 with considerable site preparation and grading of a portion of the Mill Creek flood plain on which the terminal was to stand, under the auspices of the newly-formed Union Terminal Company. The terminal building itself was begun in 1931 and the station opened on March 31, 1933. The total cost of the project was $41.5 million.
During its heyday as a station, Union Terminal saw 216 trains per day. While it had a brief revival in the 1940s because of World War II, it began to decline in the 1950s and 1960s. By the first Amtrak train operations in 1971, service was reduced to just two trains a day, the George Washington and the James Whitcomb Riley. The terminal was abandoned for transportation purposes in 1972 in favor of a much smaller passenger rail station built by Amtrak on the city’s riverfront (now demolished).
In the 1970s, adaptive reuse became an option due to the expense of tearing down such an immense structure. The Union Terminal was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and declared a national historic landmark in 1977. By 1975 the city had purchased the terminal and sought to lease it however they might. Within a few years, the Joseph Skilken Organization reopened the terminal as an entertainment and shopping complex, “Land of OZ,” investing more than $20 million for renovations, restaurants, a bowling alley and a roller skating rink as well as shops. Although this venture began with 40 tenants at its 1978 opening, the recession saw them reduced to 21 by 1982.
The terminal stood empty for several years after the closing of the OZ project. In May, 1986, efforts led to a bond levy to save the terminal from demolition and transform it into the Cincinnati Museum Center. Cincinnati’s then-Mayor Jerry Springer was a major proponent of this transformation. The new center opened in 1990, taking advantage of the terminal’s vast spaces, and now is home to six museum organizations. Renovations also allowed the return of Amtrak service to the building- via the Cardinal - on July 29, 1991. The state of Ohio and the city of Cincinnati contributed to this latest restoration with grants of $8 million and $3 million, respectively; and more than 3,000 individuals, corporations, and organizations contributed as well. Since its reopening 1990, the terminal attracts more than 1 million visitors each year.
In 2008, the Union Terminal celebrated its 75th birthday with a month-long calendar of festivities, culminating with a recreation tour of the terminal as it was the 1940s. As older buildings are always in need of upkeep, the terminal is in need of $120 million in restoration, primarily due to decades of water damage. Unfortunately, its location well north of downtown is seen by many as too far away from the city’s employment and entertainment venues. It is also located near a rail intersection very heavily used by freight trains.
The Cincinnati Museum Center announced in October 2009 that it was one of 10 recipients of the 2009 National Medal for Museum and Library Service. The award, presented by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, recognizes museums’ outstanding social, educational, environmental or economic contributions to their communities.
In 1793, Israel Ludlow surveyed what is now Cincinnati to determine the boundaries of a parcel of land sold to John Cleves Symmes by the federal government. Symmes had originally tried to purchase two million acres in 1787, but unable to make his payments, the deal was subsequently renegotiated to one million acres. In the meantime, Symmes had begun selling land, thereby resulting in disputed titles. Ludlow was hired to survey the exact boundaries of the Symmes property to assist in clearing conflicting property claims.
Before hired to undertake the surveying for the federal government, Ludlow and three associates had purchased 800 acres from Symmes along the north side of the Ohio River. Working together, the group founded a community named "Losantiville" that by 1790 included approximately five hundred residents. It soon became the Hamilton County seat, but the governor of the Northwest Territory disliked the settlement's name and instead called it "Cincinnati" in honor of the Order of Cincinnatus (Society of the Cincinnati), a patriotic organization established in 1783 by American and French officers who had served in the American Revolutionary War.
Sited on the Ohio River, Cincinnati was a logical endpoint for the Miami and Erie Canal, which reached from Toledo on Lake Erie to Cincinnati, and used the waters of the Little Miami River. The resulting commerce made for a period of rapid expansion, which continued when the Little Miami Railroad was chartered in 1836, also created to connect to Toledo and Sandusky. During the American Civil War, Cincinnati played a key role as a supply source for the Union Army, despite considerable “Southern sympathy” due to long-standing trade and relations with northern Kentucky across the Ohio River.
Cincinnati weathered the depression of the 1930s because of resurgence of relatively inexpensive river trade, and the downtown experienced a renaissance in the late 1920s due to the construction of the Union Terminal. In the latter half of the 20th century, the city continued to reinvent itself, meeting the challenges of the times.
Cincinnati is home to major corporations such as Procter & Gamble (founded in Cincinnati in 1837), Kroger, GE Aviation, Macy’s Inc., Chiquita International, the United States Playing Card Company, and others, including many large financial groups. Altogether, ten Fortune 500 companies and 18 Fortune 1000 companies make Cincinnati home. The city is also home to the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University, among other institutions of higher learning, including Miami University and Cincinnati State, which boasts the Midwest Culinary School, one of the best in the nation.
Many arts and music organizations also grace the Queen City. However, it was Procter & Gamble which produced and sponsored the first radio soap operas in the 1930s, which were the genesis of a vastly popular variety of drama. When the medium switched to television in the 1950s and 1960s, most of the new serials were sponsored and produced by the company.
Amtrak provides ticketing and baggage services at this station, which is served by the tri-weekly Cardinal (Westbound: Monday, Thursday, Saturday; Eastbound: Wednesday, Friday, Sunday).