A visit to the former Cleveland Union Terminal

1930 poster of Cleveland Union Terminal by Leslie Ragan
1930 poster of Cleveland Union Terminal by Leslie Ragan

There’s no denying it… the star ceiling in Grand Central Terminal is wonderful (and even cool enough for someone to actually get a Grand Central tattoo). But I must admit that after recently visiting Tower City Center (the former Cleveland Union Terminal), I was absolutely mesmerized by the ceiling there. It isn’t hard to see why – the repetitive pattern of flowers is not only beautiful, but almost hypnotic. Besides the two terminals having attractive ceilings, Cleveland’s terminal was influenced by some of Grand Central’s innovative designs. Tracks were built below ground, with the terminal building and tower constructed atop (making use of the “air rights”), and stores and hotels were constructed in adjoining buildings, ensuring that a traveler never had to step foot outside if that was their wish.

Designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White and officially opened in 1930, the Cleveland Union Terminal complex was comprised of several buildings, and included the impressive Terminal Tower. The fourth tallest building in the world when constructed (and second tallest in the US), the tower was 52 stories and 708 feet tall, and remains one of the most notable features in Cleveland’s skyline. Politically, the two parts were separated by ownership – the terminal was owned by the Cleveland Union Terminal company, and the tower by the Cleveland Terminals Building company. The Nickel Plate, New York Central, and Big Four railways were the primary stockholders of the Cleveland Union Terminal company, and thus the main train building.

  
 
Cleveland Union Terminal construction photos.

Though the railroads certainly had an investment, the main figures behind the station were Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen, eccentric brothers that developed the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Village (now Shaker Heights). Part of that development included an interurban streetcar link from the village to downtown Cleveland, called the Cleveland Interurban Railroad. Eventually the brothers envisioned a train terminal that would connect their railroad with the other streetcars and railroads in Cleveland, and the concept for Cleveland Union Terminal was born.

Postcard and matchbook from Union terminal
Postcard and matchbook from Union terminal. The “Busy Person’s Correspondence Card” may be one of the best postcards I’ve ever seen.

   
  
   
  
   

Photos of Cleveland Union Terminal in 1987, before much of the renovations to turn the station into a mall occurred.

Today Cleveland’s light rail uses the station, but beyond that longer distance trains have disappeared. Amtrak moved their operations to a newly built station closer to the waterfront in the ’70s. The original station platforms were for the most part demolished to create a parking garage. After extensive renovations the building now goes by the name of Tower City Center, and houses a shopping mall, restaurants, a movie theater, casino and two hotels. Despite all these changes, much of the entranceway from Public Square looks as it did when first constructed, including that mesmerizing ceiling.

Entrance of Cleveland Union Terminal
Entrance to Cleveland Union Terminal from Public Square. From the collection of Steve Swirsky.

 
  
  
  
  
 
   
  
 
   
   

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The Budd Rail Diesel Car, and more art from Leslie Ragan

If you’ve been following our little series of posts chock full of lovely Leslie Ragan art in advertisements for the Budd company, you may have noticed a few ads featuring Budd’s RDC – or Rail Diesel Car. Today’s post completes our collection of Ragan ads, and focuses on the RDC. The RDC’s were widely used here and around the world – Australia, Canada, Brazil, and even Saudi Arabia all had RDC’s operating at some point in time.

The versatile RDC was an all stainless steel, self propelled railcar that could be operated as a single unit, or multiple cars could be coupled into one longer train. While they operated on all sorts of runs, it was common to see them on lines with fewer passengers, and in commuter service where there was no electrification – like the Upper Harlem Line.

 
Budd-built cars operating on the Harlem Line – at left, an RDC at Dover Plains, at right an SPV-2000, also in Dover Plains. While the RDC was highly successful, the supposed successor SPV was hardly so – acquiring the less-than-flattering nickname “Seldom Propelled Vehicle.”

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The Paintings of Leslie Ragan – Advertisements for the Budd Company, Part 2


Another Leslie Ragan painting that gets you in the mood for Spring.

Last week I shared with you a collection of advertisements for the Budd Company, all featuring paintings by artist Leslie Ragan. When I said he created a significant number of paintings for the ads, I wasn’t kidding. In fact there are so many different ads featuring lovely paintings, I think I’ll have to split this into yet another post! Enjoy another round of lovely art!

   

Budd didn’t only make railcars – here are a few ads by Budd for things other than trains.

   
   

  
   
   

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The Paintings of Leslie Ragan – Advertisements for the Budd Company, Part 1

Well it might not be very Spring-like outside right now, but at least this week we did have a few days with some enjoyable temperatures. I’m not sure about all of you, but I’m certainly ready for the cold weather to be done. I always joke that my camera hibernates for the winter, which isn’t quite true, but I would much rather be taking photos of trains in some nicer weather (And yes, I suppose it is somewhat ironic that despite all that I took my recent vacation to Alaska). The good thing is that hunting for railroad ephemera is a hobby that doesn’t really require nice weather. While wandering around I happened to come across a cache of lovely artwork by famed railroad artist Leslie Ragan.

Now if you’re familiar with the blog, you may remember that I’ve already profiled Ragan, and have already gone on record with how much I love his paintings. Ragan did quite a bit of work for the New York Central, and some of it was featured on system timetables during World War II and the ensuing years. Of course Ragan didn’t work solely for the Central – he created works for a wide variety of companies and organizations – including the Seaboard Railway, the United Nations, and even the Woman’s Home Companion. But perhaps Ragan’s largest body of work were the paintings he did for the Budd Company, and used for many of their ads in the 1950’s. And it was one of those ads that seemed decidedly Spring-like, and inspired this post.


This beautiful painting by Leslie Ragan, which seems to set the mood for a long-awaited Spring, appeared in an advertisement for the Budd Company.

If you enjoy Ragan’s artwork as much as I do, this post will be a real treat, as we have quite a collection of Budd ads. So many that there will have to be a part 2 at some point in the future!

   
   
   

Budd did not only make trains – this advertisement was for car bodies, but I absolutely adore the artwork of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Leslie Ragan, Artist of the New York Central

Back in February I spent a good majority of a Saturday hanging out at the Research Library at the Danbury Railway Museum. I was interested in seeing what they had in their collection regarding the Harlem Line, especially timetables. I wasn’t intentionally looking for the entire system-wide timetables published by the New York Central, but when I saw them, I really fell in love. These system timetables were really where Central showed off, with some really gorgeous art. It wasn’t later on after researching that I found out that many of these timetables were based off of art previously commissioned for a poster marketing campaign.

New York Central’s poster campaign began in 1925, after experimenting first with calendars. The marketing campaign was planned along with Central’s centennial celebration. The general theme of the campaign was to display the routes of the rail line: the natural landscapes, as well as the cities. A range of commercial artists were commissioned to design posters, one of which was Leslie Ragan. Ragan’s first New York Central poster, a Chicago cityscape, was published in 1930.

Ragan was born in 1897 and grew up in Iowa. From an early age he knew he wanted to be an artist, and often made drawings of buildings and bridges. Ragan was mostly self-taught, although he did attend the Cumming School of Art in Des Moines. He served in the Air Force in World War One, and upon returning studied for a single semester at the Art Institute of Chicago. In the early 1920’s, he went on to teach at the Academy of Fine Arts, also in Chicago. By 1930 he had relocated to New York and had begun painting for the New York Central.

I’ve gathered quite a collection of examples of Ragan’s art for the New York Central. I must admit that I love the way he painted clouds – whether they were clouds in the sky, or steam from a locomotive. His depictions of trains were very streamlined and smooth, accentuating the shape of the upper portion in which a person rides, and hiding the moving parts below. His art certainly has influenced some people today… if you’ve seen the movie poster for The Polar Express, you will note it bears quite a resemblance to the winter poster at the very bottom.


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