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.
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.
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.