Walter C. Leedy, Jr.

Cleveland's Terminal Tower -
The Van Sweringens' Afterthought

Continued from: "Wheeling and Dealing"

Further delays

The dream of a Union Station that included all the railroads was dashed when the Pennsylvania Railroad withdrew in December, 1919. Not only did the ordinance have to be revised in order to proceed without it, but this decision was greatly to affect how the station was to be designed. The Pennsylvania Railroad in reaching its decision stressed the advantages of decentralization in city development as opposed to intensive concentration in central areas. It also objected to platforms encumbered with the columns required by construction in the air rights, and to trackage with excessive curvature resulting from the narrowness of the property. 27 In the latter part of 1919, the City Planning Commission again brought up its recommendation that Ontario Street be widened to reduce congestion. The Terminals Company refused, emphasizing the impracticability of the suggestion because of the physical requirements of the Union Depot Building itself. Retrospectively, it is easy to see that the Company's unwillingness to give up any of its property was due to its interest in the air rights development, since the train station itself would be entirely below grade (street level) along Ontario, and hence not affected.

Still another hurdle arose with the passage of the Esch-Cummins Act in 1920: the need for approval of the interstate Commerce Commission. After extensive testimony and a reversal of an earlier decision, the Commission finally issued a Certificate of Convenience on 6 December, 1921. 28 Legal expenses amounted to almost $74,00. In the same year, the entire stock of the Cleveland Union Terminals Company was purchased by the participating railroads, and the Company then entered into agreements with the Cleveland Traction Terminals Company, which was to lease the traction terminal and concession areas at an unrealistic $850,000 per year plus taxes, insurance, and depreciation, in addition to bearing the cost of the interior finish of the concession area; and secondly with the Cleveland Terminal Buildings Company, which was to develop specified air rights areas. All of these companies were controlled by Van Sweringen interest; in fact the Cleveland Traction Terminals Company was, for all practical purposes, a paper company. 29

At last, it looked as though construction was about to begin. But much of the land had yet to be acquired and the plans were yet to be made final. In fact, as is the case in most construction projects, the plans were fluid, and changes of major consequences were made as time went on. At this time, nobody had any clear vision of the full extent of the eventual project.

By the beginning of 1922, only tentative plans had been drawn, and no final decisions were made. Since O.P. Van Sweringen was now President of Cleveland Union Terminals Company -- a company owned but not controlled by the railroads -- a committee consisting of representatives of the railroads was formed to protect their interests and empowered to act for them in matters of land purchase, design, and construction.

This railroad Committee met for the first time in January, 1922 in New York. They approved the leasing of 21,000 square feet of office space at 323 Lakeside for personnel, design and construction. More important, they formed nine subcommittees to work out the details of the project: (1) Tracks, (2) Track Construction, (3) Electrical Operation, (4) Electric Power Production, (5) Express, Mail and Baggage, (6) Station Plans, (7) Auxiliary Spaces and Conveniences, (8) Mechanical and Electrical Equipment, and (9) Heating. Because of the immense technical complexity of the project, the Railroad Committee clearly saw the architects as a branch of their engineering department, and told them so. Many design decisions and solutions were made in-house. The project owes as much to engineering as to architecture.

The engineering expense in proportion to construction costs was high, because of the large number of studies required for the various parts of the project. The labor force of the Cleveland Terminals Company's Engineering Department fluctuated widely. Clerks, draftsmen engineers, instrument men, linkers, rodmen, inspectors, etc. were employed and laid off from time to time to meet the needs of the project. The same Engineering Department also did taskwork for the New York Central, the Big Four, the Nickel Plate, the Cleveland Transaction Terminals Company, and Terminal Building Company. To safeguard everyone's interests,changes were continually monitored by an auditing committee.


Continues in: "Fitting the station into the city"

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