Walter C. Leedy, Jr.

Cleveland's Terminal Tower -
The Van Sweringens' Afterthought

Continued from: "A monumental secret"

The aesthetics of the Terminal Tower

The decision to make the tower 52 stories high had important visual consequences as well. It would no longer just accent the entrance to the station. By its sheer height and diagonal placement the tower would dramatically pierce the quadrilateral symmetry of the Square, and to the Square's heretofore chaotic impact it would contribute a consistent order, a clear image on two sides which people could recognize and remember.

Another important change was made from the design of 1918: the tower was set back. The entrance, newly conceived as a portico, now jutted forward, and had an identity of its own. This visual separation not only expresses a difference in function -- entry versus office space -- but creates a totally different visual relationship between tower and entry. The entrance and the groundline no longer serve as a base for the tower, as they did in the 1918 proposal, but the tower is now seen as rising from behind the portico. The idea for a great vestibule, clearly separated from the connecting office building towering above, was first employed in Michigan Central Station, built in 1913 in Detroit. This advanced in functional expressionism was further developed in Cleveland. Because the shape of the Terminal Tower is visually incomplete at this lower juncture, a sufficiently strong tendency towards visual completion is generated: the impression is created that the tower emerges from a subterranean base. This composition gives visual expression to the station below, which was lacking in the 1918 proposal.

This separation of portico and tower resulted not only from visual considerations, but from a legal one as well. Since the site was Public Square, the City had no right to vacate the triangular piece of land in the southwest corner. This property was owned by the public, as distinguished from the city, and consequently the City only had the right to occupy it for a public use. Therefore, the tower had to be set back away from the Square. In order to permit construction of the portico, City Council passed an ordinance which gave license to construct an ornamental arcade passageway that would be open at all times for pedestrian travel. 42 This ordinance also established the street grades for the corner. Notice how today the grade declines toward the entrance from both Ontario Street and Superior Avenue. This condition made it possible the interior ramp slope of no more than 10 percent; otherwise, because of the shallowness of the site, it would have had to be much steeper. Even at 10 percent, it is too steep to be comfortable.

Drawing of the 52-story version of the Terminal Tower complex
Terminal Tower, architect's rendering, early 1925. Ornamental figures along portico were later eliminated because of expense. CSU Archives.

Vistas of unimpaired vision create a crescendo effect, and the long narrow proportions of the tower's mass play an important part in making the eye rise from ground level to higher elevations. 43 This effect is reinforced as all the horizontal design elements are seen first in their relation to the vertical order. The vertical stresses isolations, ambition, and competition; the horizontal suggests interaction. The mass of the tower contrasts with the mass of the wings, as the viewer's gaze moves back and forth between them. Looking at the total composition is a dynamic experience. Since the interspaces between Higbee's, the tower, and the hotel are nonexistent, these units coalesce into one. They do not display mutual repulsion as the Old Stone Church does to its neighboring buildings. Each needs the other for reciprocal completion.

The tower provides an anchor to the observer's glance, a relief from the excessive horizontality of Public Square. It creates spatial coordinates -- a framework for determining distances and orientation Clad in masonry, it has no reflecting glass walls which can create surrealistic images. Its form is not ambiguous; it sends out a firm and clear message of pride and aspiration.

The tower does not look forlorn in its setting, as does the Erieview Tower, for example, for it has a recognizable relationship to its setting. By placing the tower diagonally, the architect gave importance to the whole Square and underscored the diagonal correspondence between the Square and the Mall. It greatly modified the structure of the entire Square by creating an eccentric focus.

The original drawings for the portico called for sculptured figures to be placed above each column. 44 This idea was earlier employed for the Union Station in Washington, D.C., built in the 1903-1907 period; and it therefore was part of the railway station architectural vocabulary. The Washington station was designed by D.H. Burnham and Company, the predecessor firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White.

The top of the tower calls on already tried and traditional forms of architecture too. The upper portion was probably patterned on the Municipal Building in New York City, which in turn was modeled on an ancient Roman type -- the sepulchral monument. Like its Municipal prototype, it was to be crowned with a female allegorical figure, representing an abstract concept such as transportation, commerce, justice, or the city. There is no abrupt change between tower and sky as in some modern flat-topped buildings. The elevator ascends only to the 42nd floor; the 43rd floor contains the elevator machine room, the 45th holds the house water tank. The architects considered the 48th to 52nd floors as unrentable. Clearly, the top was planned to give satisfaction to the eye and to elevate the spirit.

Drawing of the station level floor plan
Proposed plan at station level, 1921. One in a series of proposals based on a main, single ramp which led down to station area. CSU Archives

Drawing of the entrance level floor plan
Double ramp plan of entrance portico at street level, as actually built, 1930. Comparison with the earlier plan (left) shows shift in visual emphasis from station to office tower. Drawing reproduced from Railway Age.

The decision to build a tall tower had important consequences for the design of the station below. It will be recalled that at the beginning of 1924, plans were approved by the Railroad Committee for a single ramp from entrance to ticket lobby. In early March of 1924, because of the decision to increase the height of the tower, the architects made studies showing two ramps to the ticket lobby with the Tower Building elevators located between them, conceptually much as they were eventually built. This new arrangement for the elevators offered more rentable area per floor in the tower and, because of their central location, increased the depth of the office space on the west side. Also, the two ramps permitted a center entrance on Prospect at elevation 100 with direct passageway for shops to the elevator lobby. The only disadvantage the new scheme had for the railroads was that the length of the ticket office was reduced, eliminating the possibility of future expansion. Jouett wrote to the architects: "I think it would be desirable to carry your studies somewhat further so we may be assured that we are obtaining everything we want and need from a Railroad standpoint and be in a position to so advise the Railroad Committee...I recall that your structural man had some trouble in working out proper wind bracing...I think therefore that this question should be gone into carefully by your structural men and such sections of the tower be made as are necessary for this study." 45 One of the architects replied: "I am sure we know exactly what your problem is, and will try to present it exactly as you would like to have it done." 46

Photograph of site west of the Cleveland Hotel in 1926
Looking west from Hotel Cleveland, August, 1926. The future site of part of the station after clearing but before excavation. Note streetcar slit in middle of Superior Avenue, leading to a lower level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge. CSU Archives.

On 14 March, Van Sweringen wrote directly to Graham, the architect: "I personally like the two ramp plan best...I have been wondering however, whether you couldn't improve it by having along side the grand staircase going up to elevation 100, stairs on either side going down to the concourse level and make of these a grand staircase coming up from that level. Had you tried doing this? In many cases when people are in a hurry they would prefer to take the stairs and if this could be done it would see to me it would be worth considering." 47 While this last idea was never seriously considered, the architects were given their marching orders: develop a two-ramp plan. The Railroad Committee became aware of the change of plans on 19 May, 1924. Single-and double-ramp schemes were discussed. Ensuing discussion brought out suggestions for improving the double ramp arrangement, and the architects made some hurried sketches. On 3 June, 1924, after consideration of at least nine different schemes for the entrance area, a double ramp scheme was approved including the curving of the lower portions of the ramps, and the construction of the north end of the ticket lobby on a arc, plus other details. More revisions of the ticket lobby layout were made in July, after objections from the New York Central Railroad. Needless to say, the Railroads were interested in how much more this double ramp scheme would cost. The architects originally projected an additional cost of $5,000, but the change actually cost about $72,000. 48 The decision-making process was complex. Ideas for changes and improvements originated at all administrative levels. A careful balancing of power existed between the Railroad Committee and all the other interests. Everybody had to look out for his own interests.

Photograph of Higbees site being excavated
Future site of Higbee's Department Store,October, 1926, after partial excavation and construction of retaining walls along Ontario Street. Excavated material was hauled by train and truck to the west side and to the lakefront, where it was used as fill. CSU Archives.

Because of the height of tower, it was thought best to take the foundations down to bedrock. Deeper than the Tribune Tower in Chicago and taller buildings in Detroit and New York, sixteen caissons go down approximately 200 feet each. They were completed by 31 July 1926. The foundations for the other structures are not as deep, going down only 100 feet. For the foundations to be properly designed, the height had to be determined for the supergrade buildings between Prospect and Huron from Superior to Ontario. Studies were made for ten-, twelve-, and sixteen-story office buildings. Sixteen-story buildings were decided upon as the most economical height, with columns separated by 20 feet 8 inches, center to center. Bear in mind that this spacing decision was determined by the track and platform layout of the station below. The foundations and substructure had to be designed so that the office buildings would not be subjected to excessive and annoying vibrations, especially from traffic on the supergrade streets. In addition, the design of the supergrade streets, which were to have streetcars, constituted a complex engineering problem: they had to be designed to carry a heavy moving load. Jouett knew these problems were critical from his experience at Grand Central Station in New York; his expertise was of immense importance for the success of the project.

In May, 1925, a new track layout was approved, rescinding the eight-track plan of July, 1923. This decision meant a whole series of earlier decisions on other matters had to be reconsidered. Supergrade building heights and streets layout had to be restudied. Furthermore, the purpose function of the buildings based on Cleveland's commercial needs had to be determined: office space, loft space, or shops and offices. This planning, rethinking, changing, and studying the implications of all the new decisions was a continual process.

Photograph of entrance portico under construction
Stones for the portico on Public Square came pre-cut from the quarry and had only to be assembled.

Detail from photograph of Public Square entrance under construction
The sides of Public Square converging on the portico had to be graded downward towards the entrance. Note how much of the site had to be excavated. CSU Archives.

In 1927 it was decided to provide stairways between the Prospect Avenue entrance and the ticket lobby in the concourse, even though this would result in loss of shops space and decrease traffic passing the shops in the other passages. The Railroad Committee had its way. In this instance, the Van Sweringens did not get what they wanted.

Important changes to high-level managerial positions were to take place. In 1927, George McGwinn, vice-president and building manager of the Union Trust Company, was made vice-president of the Cleveland Union Terminals Company. More important, Charles L. Bradley was made president of the Company, replacing O.P. Van Sweringen, who may have had difficulty supervising the building while running his railroad empire. Bradley, age 42, son of M.A. Bradley, vessel owner and realty magnate, was ideally suited for the job. He had experience with the construction of the Union Trust Building. Also, he was reputedly one of the Cleveland capitalist group associated with all the Van Sweringen transportation enterprises since their inception. In 1930 he was paid $200,000 for a job well done. 49

Photograph of Terminal Tower with skeletal steel visible in upper portion
On August 18, 1927, a flag flies atop the completed steel skeletal frame to celebrate the steelworkers' achievement.

Photograph of interior of portico near completion
Interior view of portico, under construction in January, 1928. It was imperative to finish this entrance so the tower could be opened to tenants. CSU Archives..

In 1928 the layout of many parts of the station was again changed. Even the toilets were restudied! City Building Commissioner William Guion issued the building permit in June, 1928. The Tower building was being completed before the end of 1928 and was already more than 60 percent occupied, whereas the station construction was just beginning. The railroad executives felt that the Van Sweringens had upstaged the railroads by completing construction so early, and they made their feelings known. The planning of the station, having gone on for about ten years, was still not finished, and it never really was.

In 1929 a proposal by the Van Sweringens to make a circle of Public Square was disclosed at a meeting of the City Planning Commission. 50 The plan showed how a circular movement to traffic and the rounding off of the corners would relieve congestion. Others, more dramatically, suggested the whole of the Square be paved over, and in 1920, George D. Breck of the Early Settlers Association suggested that the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument be removed to Erie Street Cemetery. 51 Public Square must look modern and up to date. Several people suggested that the name of the Square be changed to Terminal Square or something of that sort. "Public Square" sounded provincial -- "like small-town stuff." 52

When the terminal was formally dedicated in 1930, few people would have predicted that the need for the station would be so shortlived. It was already clear, however, that the interurbans were going out of business; the automobile was triumphant. The decision to heighten the tower no doubt saved the Terminal complex.

One of the Van Sweringens' foremost objectives in the tower project was to create a high-rent district for their own profit. But they created more than a "Cathedral of Business": they created a visual symbol for the City of Cleveland -- a land mark with a sense of identity answering to Cleveland's psychological needs and a square with an entirely new physiognomy and character. The succeed where Mayor Johnson had failed, for that had been his ultimate objective for the development of the Mall.

The tower and spacious terminal facilities did create a modern focus for Cleveland's pride; it was like a city within a city, and elegant shopping mall in the heart of down town, with additional excitement of a transportation center -- something of the atmosphere one still experiences in a large international airport. Esther Hayhurst, a retired teacher, recalls riding the New York Central into Cleveland with her mother from Greenwich, Ohio, in the early 1930's, for a day's shopping: "Everything was sparkling clean -- not a speck of grime...There were rows of fancy shops and marvelous eating places. Groups of people would strolling about or standing and talking. There was a feeling of bustle and excitement."

For architectural critics, however, the Terminal complex lacked that triumphant sense of the new. Its forms, bounded by historical precedent, lacked that crisp, sleek, hard-edged, cool and anonymous style which was eventually to become the predominant corporate style of the 1950's. On the contrary, the architectural style of the Terminal complex is a style of ease. It is physically, and emotionally comfortable. In fact, the style is subordinated to the overall composition. No doubt the Van Sweringens' taste for the traditional and accepted played an important role in shaping Terminal Tower and Public Square.

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