Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal Article

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Cincinnati Museum Center
at Union Terminal
Exterior view of the Cincinnati Museum Center
Location1301 Western Avenue
Cincinnati, OH
Owned byCity of Cincinnati
Platforms1 side platform
Connections SORTA
Disabled accessYes
Other information
Station codeCIN
Rebuilt1980, 2018
Passengers (2017)11,382 [1]Decrease 8.8%
Preceding station   BSicon LOGO Amtrak2.svg Amtrak   Following station
toward  Chicago
toward  New York
Former services
Preceding station   Baltimore and Ohio   Following station
toward  St. Louis
St. Louis Line
toward  Cumberland
TerminusToledo Division
toward  Detroit
Cincinnati – Pittsburgh
toward  Pittsburgh
New York Central Railroad
toward  Chicago
Chicago – Cincinnati
( Big Four Railroad)
Terminus Cincinnati – Cleveland
toward  Cleveland
toward  Cleveland
Cincinnati – Toledo
toward  Toledo
Pennsylvania Railroad
toward  Chicago
Chicago – CincinnatiTerminus
Terminus Cincinnati – Columbus
toward  Columbus
Cincinnati, Lebanon and Northern Railway
toward  Dayton
Cincinnati Union Terminal
Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal is located in Ohio
Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal
Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal is located in the United States
Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal
Location1301 Western Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio
Coordinates 39°6′36″N 84°32′16″W / 39.11000°N 84.53778°W / 39.11000; -84.53778

39°6′36″N 84°32′16″W / 39.11000°N 84.53778°W / 39.11000; -84.53778
Area287 acres (116 ha)
ArchitectFellheimer & Wagner
Architectural styleArt Deco
NRHP reference # 72001018 [2]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPOctober 31, 1972
Designated NHLMay 5, 1977

The Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, originally Cincinnati Union Terminal, is a mixed-use complex in the Queensgate neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio, United States. Once a major passenger train station, it went into sharp decline during the postwar decline of railroad travel. Most of the building was converted to other uses, and now houses museums, theaters, a library, and a symphonic pipe organ, as well as special travelling exhibitions. Since 1991, it has been used as a train station once again.

Built in 1933, it is a monumental example of Art Deco architecture, for which it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.


Structural framing of the dome during construction

Cincinnati was a major center of railroad traffic in the late 19th and early 20th century, especially as an interchange point between railroads serving the Northeastern and Midwestern states with railroads serving the South. However, intercity passenger traffic was split among no fewer than five stations in Downtown Cincinnati, requiring the many travelers who changed between railroads to navigate local transit themselves. [3] The Louisville and Nashville Railroad, which operated through sleepers with other railroads, was forced to split its operations between two stations. [4]

Proposals to construct a union station began as early as the 1890s, and a committee of railroad executives formed in 1912 to begin formal studies on the subject. A final agreement for a union station among the seven railroads that served Cincinnati and the city itself was not achieved until 1928, after intense lobbying and negotiations, led by Philip Carey Company president George Crabbs. [3] The seven railroads: the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad; Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway; Louisville and Nashville Railroad; Norfolk and Western Railway; Pennsylvania Railroad; and the Southern Railway, selected a site for their new station in the West End, near the Mill Creek.

Architecture and design

The principal architects of the massive building were Alfred T. Fellheimer and Steward Wagner, [5] with architects Paul Philippe Cret and Roland Wank brought in as design consultants; Cret is often credited as the building's architect, as he was responsible for the building's signature Art Deco style. The Rotunda features the largest semi-dome in the western hemisphere, measuring 180 feet (55 m) wide and 106 feet (32 m) high. [6]

The artists and artwork

Maxfield Keck

The north-face carving

Maxfield Keck was commissioned to make bas-relief carvings for the front of the building. Visible on the exterior, they represent Transportation (South Tower) and Commerce (North tower). [7]

Winold Reiss

German-American artist Winold Reiss was commissioned to design and create two 22-foot (6.7 m) high by 110 foot (33.5 m)-long color mosaic murals depicting the history of Cincinnati for the rotunda, two murals for the baggage lobby, two murals for the departing and arriving train boards, 16 smaller murals for the train concourse representing local industries, and the large world map mural located at the rear of the concourse. Reiss spent roughly two years in the design and creation of the murals. The 16 industry murals chosen for the railroad concourse include:

View of one mural in the rotunda of the Cincinnati Museum Center

Fourteen of the murals located in the train concourse were removed in 1972 when the concourse building was demolished, and were placed on display at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport at a cost of $1 million. [8]

The two Rookwood Pottery murals were kept at Union Terminal. They were relocated to the Machine Tool Gallery in the Cincinnati History Museum. The murals for the arriving and departing trains were moved by the entrance to the Cincinnati Historical Library. [9]

Changes at the airport projected demolition of Terminals 1 and 2; nine Reiss murals were relocated from there to the Duke Energy Convention Center downtown, where they were mounted outside. [10] Five Reiss murals have been kept in the main terminal at the airport.

Pierre Bourdelle

Pierre Bourdelle, son of renowned French sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, also created commissioned artwork for the terminal. He painted a jungle-themed mural for the women's lounge, and works for the men's lounge, baggage checking area, meeting spaces, and the executive offices. All of his artwork, which was all recently restored, is available for public view by free tours. [7]


The Union Terminal Company was created to build the terminal, railroad lines in and out, and other related transportation improvements. Construction in 1928 began with the regrading of the east flood plain of the Mill Creek to a point nearly level with the surrounding city, a massive effort that required 5.5 million cubic yards of landfill. [4] Other improvements included the construction of grade separated viaducts over the Mill Creek and the railroad approaches to Union Terminal. The new viaducts the Union Terminal Company created to cross the Mill Creek valley ranged from the well built, like the Western Hills Viaduct, [3] to the more hastily constructed and shabby, like the Waldvogel Viaduct. [11]

Construction on the terminal building itself began in 1931, with Cincinnati mayor Russell Wilson laying the mortar for the cornerstone. Construction was finished ahead of schedule. [3] The terminal was put into emergency operation on March 19, 1933, because of flooding of the Ohio River and the need for emergency supplies and workers. The official opening of the station was on March 31, 1933. The total cost of the project was $41.5 million.[ citation needed]


B&O's Cincinnatian waiting to depart Cincinnati Union Terminal on April 11, 1963
National Limited, departing Cincinnati Union Terminal on April 11, 1963.
Royal Palm, waiting to depart from Cincinnati Union Terminal on April 11, 1963.
Trains behind Cincinnati Union Terminal

During its heyday as a passenger rail facility, Cincinnati Union Terminal had a capacity of 216 trains per day, 108 in and 108 out. Three concentric lanes of traffic were included in the design of the building, underneath the main rotunda of the building: one for taxis, one for buses, and one (although never used) for streetcars. However, the time period in which the terminal was built was one of decline for train travel. By 1939, local newspapers were already describing the station as a white elephant. [3] While it had a brief revival in the 1940s, because of World War II, it declined in use through the 1950s into the 1960s, as passengers had taken to affordable individual automobiles.

Extensive restructuring took place in the railroad industry in mid-century. After the creation of Amtrak in 1971, to preserve some passenger services, train service at Cincinnati Union Terminal was reduced to two trains a day, the George Washington and the James Whitcomb Riley. The next year Amtrak abandoned Cincinnati Union Terminal and opened a smaller station elsewhere in the city on October 29, 1972. [3]

Named trains

Name Operators Year begun Year discontinued
Cardinal Amtrak 1977
Carolina Special Southern Railway 1911 1968
Cavalier N & W 1928 1966
Cincinnati Limited PRR, PC 1920 1971
Cincinnati Mercury NYC 1952 1956
Cincinnatian B & O 1947 1971
Fast Flying Virginian C & O 1889 1968
Flamingo L & N 1925 1968
George Washington C & O, Amtrak 1932 1974
Great Lakes Limited B & O 1929 1950
Humming Bird L & N 1947 1968
James Whitcomb Riley NYC, PC, Amtrak 1941 1977
Metropolitan Special B & O 1919 1971
Mountaineer Amtrak 1975 1977
National Limited B & O 1916 1971
Northern Arrow PRR 1935 1961
Ohio State Limited NYC, PC 1924 1967
Pan-American L & N 1921 1971
Pocahontas N & W 1926 1971
Ponce de Leon SOU 1924 1968
Powhatan Arrow N & W 1946 1969
Royal Palm SOU 1949 1970
South Wind L & N 1940 1971
Southland L & N, PRR 1915 1957
Sportsman C & O 1930 1971
Union N & W, PRR 1933 1960
Xplorer NYC 1956 1960

Science Center

The Cincinnati Science Center operated in Union Terminal from 1968 to 1970 on the south side of the main concourse. The Science Center closed after two years due to financial difficulties.

Later years

Abandonment and reduction

View of train concourse during demolition

After Amtrak abandoned the station, Southern Railway purchased some of the land to use for its own expanded freight operations in its Gest Street yard. The Southern planned on removing the 450-foot (140 m) long passenger train concourse to allow additional height for its piggyback operations.

On May 15, 1973 the Cincinnati City Council's Urban Development and Planning Committee voted 3–1 in favor of designating Union Terminal for preservation as a historic landmark, preventing Southern Railway from destroying the entire building. In 1974, the Southern Railway tore down most of the train concourse. Before this, the city removed the fourteen Reiss mosaic murals depicting important Cincinnati industries; Besl Transfer Company transported and installed them at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. The world map mural was not removed, and was destroyed.

Several plans were floated for reuse of the building in the 1970s, including a plan to locate a Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority transit hub and the School for Creative and Performing Arts in the building, but these did not materialize. [3]

Shopping mall

In 1978, Columbus, Ohio real estate development group the Joseph Skilken Organization converted the terminal into a shopping mall known as the "Land of OZ". This was proposed to be a family entertainment and shopping complex, to include a shopping area, roller skating rink, bowling alleys, and restaurants. Skilken invested upwards of $20 million in renovations preparing the terminal in an effort to revitalize the complex and help downtown Cincinnati.

On August 4, 1980, after 23 months of conversion construction, the mall had its Grand Opening, with 40 tenants. The complex drew on average 7,900 visitors per day and it had a high of 54 shops or vendors. The recession of the early 1980s caused the project to fall on hard times. In 1981 the first tenant moved out and by 1982 the number of tenants had fallen to 21. Also in August 1982, the Cincinnati Museum of Health, Science and Industry opened in the terminal. The OZ project officially closed in 1984. However, Loehmann's, a clothing store located in the rotunda, remained open until 1985. For several years, a weekend flea market was held on the passenger drop off ramps that ran under the rotunda.

Museum Center and reuse as train station

Cincinnati Museum Center at dusk
Seen from Bellevue Hill Park in 2009

The terminal lay empty for the next decade or so. In May 1986 the voters of Hamilton County passed a bond levy to save the terminal from destruction and to transform it into the Cincinnati Museum Center. Former Cincinnati mayor Jerry Springer was one of the major proponents of saving the building and transforming it into a museum. It was opened in 1990 and now provides a home to six organizations:

The renovations also allowed Amtrak to restore service to Union Terminal via the thrice-weekly Cardinal on July 29, 1991. Of the seven Ohio stations served by Amtrak, Cincinnati was the third busiest in FY2010, boarding or disembarking an average of approximately 40 passengers daily. The Cardinal almost always passes through Cincinnati in overnight hours.

The Cincinnati Railroad Club occupies "Tower A" above the station, offers public access to the space, and serves as a museum for the former rail yard and station's innovative interlocking system of remote-controlled track switches.

The renovations included the installation of a 1920s-vintage symphonic pipe organ in the Rotunda. The E.M. Skinner instrument combines four manuals and nearly five thousand pipes in a highly reverberant acoustic, prompting concert performers to describe the Museum Center organ as one of the finest in the world. [13]

In June 2014 the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Union Terminal as one of the 11 most endangered historic places in the country due to deterioration. [14]

Cincinnatians enjoying the view.jpg

From late 2016 until 2018, most of the museum was shut down in order to complete a much needed $228 million structural renovation throughout the entire building, in addition to restoring a number of rooms original to the building. Due to the flat roofs on large portions of the building, water damage has caused rotting to the roofs and walls. Original plans called for leaving the Duke Energy Children's Museum and the Cincinnati History Museum open, but it was decided to shutter the entire building after the water damage proved to be more extensive than previously thought. [15] The renovation was necessary in order to save the building from collapsing. During the closure, items located in the museum were stored in The Geier Center, which is the museum's storage facility, and in various traveling exhibits across the country. Amtrak services moved to a temporary annex on Kenner Street, just north of Union Terminal.

In late April, 2018, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson announced the de-staffing of 15 Amtrak stations across the system, effective July 1st, 2018. Cincinnati was included in the service cuts. The two ticketing agents were replaced by a part-time "caretaker" contractor who will assist passengers overnight. With the removal of staff, passengers boarding or detraining in Cincinnati are no longer be able to purchase tickets in person or check baggage. In addition, unaccompanied minors will no longer be able to board or disembark in Cincinnati. Proponents of the cuts cite low passenger count (fewer than 40 passengers per day in 2017) and the fact that only 1 in 10 passengers buy their tickets at the window. The low passenger count was blamed on the relocated boarding area. Local proponents of rail travel expressed hope that Amtrak would restore staffing to Cincinnati once construction on Union Terminal is complete. [16]

The museum had its grand reopening on November 17, 2018. According to spokesman Cody Hefner, it restored the building to its original look. [17]

Representation in other media

In the 1970s animated series Super Friends, the imposing headquarters of the Justice League, the Hall of Justice, was modeled after Union Terminal. The show's producer, Hanna-Barbera, was at the time owned by Cincinnati-based Taft Broadcasting. [18] [19]

In 2016, a four-night crossover event, " Invasion!", which linked The CW network's four DC Comics-related live-action TV series - Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and DC's Legends of Tomorrow - featured digitally-modified footage of Union Terminal as a hangar owned by Barry Allen/The Flash, meant to evoke the Hall of Justice from Super Friends. [20]

Union Terminal was also featured in the 1996 comic book series Terminal City. [18]


  • Mecklenborg, Jake (2005).
  • Spurlock, William (2005). The Railroad Architecture of Alfred T. Fellheimer.
  • The Railroad and the City, A Technological and Urbanistic History of Cincinnati, Written by Carl W. Condit. 1977, Ohio State University Press. ISBN  0-8142-0265-9
  • Works Progress Administration(ed. Harry Graff)(1943). WPA Guide to Cincinnati: Cincinnati, a guide to the Queen City and its neighbors. Cincinnati: The Cincinnati Historical Society. ISBN  0-911497-04-8.


  1. ^ "Amtrak Fact Sheet, FY2017, State of Ohio" (PDF). Amtrak. November 2017. Retrieved May 3, 2018.
  2. ^ National Park Service (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g writers, Linda C. Rose, Patrick Rose, Gibson Yungblut ; editors, Linda C. Rose ...; et al. (October 1999). Cincinnati Union Terminal: The Design and Construction of an Art Deco Masterpiece. Cincinnati, Ohio: Cincinnati Railroad Club, Inc. ISBN  0-9676125-0-0.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list ( link)
  4. ^ a b "Cincinnati's New Union Terminal Now in Service". Railway Age. 94 (16): 575–590. 1933.
  5. ^ Rolfes, Steven (October 29, 2012). Cincinnati Landmarks. Arcadia Publishing. p. 39. Retrieved May 19, 2013.
  6. ^ Cincinnati Union Terminal Architectural Information Sheet Archived June 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Cincinnati Museum Center. Retrieved on February 8, 2010.
  7. ^ a b "Gateway to the City, Cincinnati Union Terminal at Seventy-Five". Cincinnati Historical Society. Retrieved February 24, 2015.
  8. ^ Tate, Skip (August 1994). "Airport Trivia". Cincinnati. CM Media. p. 70. ISSN  0746-8210. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-14. Retrieved 2016-04-05.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title ( link)
  10. ^ "Union Terminal Murals to Be Mounted Outside Convention Center"
  11. ^ Waldvogel Viaduct
  12. ^ Smith, Steve; et al. (2007). "Movie Theaters". Cincinnati USA City Guide. Cincinnati Magazine. p. 20. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  13. ^ Gelfand, Janelle (October 27, 2015). "King of Instruments soars in Rotunda". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  14. ^ "Union Terminal". Archived from the original on July 6, 2014. Retrieved July 15, 2015.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown ( link)
  15. ^ Carol Motsinger (November 11, 2018). "Cincinnati Museum Center reopening: What you need to know". The Cincinnati Enquirer.
  16. ^ Pat LaFleur (May 3, 2018). "Amtrak will no longer staff train station at Union Terminal". Retrieved May 3, 2018.
  17. ^ Richard Chiles (November 17, 2018). "Cincinnati Museum Center reopens at Union Terminal". WLWT.
  18. ^ a b Shebar, Alex (March 25, 2009). "Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice ..." The Cincinnati Enquirer. Gannett Company. Retrieved November 7, 2014.
  19. ^ Dobush, Grace (October 30, 2014). "The Real-Life Inspiration for the Super Friends' Hall of Justice Is in Danger". Wired. Condé Nast. Retrieved November 7, 2014.
  20. ^ Prudom, Laura (November 29, 2016). "Hey, comic book fans, did you catch this Super 'Flash' easter egg?". Mashable. Retrieved November 30, 2016.

External links