UNION TERMINAL – A Cincinnati Art Deco Masterpiece

The fountain  of the plaza of the station.

The fountain in the plaza leading up to the entrance of the station

Last July after spending 10 days in Texas, “freakin’ tiquen'”, as Chris and I wound our way home we spent a couple of days in Ohio. Whenever possible, we always try to do some antiquing in the “Buckeye” state. While in there, one of the Deco places that we wanted to visit was Union Terminal in Cincinnati.



Opened officially on March 31, 1933, train service actually began almost two weeks earlier on the 19th. This station was the culmination of thirty five years of work to consolidate all five of Cincinnati’s train depots and seven railroads under one roof. Alfred Fellheimer, Steward Wagner, Paul Philippe Cert and Roland Wank were the architects of the station.  Cret is usually credited for creating the Moderne design of the building. Construction started in 1928 with the regrading of Mill Creek and was finished five years later at the cost of just over 41 million dollars. Passenger use through the station peaked during The Second World War and then started a steady decline, and seemed to come to an end on October 29, 1972. Union Terminal was then put to other uses after the abandonment of train service; first a shopping mall in 1978, which closed in the early 1980’s, then a Museum Center in 1990. And best of all, Amtrak began to use the station again in 1991.




Entering the Union Terminal rotunda, one is standing in the largest semi dome in the Western Hemisphere, it measures 180 feet high by 106 wide. Two large murals line the walls of the rotunda. The one on the North side depicts American transportation from the time of Native Americans to the present day air transports (circa 1933); the South mural depicts Cincinnati’s growth up to 1933. All the murals in the station were the work of Winold Reiss. The November, 1933 issue of American Architect described the method of Reiss’ work on the murals “Besides the traditional method of covering the entire surface with tesserae, a new method – silhouette mosaic – has lately been developed. The broad areas of the composition are executed in colored cements and only the important spots are picked out in mosaic.”



Winold Reiss' North Mural

Winold Reiss’ North Mural


Winold Reiss' South Mural.

Winold Reiss’ South Mural.

Some more details of the Rotunda interior.

If a passenger needed to kill some time between trains, one of the features of the station was a newsreel theater. For 25 cents, one could sit in air-conditioned comfort and get caught up on what was happening in the world that week. Because Chris and I were there on a weekday the theater was not open. As I was taking photos through the glass doors of the ticket lobby, a very nice security guard, was kind enough to open the lobby door for me and was apologetic that she could not let me into the theater itself.



If you love Art Deco architecture and you are in the Cincinnati area, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit to Union Terminal. And if you are there on a Saturday or Sunday (I wish that we were), free tours of the station are given.

For tour information click this link: http://www.cincymuseum.org/programs/heritage .


Looking toward downtown Cincinnati from the station entrance.

Looking toward downtown Cincinnati from the station entrance.



Anthony & Chris (The Freakin’, Tiquen’ Guys)

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