Cincinnati's Union Terminal is falling apart
February 23, 2009 5:35 PM   Subscribe

Cincinnati's Union Terminal has been named one of the top 50 architecturally significant buildings in America by the AIA. It was a major train station, abandoned, turned into a shopping mall, and now it currently houses the city's Museum Center. One problem, it's falling apart.
posted by Mick (24 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I went there last summer. It was really neat. The only thing I didn't like was the obligatory post-9/11 gigantic flag obscuring some of the neat windows over the entrance.

It's rare to see such nifty architecture on that scale these days.
posted by wierdo at 5:43 PM on February 23, 2009

I spend so much time here and somehow did not know about the whole falling apart issue. It seems to be fairly well booming in terms of visitors and memberships, seeing as every weekend it is damn well packed with screaming children and their parents (funnily enough, this weekend I decided to check out the Children's Museum because, let's face it, bad-ass, and my M.S. adviser was there with his son and I awkwardly skittered away). I find it difficult to believe they would be having so much difficulty raising the funds for repairs. (Sorry, I can't watch the video at the moment, and I know it's possible money isn't the only issue.)

At any rate, it's definitely worth a visit if you're ever in the area, but do yourself a favor and maybe skip over the current special Dinosaurs exhibit, because frankly there's not much substance to it. But if you don't mind paying like $17 to see about twenty animatronic dinosaurs then hey, knock yourself out.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 5:52 PM on February 23, 2009

Wow. That's a really cool building. Here's hoping Cincinnati treats their train station better than they treated their subway system. (Which is what I always think of whenever I see tags like "urbanDecay" and "cincinnati" and "trains".)
posted by dersins at 5:56 PM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Good time as any to start using that biological cylon technology. Do what you need to save our girl, Chief.

On topic: Cincinnati is, architecturally, a kicking city. Was the second biggest city behind New York back in the early 1800's, I think, when the Ohio River was still a ginormous shipping/traveling route. Whenever I drive around downtown, I daydream about how great of a city it would/could be if all those old buildings were renovated, and if a new creative class moved in (right now they are doing the renovating but nobody's moving in). Then if you add some rail lines connecting the city to Chicago, Louisville, Columbus, Indy. Then you get the subway up and running.... Oh, to dream!

And Union Terminal really is one amazing building, definitely.
posted by billysumday at 6:16 PM on February 23, 2009

Wow, that's a fantastic building. I love the murals and the ceiling. Thanks for sharing this, I had never heard about it before.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 6:39 PM on February 23, 2009

Seconding billysumday's pronouncement of the awesome architecture in Cincinnati. I think people underestimate the city sometimes, there is a ton of history. Probably one of my favorite places I've found so far is the old Glencoe Hotel and apartments. There's a lot of Queen Anne and Georgian style stuff, particularly in the sadly crumbling Over the Rhine and Mohawk districts. They're working on renovating a lot of areas but given the economic situation now and considering they've had difficulties in the past, I'm not sure how it will go. And I've always wondered if they really had a plan for the previous, now-displaced residents.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 6:54 PM on February 23, 2009

Oh man, I love this building. It has looked a little shabby recently, but I didn't know that it was in that severe state of disrepair. Depressing. I love Cincinnati, but after spending three our of four weeks a month in LA, it makes me even more upset to see the city I consider my hometown allowing this to decay.
posted by banannafish at 7:05 PM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Huh. I guess not everything about Cincinnati is awful.
posted by Roman Graves at 7:32 PM on February 23, 2009

I used to work there what seems like forever ago. The city really needs to get that fixed. Union Terminal is a landmark that just can't be allowed to just fall apart like that. It has gone through several renovations over the years. The restored Winold Reiss' murals and did a bunch of work on it back in the 90's if I remember correctly.

The murals are my favorite part of the publicly viewable part. Back in the day they had various exhibits and it was a treat to walk all through the building. My memories mix but I'm pretty sure in the basement you can see the old train tracks. There was a dirt floor behind where many of the exhibits were back when they had the dinosaur exhibit. Some of the areas down there were cavernous and probably have since been expanded into. But they put in that imax theater (which made me sick when I watched a video of a plane flying over the grand canyon) and for the most part they were pretty good about keeping it up.

I never even thought about the fountain. I'd come to work through a side door so most of the time I didn't even go by the fountain. The view off that roof is great. The building just has a great vibe, I don't really know how to capture it. It's old but it doesn't have an overwhelming smell about it, or a creak, or a sound. Though if you stand on either side of the atrium you can talk up the wall in normal tones and have the person hear you. But I could never get it to work right. I don't know.

Music hall and a bunch of the buildings downtown offer interesting architecture. The kind of old buildings where you half expect to find a secret key embedded in a wall. Union Terminal is old and creepy in a good way. It's old and creepy like your grandparents house, where you wonder what this old structure has seen and experienced, what ghosts have unfinished business there. Not a threatening type of creaky oldness, more of just an old presence. They simply cannot allow this building to fall into disrepair. I don't like the city and will likely never stop, and if they allow this building to become unusable I will somehow hate it even more.

Stores on short Vine that I used to love have gone out. The sports teams are jokes. The downtown has been trying to figure out night life for decades and failed. With the current economic downturn it's about time somebody makes the "last one out turn out the lights" statement. Something has long needed to blow into that city and turn it around. To put it in some old school cincy terminology, this is 'flicted. Mallory or somebody better get on it.
posted by cashman at 7:35 PM on February 23, 2009

Was the second biggest city behind New York back in the early 1800's, I think

Not quite, but still impressive.

1810: 46th (pop. 2540)
1820: 16th (pop. 9642)
1830: 8th (pop. 24,831)
1840: 6th (pop. 46,338)
1850: 6th (pop. 115,435)
1860: 7th (pop. 161,044)
1870: 8th (pop. 216,239)
1880: 8th (pop. 255,139)
1890: 9th (pop. 296,908)
1900: 10th (pop. 325,902)
1950: 18th (pop. 503,998)
1990: 45th (pop. 364,040)
2000: 54th (pop. 331,285)

What goes around, comes around. Looked at one way, it peaked around 1850 -- another, it peaked around 1950.

Anyway, the station. Wow, what a monument to the great era of transportation.

It does help that Amtrak apparently still actually uses it, but then Amtrak itself is a bit of a sad sack.

Having just watched The Dark Knight (hey, I don't have cable, so it replaced actually watching the Oscars) again and the terrific and inventive way it transformed Chicago into Gotham I was thinking this would be a fantastic location for a movie like that -- then I find out supposedly it was the basis for the Gotham Hippodrome in Batman Forever (so says one of the subway pages). Interesting that the subway went nowhere near Union Station, though.
posted by dhartung at 8:43 PM on February 23, 2009

I always tell people that if the Cincinnati's Union Terminal were in New York, it would be one of the most famous buildings in the world. As it is, people I know who visit Cincinnati frequently don't even know it's there.
posted by Faze at 8:51 PM on February 23, 2009

Oh, man, I'm having flashbacks to my childhood of going to the museum there; plus the Omnimax (which I remember having to be pulled out of at the beginning cause they had this crazy, dizzying space 'journey' intro that completely freaked me out). Thanks for the nostalgia!
posted by the other side at 1:16 AM on February 24, 2009

Unfortunately, Cincinnati does not have the monopoly on dilapidated landmarks in the Midwest. The Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois publishes a yearly "ten most endangered" Illinois landmarks list. This annual list is in addition to the "Chicagoland watch" they publish.

Landmarks Illinois, as the group refers to itself, operates the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed Farnsworth House, a masterpiece and icon of modernism, in Plano, Illinois. The group is involved with various preservation activities, especially through grants, such as helping take this two-room, 19th century Illinois schoolhouse from this to this.
posted by IvoShandor at 1:49 AM on February 24, 2009

If you like the murals in Union Terminal, some of the originals have been moved to CVG/Greater Cincinnati Airport to the terminal there. If you're flying through, check it out.
posted by Mcable at 7:02 AM on February 24, 2009

Whoa, what a great building. Love the clock. But I assume the neon outline (?) was added later. That's not so great.
posted by DU at 7:09 AM on February 24, 2009

I've googled and still can't find the list of the other buildings. I even checked out the AIA's site. Anyone know where it might be?
posted by zap rowsdower at 7:44 AM on February 24, 2009

Great building. Bad post.
posted by jock@law at 8:05 AM on February 24, 2009

zap: What it's referring to is America's Favorite Architecture, a site launched by the AIA for its 150th anniversary in 2007. The top 150 buildings were selected by users of the site. Cincinnati Union Terminal is ranked 45th.
posted by dhartung at 8:46 AM on February 24, 2009

Ahh. I had found a flickr pool complaining about the choices from 2007, and had mistakenly thought there was a 2009 version floating about.

posted by zap rowsdower at 8:57 AM on February 24, 2009

For anyone who's a fan of chili, or the Reds, Union Station and the UDF milkshakes you can buy there were a staple of growing up, I'd imagine.

The city, however, isn't known for its forward thinking. I'm not actually surprised that the place is having such troubles; even less, when you think about how hard it is to get funding for not-for-profit places (like museums).

Hopefully, they'll get this fixed, though, if people really start talking about it. If there was ever a building from that time period that was worth saving, this is it.
posted by plaidrabbit at 9:40 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great building. Bad post.

Thanks for the constructive feedback!
posted by Mick at 9:58 AM on February 24, 2009

Having been there many times, I can tell you that this building is beautiful on the inside and outside and a wonderful piece of nostalgia. Unfortunately, it is a snapshot of Cincinnati itself. Due to poor city management, this beautiful town has deteriorated significantly over the past 50 years. The downtown is dead and the city council here seems to not have a clue about how to revive the luster we once knew. It make me sad to see the deterioration of this stunning piece of architecture.
posted by konig at 10:05 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's old but it doesn't have an overwhelming smell about it, or a creak, or a sound.

The smell of Union Terminal is one of my favorites. It's not overwhelming, but it's old and somehow important.

If you stand in the middle of the rotunda on a busy day and close your eyes, you can pretend it's once again a bustling train station in a vibrant city, that is, until you hear kids whining that they want ICE CREAM, mommy, this history stuff is boring.
posted by coppermoss at 11:02 AM on February 24, 2009

As a native Cincinnatian, I would hate to see this building crumble in my lifetime. My wife and I took a trip on Amtrak a decade or so ago from Cincinnati to Chicago, and we embarked from Union Terminal. Just buying tickets at the window somehow transported me back to a time before I was born, when Cincinnati was a booming city on the rise and not in the seemingly endless decline it finds itself in now.

If you ever find yourself in Cincinnati, I urge you to check it out, as well as the other interesting bits of architecture scattered around the city.
posted by schleppo at 1:32 PM on February 24, 2009

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