Historical places: Behind the scenes at Cincinnati's Union Terminal

CINCINNATI - Cincinnati Union Terminal, the last great train station to be built in the United States, is a historic Art Deco building famous for its unique design and its once bustling railroad atmosphere.

It took nearly three years to complete the structure, but in the fall of 1933 the station opened its doors with a crowd of more than 50,000 people waiting to see all its glory.

Over the decades Union terminal has worn many hats including serving as an epicenter of transportation for the city, a USO station during World War II, an urban shopping center in the 1980s, and now home to some of the city's most treasured museums.

For more information on this historic structure, check out a behind-the-scenes look with photos and text below.

Union Terminal Arrives

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Cincinnati Union Terminal, which is considered an Art Deco masterpiece, was designed by the New York architectural firm Fellheimer and Wagner. Plans for the project began in 1929 and it was completed ahead of schedule in 1933. The rail yard opened 12 days earlier than the set grand opening because of major flooding that shut down four of the five available train stations. More than 50,000 reportedly attended the grand opening on March 31, 1933.

All Aboard

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This is an original train sign used at the station during the 1930s and 40s. For several years Union Terminal was an epicenter of train travel in Cincinnati, bringing more than 34,000 people on average through the station every day. It's one of the few original pieces left from the train station. Over the years people from all over the Tri-State have donated pieces back to the museum.

The Original Movie Theater

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This was the original movie theater built inside Union Terminal during its construction in the 1930s. While the technologies have been updated, the rest of the theater remains untouched as is evident by the worn upholstery. Employees at the Cincinnati Museum Center say while the room is still used for special showings it is not a high priority for renovations at this time.

USO And World War II

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By 1944 an average of 34,000 passengers passed through Union Terminal daily. Organizers decided use part of the station as a USO hub, including the Rookwood Tea Room, during World War II. It was the only time Union Terminal was used to its capacity. The tea room now serves as an ice cream parlor for patrons of the Cincinnati Museum Center.


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This hallway, located above the Union Terminal entrance, was once used as a temporary nursery after part by the USO during World War II. It was not originally built to be used by the public and has remained closed every since.

The President's Office

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This look inside the President's Office, located inside Union Terminal, depicts the Art Deco influence of the 1930s that influenced the design of the building inside and out. The floor was made out of cork to help filter out sounds from the rail yard outside which was crucial because offices were located next to the rail yard.

The Mosaics

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The two mosaics located in the rotunda at Union Terminal were designed by German artist Winold Reiss. The mural on the left depicts the evolution of industry in the United States and the mosaic on the left focuses on workers in Cincinnati industries, including Procter and Gamble, Kahn's Meat Packing, Rookwood Pottery, and more. There were originally 14 mosaics created by Reiss in Union Terminal, but some were eventually moved to CVG.

Rail Yard Today

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Union Terminal saw an average of 150 trains per day during it's first year, but after World War II the industry began to shift to a concentration on automobiles, which drastically affected the railroad economy. By 1953, the station was down to 51 trains daily and shrunk to 24 trains by 1962. In 1972, Union Terminal was handling only two trains a day and all passenger services were halted. In 1991, Amtrak's Cardinal eventually returned passenger services to Union Terminal with routes from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. Today, CSX Transportation owns and operates the rail yard.

A Museum Hub

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In 1975 the city purchased Union Terminal for $2 and its 15-acre lot for $1,000,000. By 1980, the building was transformed into an urban shopping center with 40 tenants to start and home to an upscale restaurant, Les Palmiers. Two years later only 21 vendors remained and by 1985 only one. In the early 1990s, the Cincinnati Historical Society Library, the Cincinnati History Museum, the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and the Robert D. Lindner Family OMNIMAX theater moved into the building and after years of renovations have since called it home.

If You Go
Hours: Monday through Saturday  10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission: Free Rotunda tours available, but arrange ahead of time; (All museum pass) Adults  $12.50; Seniors (Ages 60+)  $11.50; Children (Ages 3

- 12)  $8.50. More pricing options for exhibits on website.
Toddlers (Ages 1 - 2)  $4.50; Infants (Under 1)  Free
Phone: (513) 287-7000
Website: http://www.cincymuseum.org/union-terminal
Address: 1301 Western Avenue Cincinnati, OH 45203







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