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Construction workers building the Terminal Tower in 1927

The Terminal Tower is a landmark skyscraper located on Public Squaremarker in downtown Clevelandmarker, Ohiomarker. It was built during the skyscraper boom of the 1920s and 1930s, and was the second-tallest building in the world when it was completed. The Terminal Tower stood as the tallest building in North America outside of New York Citymarker from its completion in 1930 until 1964. It is part of the Tower City Centermarker mixed-use development, and its major tenants include Forest City Enterprises (corporate headquarters and current building owner) and Riverside Company.


Built for $179 million by the Van Sweringen brothers, the tower was to serve as an office building atop the city's new rail station, Union Terminal. Originally planned to be 14 stories, the structure was expanded to 52-floors with a height of 708 ft (216 m) and rests on 280 foot caissons. Designed by the firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, the tower was modeled after the Beaux-Arts New York Municipal Buildingmarker by McKim, Mead, and White. The Terminal Tower opened in 1928, two years before the entire Union Terminal complex was complete, and would remain the tallest building in the world outside of New York Citymarker until the completion of the main building of Moscow State Universitymarker in Moscowmarker in 1953. The Terminal Tower would continue as the tallest building in North America outside of New York City until the Prudential Centermarker in Boston, Massachusettsmarker was completed in 1964. The building's height allowed radio station WHK to place antennas on the building to increase range of the 1420 kHz signal.

The observation deck was originally intended to be used by Goodyear for future dirigible travel between Cleveland and New York City. The deck was planned to be a terminal, but this was ruled unfeasible, and so it was used as an overlook and tourist attraction. On a clear day, visitors can see 30 miles from downtown Cleveland. In 1976, a Vietnam veteran who had been fired by the Chessie System stormed the 42nd floor conference room. Subsequently, direct access to the floor was removed. When Chessie left the building, the observation deck reopened. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the observation deck has remained closed.

In 2007, a proposal was brought to Forest City to reopen the deck. The proposal included a renovation of the deck and the addition of an express elevator to take visitors to it. This was to be done after the upper floors were renovated and the scaffolding removed.

To reach the observation deck prior to its closure, visitors had to take an elevator to the 33rd floor and transfer to another elevator to reach the 42nd floor. The observation deck was open only on weekends, to prevent disruption to the law firm that has offices on the 33rd floor.

In the 1980s, a plan to build a taller building than the Terminal Tower was put forward, but was rejected by city officials who wanted to keep the Terminal Tower as the city's tallest building. The building, the BP Towermarker, was scaled down, and the Terminal Tower remained the tallest building in Cleveland until the completion of Key Towermarker in 1991.

Forest City Enterprises is currently renovating the complex's elevators, upper floors, and its spire.

External lighting

The Terminal Tower was lit when it opened in 1930. A strobe light on top of the tower rotated 360 degrees. It helped ships in Cleveland's port and airplane pilots landing at Cleveland Hopkins International Airportmarker. In the 1960s, the strobe was retired and replaced with conventional aircraft warning lights. The tower only once went dark, during the Northeast Blackout of 2003.

The Terminal Tower is lit in a golden color at night, but for special occasions it is lit in seasonal colors (e.g., red and green during the Christmas holiday season). After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the building was lit in red, white, and blue.

In popular culture

  • During February in 2003-2006, the Terminal Tower hosted an annual "Tackle the Tower" stairclimb charity race from the Tower City mall concourse to the observation deck.
  • The Terminal Tower appeared in the climactic scene of the 2001 movie Proximity, starring Rob Lowe. Lowe's character led his pursuers from the RTA rapid stationmarker to the shopping concourse.
  • The tower is featured in the films The Fortune Cookie (1966), The Deer Hunter (1978), A Christmas Story (1983), and Major League (1989).
  • Cleveland-based art-punk band Pere Ubu titled their 1985 compilation of early singles and B-sides Terminal Tower.
  • The tower can be seen in some scenes from Spider-Man 3 (2007), parts of which were filmed in Cleveland.

See also


  • Herrick, Clay. Cleveland Landmarks (1986) ISBN 0-9646459-0-4
  • Johannesen, Eric. Cleveland Architecture 1876-1976 (1979) ISBN 0-911704-21-3
  • Nash, Eric. Manhattan Skyscrapers (1999) ISBN 1-568981-81-3
  • Rarick, Holly. Progressive Vision: The Planning of Downtown Cleveland 1903-1930 (1986) ISBN 0-910386-86-2
  • Van Tassel, David. Grabowski, John. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (1987) ISBN 0-253-33056-4

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