Walter C. Leedy, Jr.

Cleveland's Terminal Tower -
The Van Sweringens' Afterthought

Continued from: "Architects and engineers refine the plans"

A monumental secret

It was probably some time in 1923 that Van Sweringen, perhaps prompted by his architects and a market study, decided to build a monumental 52-story tower on Public Square. But with characteristics acumen he kept the plan to himself until a propitious time. On 11 November, 1924, W .R. Pease and H.D. Jouett in an address to the Cleveland Engineering Society suggested publicly that Cleveland could expect a "towering structure." 39 No details were given. Just two weeks before this address, the building code had been amended to permit the design of the new Ohio Bell Telephone Company building. The code, as amended permitted buildings of almost unlimited height, and incorporated the latest principle of skyscraper design, the set-back: the mass of a building is progressively set back as it rises, to permit air and light to enter the street level, thus avoiding " the Wall Street effect." The approval of this new code meant that the Van Sweringens did not have another battle to fight. And what a battle it would have been! Critics of the terminal project had long contended that the station was just an excuse for a private gain, and that "history would show that the City had been screwed." 40 Good timing was a major factor in the success of the project.

Announcement of the new plans for the 52-story did not come until 14 February, 1925. The next day The Plain Dealer records that according to Van Sweringen it was designed to be the landmark of Cleveland like the Woolworth Building in New York City.

Van Sweringen's comparison to the Woolworth Building gives us insight into his intentions. Designed by Cass Gilbert and built in 1911-13, the Woolworth overlooks New York's City Hall Park, just as the Terminal Tower by its diagonal placement helps to link and unite Public Square with the projected Mall, the seat of municipal power. But, more important, because of its isolation in the New York skyline, the Woolworth Building became an object of mediation, a cathedral of commerce. It captured everyone's imagination. John Marin painted a famous watercolor of it in 1913. And in 1925 John Dos Passos, in his novel Manhattan Transfer, described it as "glistening shaft" which " pulled out like a telescope".

A giant plaster model of the area north of Prospect Avenue, costing $8000, was placed on exhibition to be "great assistance to us in moulding public opinion in favor of the Terminals Company." 41 Photographs of the model were used to encourage the passage of the ordinance on the use of the southwest corner of Public Square for the entrance portico, and were used later in obtaining approval of the City Planning Commission and the building permit.

The decision to heighten the tower was of enormous importance for the entire project, for it markedly increased the amount of rental office space in the area. There is no doubt that this decision was made to counter the eastward commercial development along Euclid Avenue. The retailing center had already moved East of East Ninth Street. With the new Union Trust Building at East Ninth and Euclid Avenue, decentralization was progressing s rapidly as to threaten the economic viability of the Terminal's supergrade developments. There was even an active "West of East Ninth Street Merchants' Association," whose objective was to increase development and improve the area. The Van Sweringens encouraged and financially supported this association.

The increase in amount of office space in the tower itself was projected to take care of Cleveland's increased needs for two years. The entire tract, it built up, was expected to fulfill the City's increasing need for office space for ten years. The decision to heighten the tower based, therefore, on a economic survey. It made good business sense.


Continues in: "The aesthetics of the Terminal Tower"

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