Classic Streamliners - TRAIN​CYCLOPEDIA

The Cleveland Union Terminal's fleet of NYC P Motor electric locomotives.
The Terminal Tower complex in 1987. Library of Congress photo.

The Terminal Tower complex in 1987.  Library of Congress

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Platform of RTA Blue and Green Lines Rapid Transit station in Cleveland Union Terminal in Cleveland, Ohio, 1980s.

The Cleveland Union Terminal's fleet of NYC P-1a electric locomotives.

Cleveland Union Terminal

Cleveland Union Terminal, now known as Tower City Center, is a large mixed-use facility located on Public Square in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. The facility is composed of a number of interconnected office buildings, including the landmark Terminal Tower, the Avenue shopping mall, a casino, two hotels, and the main hub of Cleveland's four rapid transit lines. On March 17, 1976, the tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places as the Union Terminal Group.

The union terminal complex was originally commissioned by the Van Sweringen brothers, prominent local railroad moguls and real estate developers. The Vans were also responsible for the development of the upscale suburb of Shaker Heights. The complex was designed by the firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White. Site preparation began in 1922, and approximately 2,200 buildings were demolished. Construction began in 1926, and structural work was completed by 1927. At the time, it was the second-largest excavation project in the world after the Panama Canal. The Terminal Tower opened to its first tenants in 1928. Three other office buildings, the Medical Arts Building, Builders Exchange Building, and Midland Building, were built in addition to the Terminal Tower. The three Art Deco buildings are collectively known as the Landmark Office Towers Complex and were completed in 1929. In addition to the new buildings, the 1918 Hotel Cleveland was connected to the complex. Cleveland Union Terminal was dedicated and officially opened in 1930.

The facility included a number of retail stores and restaurants. Original designs for the complex show that at first the brothers did not plan on building an office tower within the complex. However, they eventually decided to build the 52-story Terminal Tower on the northeast side of the complex facing Public Square.

From its completion until 1964, the Terminal Tower was the tallest building in North America outside of New York City.

In 1991, two new 11-story office towers, the Skylight Office Tower and the Chase Financial Plaza, were added. The Chase Building houses Cleveland's Ritz-Carlton Hotel and The Skylight Office Tower housed the former Hard Rock Cafe. After the completion of the nearby Gateway project in 1994, RTA built an indoor walkway connecting Tower City to the complex. A second walkway was built in 2002 to connect Tower City with the Carl B. Stokes U.S. Courthouse.

Higbee's (by then bought by Dillard's) closed its department store in the complex in January 2002. Positively Cleveland (formerly the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland) and the Greater Cleveland Partnership (the local chamber of commerce) opened offices in the Higbee Building in 2007. Until late 2010, the Cleveland Plus Visitors Center occupied the first floor. The building was opened on May 14, 2012 as the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland. After Rock Gaming LLC took over management of the Horseshoe, the casino was transformed into Jack Cleveland Casino and reopened on May 11, 2016.

In 2001, Time Warner Cable Amphitheater opened as an outdoor stage along the Cuyahoga River near the Tower City Complex. A site on the Cuyahoga River side of the complex was proposed as a location for a new Cleveland convention center, but in January 2009 the Cuyahoga County Commissioners decided to redevelop the existing facility.

The Avenue
Most of the platform area was demolished in the late 1980s renovation of the building. The station area itself was converted by Forest City Enterprises into a malland food court known as The Avenue, which opened in 1991. As part of the renovation, RTA rebuilt its rapid transit station beneath the center. The rest of the platform area was turned into a parking garage for the new complex. When the already renamed Tower City Center reopened, the mall housed many high-end retailers, including Bally of Switzerland, Barneys New York, Fendi, Gucci, Versace, and even had a letter of intent from Neiman Marcus to build a 120,000-square foot anchor store in 1992. Over the following 25 years, many of those shops were replaced by more modest stores, some of them local retailers.

Tower City Center is host to the annual Christmas "Toy Soldier Show": a Cleveland tradition starring the Toy Soldier (Robert Hruby) and the Fairy Godmother (Cathy Brenkus) which celebrated its 28th season in 2017.

Current RTA Station
Tower City station, known alternatively as Tower City–Public Square and Tower City Center is a rapid transit station in  Cleveland, Ohio, USA. It is the central station on the RTA Red Line and the major station on the RTA Green and Blue Lines. The station is located directly beneath Prospect Avenue in the middle of the Avenue shopping mall. The station is only accessible through the Tower City Center shopping complex, and, for this reason, the public concourse of the shopping mall is open at all times that the RTA Rapid Transit is in operation.

Located in downtown Cleveland, the station is the busiest RTA Rapid Transit station. It is also the only station to serve all of downtown Cleveland, in spite of the fact the Tower City complex is located on the south end of this district near the east shore of the Cuyahoga River; the rest of downtown is serviced by frequent bus service. It offers connections to all RTA buses serving Public Square. The station also includes a "Walkway to Gateway," which is a completely enclosed and air-conditioned skyway from Tower City Center to Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field of the Gateway Sports and Entertainment Complex, allowing RTA passengers, as well as those using the Tower City parking facilities, to walk to the arena or ballpark without having to go outside.

The Waterfront Line began service at Tower City on July 10, 1996.

On July 31, 2016, RTA began replacing the track bed for track 8, the main westbound track. In order to prevent service disruptions during the track replacement, RTA temporarily reopened the Shaker rapid track to the public. Westbound trains arrived on that track and temporary platforms and station facilities were set up. The temporary station was not accessible from the main station entrance and had a separate entrance. The new track opened to passengers on November 26, 2016.

The station has two fare-collection entrances, one leading to a low platform station for use by the light rail Green and Blue Lines, and one leading to a high platform station for the heavy rail Red Line. Both entrances open from a lobby located on the lowest level of the Tower City shopping mall, and this lobby is accessible by escalators and elevators from the other levels of the mall. Each entrance has multiple fare gates along with two operator booths. The entrance for the Green and Blue Lines collects fares from passengers entering and leaving the station, since westbound passengers pay their fare upon leaving. The Red Line entrance collects fares from passengers entering the station and also requires arriving passengers to swipe their proof of payment card at the gate in order to exit the station. In order to transfer from the Red Line to the Green or Blue Lines, or vice versa, passengers must exit through the fare gates at one station entrance and enter through the other station entrance. The high and low platform portions of the station could also be reached from each other without going through the lobby by an access ramp located along each side of tracks around the lobby; however, with the implementation of the proof of payment system on the Red Line, the ramps have been closed.

Cleveland Union Terminal

The Van Sweringen brothers conceived of a new "Union" station for all trains coming into Cleveland via the various railroad lines in a concept similar to New York City's Grand Central Terminal. The new terminal would be situated under a large office and retail development including a 52-story tower. Not only that but from the subterranean platforms the trains would need to ascend a long steep ramp to a new bridge over the Cuyahoga River. As was with other underground station projects, the existing steam locomotive technology would be unacceptable due to the large amounts of exhaust gases and soot expelled from the smoke stack.

The solution was an electrification project that would see passenger trains using the terminal switch to electric power before entering the confines of the station area. To build and equip this new railroad line, a consortium was formed to build the new track, bridge and electrical system as well as to buy a fleet of locomotives the power the trains. As the New York Central was to be the station's principle operator as well as the party responsible for maintenance at its Collingwood Yardshop facilities, the New York Central tapped long time electric locomotive team ALCO-GE to design and build the required units.

The 22 unit strong fleet of P-1a locomotives were designed for the 3000 volt DC electrification system and could develop about 3000 horsepower. The units, painted in the New York Central style, but lettered for Cleveland Union Terminal (CUT) went into service in 1929 and worked for the next 20 years running from Collinwood to Lindale and back with whatever passenger train needed to stop at the station.

When the Cleveland Union Terminal (CUT) was built in 1930 as part of the Terminal Tower complex, the train station allocated the northern set of tracks for interurban or rapid transit service and the southern set of tracks for inter-city rail service. The portion of the station above the interurban tracks was called the Traction Concourse and the portion above the intercity train tracks was called the Steam Concourse. The Van Sweringen brothers who developed Terminal Tower complex and built Cleveland Union Terminal envisioned a network of interurban lines extending from the CUT in all directions. They even acquired right-of-way for some of the lines.

In 1931, the Higbee Company moved its main store to a new building connected to Cleveland Union Terminal. In 1934, the U.S. Postal Service moved its main Cleveland office to Union Terminal in a new building designed by the firm of Walker and Weeks. It was known as M.K. Ferguson Plaza under the ownership of Forest City Enterprises.

The Union Terminal served most rail lines: the Baltimore and Ohio, New York Central and Nickel Plate Road. Exceptions were the Pennsylvania Railroad and initially the Erie Railroad. It was never particularly popular with the railroads, however. It required deviating from the quicker route along Lake Erie. As the city would not allow trains to operate under steam power near the downtown area, trains were forced to switch from steam to electric power at a suburban rail yard when heading inbound and then reverse on the way out at another yard. As a result, some lines began to bypass the station entirely, heading along the lake route, and some trains stopped serving the city altogether. Several east-west routes by-passed the city to the south, passing through Akron or Youngstown. In addition, national passenger rail travel had already passed its peak and was starting its gradual decline in favor of the automobile and, later, the airplane. The Erie Railroad, owned by the Van Sweringens, could not afford the electric transfer and continued to use its own nearby station until 1948, when it replaced steam with diesel locomotives and was able to serve the Union Terminal under its own power.

Amtrak's short-lived Lake Shore served Union Terminal for seven months in 1971, but the railroad found the rents prohibitive. When the new Lake Shore Limited began in 1975 Amtrak chose to construct a new station near Lake Erie adjacent to the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway. The new Amtrak station is located near the former Cleveland Union Station, once served by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The former Erie Railroad commuter service, ultimately inherited by Conrail, was discontinued on Jan. 14, 1977, ending the facility's use as a railroad station.

Former Red Line Station
The Red Line took the place of a never-built interurban line. An additional vault for that line was located at Mayfield Road, now the Little Italy–University Circle station.

The Shaker rapid transit remained the only service using the interurban portion of the CUT for 25 years. When the Cleveland Transit System built its rapid transit (later designated the Red Line) in 1955 (using much of the right-of-way previously developed by the Van Sweringens), another rapid transit station was built in the former interurban area of the CUT to serve it. Since the CTS Rapid Transit (Red Line) and the Shaker rapid transit (Green and Blue Lines) were owned by different entities at the time, there was no fare transfer between the trains, and the stations were entirely separate.

In 1968, the Cleveland Transit System line finished its extension through Cleveland's west side to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and Cleveland became the first North American city with direct rapid transit access from downtown to an airport.

Both lines became part of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority when it assumed control on September 5, 1975. The two stations remained separate until December 17, 1990, when a completely new station was completed with the development of Tower City Center.

Former Shaker Rapid Station
These platforms opened with the extension of the Cleveland Interurban Railroad from East 55th Street in 1930.

Since the Van Sweringens owned Cleveland Interurban Railroad which served the suburb of Shaker Heights, the interurban portion of the CUT was immediately occupied by the Shaker trains upon completion on July 20, 1930. (Previously, the Shaker trains had used streetcar tracks to reach downtown from East 34th Street, which caused significantly slower service.) The Shaker rapid transit station was located along the northern-most tracks of the complex, and it included a small yard for the storage of a few trains and a loop to allow trains to reverse direction. Development of the other interurban services, however, was stalled by the Great Depression, which hit the Van Sweringens particularly hard. By 1944, ownership of the Shaker rapid transit passed to the city of Shaker Heights.

The Shaker and Van Aken lines became part of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority when it assumed control on September 5, 1975. The two stations remained separate until December 17, 1990, when a completely new station was completed with the development of Tower City Center.

The platform was temporarily re-opened for westbound passengers in 2016.

Cleveland Union Terminal Overview
Location: 230 West Huron Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44113
Line: Cleveland Union Terminals Company
Construction: Parking Parking lot above concourse
Opened: July 20, 1930
Closed: January 14, 1977
Original company: New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad

See also:

Railroads of the U.S.A.

NYC P Motor Electric Locomotive

Historic Stations

Platform of RTA Blue and Green Lines Rapid Transit station in Cleveland Union Terminal in Cleveland, Ohio, 1980s. A Breda-built light rail vehicle is at the stop.

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