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Terminal Tower, Observation Deck revitalized for tomorrow

Eighty years ago, the 52-story Terminal Tower was a tribute to a bustling Cleveland’s high hopes and aspirations. Today, it serves a vibrant downtown business address and the corporate headquarters for Forest City Enterprises, Inc.


Terminal Tower History

Terminal Tower opened as Cleveland Union Terminal at its dedication by the Van Sweringen brothers, Oris Paxton and Mantis James, on June 28, 1930. At 708 feet, Terminal Tower was the tallest building outside of New York City from 1930 until 1964, when Boston’s Prudential Tower was built. The tower has a 63-foot flagpole at its top, which brings the total tip height of the building to 771 feet.


In addition to being among the tallest, the Terminal Tower led the way for other massive complexes, such as Rockefeller Center in New York.


Its construction was a project of epic proportions. The steel-reinforced concrete supports for the Terminal Tower reach bedrock approximately 250 feet below ground level, while the complex’s front doors sit approximately 660 feet above sea level.


At 2.5 million cubic yards, the earth moving required for the construction of the Union Terminal complex was the second largest in history at the time, topped only by the Panama Canal.


From the beginning, Terminal Tower has been treated with the utmost respect. In the early years, approaching trains used to switch to electric power in rail yards in Collinwood or Linndale to keep the noise and mess of steam away from the shiny new terminal.



As a lasting tribute to Terminal Tower’s position in Cleveland, the BP Tower, built across Public Square in 1986, was purposely designed to be shorter in height in deference to Terminal Tower. Today, Terminal Tower remains the second tallest building in Cleveland and Ohio.


Terminal Tower Renovation

Forest City has completed a $40 million interior and exterior renovation of the Terminal Tower, Cleveland’s most historic skyscraper and home to the Company's corporate headquarters. The Company has spent the last four years restoring and modernizing the living relic, honoring its proud history and ensuring its rightful place in Cleveland’s future.


Here’s a breakdown of the renovation:

  • Cooling tower replaced: A 43-year-old, 500-ton wood cooling tower, an integral part of the building’s air conditioning system, was replaced in 2005.
  • Elevators modernized: The 21 Terminal Tower elevator cabs look the same as they did in the 1930s, but the hardware running them is now state-of-the-art.
  • Windows replaced: All 2,200 windows in the Terminal Tower have been replaced with energy-efficient, double-paned, double-hung, aluminum-framed windows that match the Tower’s original design.
  • Façade restored: The Terracotta façade had been beaten, blasted and busted-up by Cleveland’s harsh winters for the last 75 years, but the damaged portions of the façade have been replaced with reinforced fiberglass, waterproof liquid plastic and other materials.
  • Exterior lighting replaced: The Tower’s existing upper portion lights have been replaced with a high-tech, energy-efficient LED lighting system that reduces power consumption.

    Forest City's dramatic transformation of the Terminal Tower, which restored the façade and observation deck to their previous glory, was honored by the Cleveland Engineers Society for outstanding team achievement and innovative use of technology. Dennis Breiding, senior project manager, Commercial Construction, accepted the award at the organization's recent annual meeting. In addition, the restoration project was honored by the Downtown Cleveland Alliance with the organization's award for Downtown Development.


    Breiding, who managed the project, credited the work of everyone involved, including the engineering (Barber Hoffman, Inc.)  and construction firms (Provenzale Construction)."We came in under budget and beat our schedule by six months, along with receiving state and federal historic tax credits," he said.


    Observation Deck Restoration

    The Observation Deck, originally opened in 1929, sits on the 42nd floor of the Terminal Tower.


    For many years, local residents and visitors alike flocked to the Observation Deck to experience unparalleled views of Downtown Cleveland. But after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Observation Deck was closed.


    Over the years, the deck had lost its striking original character, resembling any other office suite in the tower.


    “The Observation Deck had been remodeled in the 70s, and you could tell by looking at it,” said Stephen Bir, Terminal Tower general manager.


    But that all changed. Forest City’s Dennis Breiding took on the challenge of bringing back the glory days of the Observation Deck. With old design documents, photos and newspaper illustrations as his guide, he lead the renewal of the Art Deco-inspired gem, restoring and recreating all the details and fixtures as best as possible with modern materials.


    Today, the Observation Deck looks much like it did in 1929, and it still features unparalleled views of downtown Cleveland.



    Beginning, Saturday, Nov. 27, and continuing through Sunday, Dec. 19, the general public will once again have the opportunity to go up to The Terminal Tower Observation Deck, and experience the breathtaking views of Downtown from this magnificent Cleveland landmark.


    The Observation Deck will be open on Saturdays from Noon to 5 p.m., and on Sundays from Noon to 4 pm. Guests may now make reservations and purchase tickets on-line General admission cost will be $5 (plus a handling fee) per person, with free admission for children 5 years of age and under. Based on availability, walk-up tickets may be purchased at Tower City’s Guest Services desk, located on Level 1, on the day of the tour only. For reservations and tickets visit websites below.

    • Saturday Terminal Tower Observation Deck Tour tickets:
    • Sunday Terminal Tower Observation Deck Tour tickets:


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