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Issue Date: August 2009


Iconic Cleveland

They are the buildings, monuments and symbols that are synonymous with our city. We sought out 20 of the most recognizable and uncovered stories you haven't heard.
edited by Jim Vickers

On the morning of June 28, 1930, some 3,000 men in black suits streamed through Public Square and into the arched doorways of the Terminal Tower.

Yellow tickets hung, fluttering, from their lapels, identifying them as invited guests for the greatest civic event in Cleveland’s history: the opening of the new train station — a building so huge and beautiful they almost couldn’t believe it was theirs.

Stores flew flags from upstairs windows. The sun shone. The city’s mood was dark that summer, sullied by political scandal and the 8-month-old economic depression. Though its industrial might was sapped, though it had just slipped from fifth to sixth among the nation’s largest cities, Cleveland had this: a train terminal bigger than Grand Central Station, capped by a tower 708 feet high, the world’s tallest building outside New York.

For 11 years, Clevelanders had waited. They’d voted in 1919 to let the shy but visionary Van Sweringen brothers, the developers of Shaker Heights, build the enormous terminal complex on Public Square. Entire city blocks had been condemned and seized: flophouses filled with transients, an old building where jewelry auctioneers barked out bids and the old central police station, infested with giant rats. Ground was finally broken in 1923. Early designs had been thrown out, and legend has it that the Van Sweringens vetoed a squat little dome envisioned for the top because they feared it would remind World War-weary citizens of a German helmet.

At last, in 1926, the tower began to rise, the square gridwork growing taller and taller, then the round tower rising like a needle — higher than anything Cleveland had ever seen.

“On clear days, one can see the Terminal Tower from incredible distances,” wrote Plain Dealer feature writer Roelif Loveland, “and when fog drifts in from the lake, one cannot see the top of the tower at all, for it buries its head in the clouds.”

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Erick Trickey

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