Union Terminal: Cincinnati’s Art Deco gem shines again

Fountain fill prior to testing.

Rebuilt fountain is readied for testing.

By Sue Goldberg

Inside and out, architects, preservationists and scores of skilled tradespeople have given their full attention to one of the city’s most iconic Art Deco masterpieces – Union Terminal. The former train station, now home to the Cincinnati Museum Center, received its first full structural overhaul, updating infrastructure and repairing the building’s skeleton and exterior fabric. 

“We’re so excited to show the community what we’ve been working toward these past two-and-a-half years,” said Elizabeth Pierce, president and CEO of Cincinnati Museum Center. “Not only have we restored a National Historic Landmark, preserving it for future generations, we’ve reimagined a new robust museum experience. This community is in for an epic adventure, and we’re so glad to welcome them home.”

The museum officially reopens to the public Nov. 17. In addition to the reinvigorated galleries, there will be new food and retail services, with draft beer on tap making its first appearance. The OMNIMAX Theater will reopen in late December. 

During the two-year $213 million reboot, the Cincinnati Museum Center told its story in construction updates and listed some staggering and fascinating numbers, which we’ve compiled here. 

myunionterminal.com

North rear exterior masonry repair

North rear exterior masonry repair

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

BRICKS AND MORTAR

  • More than 225,000 square feet of limestone, brick, terra-cotta and concrete were cleaned and repaired.
  • Over 35,000 linear feet (or about 6.5 miles) of silicone caulking were removed and replaced with mortar closely matching that of the original.
  • Crews rebuilt the curved drum walls that sit just beneath Union Terminal’s half dome. In particular, the interior wall was replaced with a reinforced concrete block wall and covered with over 17,500 original exterior face bricks.
Preparations for fountain concrete pour

Preparations for fountain concrete pour

WATERWORKS

Union Terminal’s cascading fountain and plaza were removed to expose the roof deck underneath for water damage repairs and waterproofing. The area was then rebuilt. 

  • Fifty-six concrete trucks were needed to pour the basin of the 8,000-square-foot fountain, which holds 44,000 gallons of water.
  • Two-part polyurea waterproofing was applied.
  • Crews added a finishing layer of green terrazzo with a rustic finish, matching the 1933 original.
  • Crews waterproofed 120,000 square feet of plaza. 
  • The project required 450 cubic yards of concrete.
Six-ton steel girder arriving onsite.

Six-ton steel girder arriving onsite

FIXING THE BONES

Six months of construction addressed steel girders damaged by decades of water penetration. Eight 40-foot steel beams were brought in and hoisted from the lower level to the mezzanine, then glided into place using compressed air. The gantry systems and scaffolding for this installation alone required 20 tons of steel. 

Portion of 478,000 pounds of new ductwork

Portion of 478,000 pounds of new ductwork

CREATURE COMFORTS 

Outdated and aging systems were replaced
to heat and cool Union Terminal’s 500,000 square feet, including:

  • Three new centrifugal glycol chillers
  • Three hot water boilers
  • Two steam boilers 
  • 478,000 pounds of new ductwork
  • Twenty-three new air handling units on the rear rooftops
Clock interior

Clock interior

TICK TOCK

  • One year of restoration was needed to update and repair mechanisms in the clock on the building’s facade. 
  • The two hands were removed and restored, with new red neon lighting along the edges. 
  • New red and amber glass was installed across the 18-foot face.
Art conservator cleaning linoleum mural.

Art conservator cleaning linoleum mural

JAZZING IT UP

  • Rotunda elevators now replicate historic storefronts that once served as gateways to shops and offices in 1933.
  • Yellow, orange and silver bands of the ceiling, towering 106 feet overhead, have been cleaned, patched and painted. 
  • Red Verona marble walls of the rotunda and concourse have been polished and cleaned, as have the aluminum strips and metalwork accents.
  • New terrazzo floors in the Losantiville Dining Room echo the serpentine pattern of a long-ago lunch counter. 
  • Twenty-two original canvas murals that ringed the top of the dining room were restored and returned to the space for the first time in over 30 years.
  • It took six months to clean and repair over 6,500 square feet of historic Winold Reiss glass-tile mosaic murals.
  • Thousands of terra-cotta tiles have been cleaned; plaster ceilings have been repaired and painted; and restored windows and light fixtures have been reinstalled.
  • About 5,200 gallons of paint were used across Union Terminal’s historic, gallery and office spaces. 

NEW & NOTABLE

Dinosaur Hall

The dinos are back, and they’re ready to roar. Filled with important and visually impressive fossils and skeletons, many of which are at the center of groundbreaking research projects, Dinosaur Hall will introduce fundamental principles of evolution and give visitors a look at the creatures who roamed our world more than 230 million years ago.

Look for: giant plant-eater Galeamopus (60 feet long), the tyrannosaurid Daspletosaurus (36 feet long) and the most-complete-of-its-kind Torvosaurus (35 feet long).

The Woods in the Children's Museum

The Woods in the Children’s Museum

The Cave 

Dark, dank and oh-so-chilly, the original cave featured many of the characteristics of the real thing. Expect a state-of-the-art experience with updated technology for such features as that damp cave feel, lighting and cold-temperature effects. 

Look for: a waterfall, an underground stream and a live Big Brown Bat colony on the advanced trail. Beginner’s trail is wheelchair-accessible.

Public Landing

All aboard! Your steamboat awaits. This immersive experience of the sights and sounds in 19th century Cincinnati allows visitors to explore the Public Landing and the stories told through its collections. Technology updates enhance the experience, though actual time travel has yet to be achieved.

Look for: new artifacts, improved access and new storefront entryways to other galleries.


Crews work to restore aluminum frames at a museum entrance.

Crews work to restore aluminum frames at a museum entrance.

HISTORICAL TIMELINE

1929-1933: Union Terminal is constructed with a price tag of $41 million, including the purchase of the grounds and the readjustment of railroad facilities – an area of 287 acres with 94 miles of track. The complex contains 22 distinct buildings whose construction required 224,534 cubic yards of concrete; 100,500 square yards of paving; 8.25 million bricks; and 45,421 net tons of steel. The station can accommodate 17,000 passengers and 216 trains a day.

1968: The Cincinnati Science Center operates out of the large train concourse. The center closed two years later.

1972: Passenger train service from Union Terminal stops.

1975: The city of Cincinnati purchases Union Terminal from the Union Terminal Company.

1980: Union Terminal houses a shopping mall.

1986: Voters approve a bond levy to support the conversion of Union Terminal into a museum facility.

1990: The new facility opens with the Cincinnati History Museum, Cincinnati Historical Society Library, Museum of Natural History and Science, and the Robert Lindner Family OMNIMAX® Theater. Amtrak also restored passenger rail service to Union Terminal.

1998: The Cincinnati Children’s Museum, now known as the Duke Energy Children’s Museum, moves from Longworth Hall to Union Terminal.

2019: Cincinnati Museum Center is scheduled to welcome the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center to Union Terminal.

1 comment for “Union Terminal: Cincinnati’s Art Deco gem shines again

  1. Nancy Vail McEntire
    November 13, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    So delighted this was accomplished. I am 78 , remember taking my Dad to catch the train and again to pick him up. The echo drinking fountains I am sure remain active. We have enjoyed dinners in the atrium FREIBERG ORTHOPEDIC OFFICE dinner-gorgeous table settings. Then moved away to schooling and back to area to take our
    grandchildren. WONDERFUL THANK YOU SO MUCH. dandnmcentire@mac.com

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