Daniel Burnham would've hated the Terminal Tower. The famed architect wanted Cleveland to build its "monumental railroad station" on the lakefront bluff next to City Hall. But in 1919, developers Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen convinced Cleveland voters to let them build a station on Public Square's southwest corner, promising, as one campaign postcard boasted, "The biggest improvement in the History of Cleveland, Without a Dollar of Expense to the People."
The Van Sweringens' landmark, the Terminal Tower, took 10 years to build. It wiped out much of downtown's forlorn Haymarket district, the mid-1800s market district and the city's first slum. The terminal became Cleveland's gateway, the dominant figure on its skyline and its most recognizable symbol. It created a fast streetcar connection to Shaker Heights that helped the suburb grow and developed into today's Green and Blue Rapid lines. The tower cemented Public Square's role as the city's center, like Moses Cleaveland intended it. It deprived the downtown malls of traffic, which kept Burnham's 1903 Group Plan from achieving its goals. But it may have helped prolong the life of Euclid Avenue's shopping district.
The terminal's role evolved as flight and freeway travel surpassed the railroad. But its grandeur and location, and the view from its 42nd-floor observation deck, still inspire loyalty to Cleveland's past and potential.
Can I visit the tower's observation deck?
What is the Terminal Tower's Greenbrier Suite?
The door opens to a dark hallway lined with deep wood paneling from England's Sherwood Forest. The space looks small, until a turn in the hallway reveals a five-room suite, with tall windows, in an English Gothic style. The Terminal Tower's 12th-floor Greenbrier Suite, never open to the public, is a hidden enclave inside Cleveland's greatest landmark. The Van Sweringens, who built the tower, used it as a refuge and sometimes stayed there overnight. They held lunch meetings in the suite's boardroom,
intimidating in its stateliness. Subordinates in their railroad empire would sit at the long table, between a brother on each end. Today, Cleveland's peregrine falcons nest outside the window, enjoying the commanding view of Public Square.
The suite got its name in the 1940s, when the C&O Railway hired designer Dorothy Draper to make it lighter and brighter. Her style survives in the Green Room, a meeting space with a mostly green Chinese-style landscape painting on the walls.