Following is a letter I just sent today to our local newspaper's Letters To The Editor section. Hopefully they'll print it, as this is a hot topic around town right now.
A moment of background. Union Terminal, which I refer to below, is Cincinnati's historic train station, built in 1933. It, with its Art Deco design, was the center of our rail traffic for WWII, and later, for decades. In its rotunda, it has a large number of hand-made tile murals by a renowned local black artist of the time circling the entire perimeter of the building, above the rows of ticket windows and the doors. Its concourse, the route to the trains, was lined on both sides with an additional group of those hand-made murals, including one that covered the entire far wall at the end of the concourse. It was a map of the world, showing each time zone. Within each time zone was a working clock, showing the time in that part of the world.
As passenger rail traffic declined, the rotunda and adjoining spaces, both above and below ground, were remodeled to house three of our wonderful local museums, collectively referred to today as Museum Center at Union Terminal. Saving the rotunda really warmed my heart. The original ticket windows, and all the other trimmings were kept intact, which is wonderful. The concourse leading to the trains, however, was demolished to allow expansion of freight rail traffic in the rail yard. The murals along the side walls of the concourse were all moved to the Greater Cincinnati / Northern Ky. International Airport. They deemed the time zone mural at the far end too heavy, and too expensive to preserve. It was demolished with the concourse. One single passenger track remains, for Amtrak Service.
Pictures of the two theaters I mention below are already on the web. Search usng the Theater name and include the location - Cincinnati, OH. I have a better picture of the Albee Theater that I will post as soon as I can find it inside the files our neighborhood PC tech was able to recover from the hard drive in my old tower.
Now that you have that bit of background, here's the letter:
Preserving Our Past
The front page of the FORUM section of The Cincinnati Enquirer on Sunday, April 11, 2010 was a great article urging the preservation of buildings from our past, and included some wonderful examples, with which I agree.
The opening sentence of the article really brings this point home quite well: “Buildings can teach history in ways that books can’t”. I hope this idea finally takes root in the city of Cincinnati. It’s way too long overdue.
A letter to the editor from the opinion page of The Cincinnati Enquirer on Friday, February 26, 2010 carried the headline, “City doesn’t value its old buildings”. That letter began with two questions, as equally memorable and to the point as the opening line in the Preserving Our Past article: “What is there about Cincinnati that doesn’t see the value of its history? Is there no historical society?”
Unfortunately, to this point, that earlier February article has been more to the point.
Where was this passion for preservation when the Wesley Chapel, [built in the 1800's] was demolished in the middle of the night so that Proctor and Gamble could build a green space? I witnessed that as I drove home from work at midnight. Where was this passion when the Albee Theater, built in 1927 at a cost of $4 million, still a working theater – theater palace to be more precise - at the time, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, providing both entertainment and jobs, and helping keep people downtown, was demolished for the Westin Hotel complex? The pleas of the Committee to Save the Albee fell on deaf ears. My late wife was a very passionate member of that committee. But the Powers that Be refused to listen. Where was that passion when the beautifully designed, architecturally unique and still functioning Schubert Theater, built inside the city's first YMCA, which opened in 1848 (the theater opened in 1921), was torn down for a parking lot? Then, with all the working theaters gone, the city fathers couldn't figure out why no one stayed downtown after work. Duh. They ended up tearing down other buildings to build the multi-performance Aronoff Center for the Arts to get them downtown again. It's a nice building, but not nearly as easy on the eyes as all those that are gone.
And now the city is about to make another similar mistake. Why don’t those same city leaders and others realize that the place for the city’s new light rail station is the place it should ALWAYS be – Union Terminal, and not in a different part of the city. They made one big mistake when they demolished the beautiful world time zone mural that had been at the end of the original concourse. Don’t make an even bigger one by failing to keep this city’s wonderful railroad heritage where it belongs. Construction can be done to provide the space for the rails and passenger access. We have a small version of that operating there right now. My dad and I rode a train from there to Chicago a number of years ago. It was a shame to see such a glorious terminal reduced to a single track. But now we have a chance to reverse that, and continue the great heritage of that one-of-a-kind terminal. Put the new rail connection where it truly belongs – where our city’s past says it should be – in Union Terminal.