September 24, 2020: The Terrace Plaza has been selected as one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2020 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Read the full press release here. See our video and Virtual Gallery with an exhibition on the history of the Terrace Plaza at This Link and below.
The Terrace Plaza Hotel is the most important International Style building in Cincinnati and is of national significance. Designed in 1945-46 in the New York office of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) and built between 1946-48, it was the most progressive American hotel of its day and the first building by SOM to be widely published. This “push-button palace” included many cutting-edge technologies and was the first high-rise in the United States to have automated elevators and user-controlled AC and phones in every guest room. Pioneering architect Natalie de Blois was the lead designer and went on to design Lever House, Pepsi-Co, and Union Carbide. The Terrace contained spectacular interiors which featured modern art and design by major artists, architects, and designers; indeed, it was acclaimed as the best synthesis of modern art and architecture in America at the time.
Mostly vacant since 2008, the 20-story building is being damaged by neglect. Local advocates believe that rehabilitating the Terrace Plaza will not only preserve a key early Modern landmark, but will provide economic benefits for downtown Cincinnati. This pioneering work of modern architecture is threatened by long term vacancy and development challenges. Today this underutilized building in the heart of downtown Cincinnati is deteriorating. Recent proposals to redevelop the Terrace Plaza range from sensitive restoration of its historic features to plans that utilize only its concrete frame. Recognition of the icon of modernism will help ensure decisions about its future are guided by an awareness of its national significance.
The Risk: The building is at risk for several reasons. It has been vacant for a long time and the elements are taking their toll. It is important that it be maintained for public safety and the City has taken code enforcement action to bring the building up to required standards. It is also at risk of inappropriate redevelopment. Some of the plans have proposed to only retain the structural frame, stripping the building its original history, to create a completely new building.
If this approach is used, Cincinnati and the nation lose a highly significant historic site that tells the important story of the emergence of modernism.
We recognize that the configuration of the building presents a challenge. The windowless base, built for two department stores, will need uses that do not need windows. That section can be considered for a parking garage, movie theaters and even bowling. Meeting and event rooms are also possibilities especially if it remains a hotel. With the Convention Center expansion plans there is renewed interest in hotels in that area of downtown.
It is much more responsible to redevelop the building by using it historic character not only from a cultural standpoint but also from an economic one. An historic approach means federal and state historic tax credits can be a major part of the financing. These powerful incentives have been used in the redevelopment of most of the historic buildings in downtown Cincinnati. We have a very good track record of utilizing them here, if fact we are among the leading cities nation in use of historic tax credits.
We hope the 11 Most Endangered recognition will encourage the City of Cincinnati to adopt a preservation strategy toward the redevelopment of the Terrace Plaza. Supporting a historically based redevelopment, which brings substantial federal and state historic tax credits to the financing prior to any City incentives, is the responsible approach. And we would end up with an important, unique part of our history intact.
It is a difficult project but with a historic building as significant as the Terrace Plaza, it is worth the extra effort. We have done it before in Cincinnati and the results have made us one of the most desirable cities in the country. With public support for the, we can also do it with the Terrace Plaza. If you would like to help us with this effort, watch our website for updates.
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There is so much to share about Terrace Plaza, you could fill a museum! So we did just that. Check out our newly opened exhibition about the Terrace Plaza. For best viewing, try opening on a desktop computer as a mobile version is not available at this time.