Union Terminal in Cincinnati is one of those happy examples of a defunct historic building finding a new life. Rather than meeting with a wrecking ball, the art deco building now houses multiple museums and features a priceless Rookwood tiled ice cream parlor.
When Union Terminal first opened in 1933, it wasn’t so different from modern-day airports. The rail hub offered shopping, eateries, and even a barber shop. The beautiful cafe originally was a tea room, though it soon served as USO headquarters during WWII. It was covered in pastel tiles from the historic Cincinnati ceramic company, Rookwood, which also tiled New York’s subway stations. Rookwood’s founder, Maria Longworth Nichols Storer, modeled her first designs on Japanese pottery.
At first Union Terminal was a hub of activity, but when railroad travel waned in popularity in favor of air travel, Union Terminal was abandoned. In 1972, the terminal was closed. Today, it has been successfully operating as Cincinnati Museum Center for almost 25 years, and the Rookwood Ice Cream Parlor serves local favorite Graeter’s Ice Cream. Much of the shop has been modeled after the original cafe’s art deco style, with a retro illuminated clock and Formica™ top tables. From the tiles to the ice cream to the building itself, it’s all an immersive celebration of Cincinnati history.
Update September 2018: It will be reopening, under the management of SSA when the restoration of the terminal building completes in November.