I. History and significance
The Terrace Plaza Hotel (its original name) is the most important Modernist building in Cincinnati and is of national and even international significance. Designed in 1945-46 in the New York office of the renowned Modernist architectural firm 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 and receive national attention. So advanced were its design, aesthetics, and technology that it was jokingly called “the pushbutton palace.” It 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 of its day.
Developer John J. Emery, Jr. commissioned SOM for their Modernism and because he felt their lack of hotel experience would generate new ideas. The site was a challenging 90’ deep x 400’ long. SOM responded with a narrow, twenty-story steel frame skyscraper clad in a thin veneer of brick with vertically-aligned joints. A seven-story base contained two department stores, Bond and JC Penney, both opening at street level through continuously-glazed windows; those of the Bond store were two stories in height. Above rose five stories of blank brick. Some office space was included above the Bond store. At the eighth floor, the hotel - a slender, setback slab - rose an additional eleven stories from a landscaped roof terrace, floating serenely above the street noise below. This revolutionary urban form, a vertical slab atop a horizontal terrace-base, with a mixed-use program, echoed the Emerys’ previous Carew Tower-Netherland Plaza Hotel complex of 1929-31, and forecast some of SOM’s most famous buildings, such as Lever House, in New York, of 1950-52.
The first fully-automated elevators in any American skyscraper whisked guests from the street-level vestibule to the eighth-floor hotel lobby. Four restaurants served an increasingly stratified clientele. The Plaza Cafeteria occupied the basement. The eighth floor had two restaurants: the Skyline Restaurant and the Terrace Café, a smaller restaurant and bar adjacent to the outdoor terrace, served primarily hotel guests. At the hotel’s rooftop, the more exclusive Gourmet Room, a faceted cylinder of glass and steel, cantilevered over the edge of its own small terrace.
Emery commissioned modern artists to adorn the interiors. The Gourmet Room received a curving, 30-foot mural by Joan Miró; the Skyline Restaurant contained a satirical mural of the Cincinnati cityscape by New York artist Saul Steinberg; a multicolored, plexiglass wall sculpture by Jim Davis hung behind the Terrace Café bar; while a mobile by Alexander Calder enlivened the eighth-floor hotel lobby. It was one of the most successful art and architectural collaborations of any Modernist building.
SOM’s design team included Louis Skidmore (from nearby Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and a graduate of the University of Cincinnati) with William Hartman as project manager. Because SOM’s key designer, Gordon Bunshaft, was away in WWII, much of the building’s design fell to Natalie DeBlois, a rare woman Modernist architect, trained at Columbia University while so many men were at war. She also did much of the interior design, assisted by Phyllis Hoffseimer. Other designers such as Benjamin Baldwin, Ward Bennett, Davis Allen, and others eventually helped to complete the interiors. They designed furniture, textiles, staff uniforms, tableware, graphics, and even ashtrays and matchbook covers. Morris Lapidus, a controversial architect later famous for his extravagant hotels (such as the Fontainbleu in Miami), designed the Bond department store interiors.
On the cover: Detail of brick on exterior of building. Photograph by Shawn Patrick Tubb; Previous page: Gourmet Room restaurant, Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH, with mural by Joan Miró (circa 1948). Photograph by Ezra Stoller / Esto;
Above: Terrace Plaza Hotel, corner of Vine and 6th Streets, Cincinnati, OH (circa 1948). Photograph by Ezra Stoller / Esto
Axonometric drawing of Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH, illustrating street-level entry, 8th floor hotel lobby, restaurants and terrace, and rooftop terrace and Gourmet Room restaurant. Drawing, collection of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Architects, New York.
From top to bottom: Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH, entry on 6th Street (circa 1948). Photograph by Ezra Stoller / Esto; Terrace Plaza Hotel entry on 6th Street (circa 1948). Photograph by Ezra Stoller / Esto.
Lobby on 8th floor of Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH, with original furnishings and mobile by Alexander Calder (circa 1948). Photograph by Ezra Stoller / Esto; (inset) Postcard of Calder mobile, ca. 1948.
Counter-clockwise from upper right: Skyline Restaurant, on 8th floor of Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH (circa 1948), with mural by Saul Steinberg. Photograph by Ezra Stoller / Esto; Detail of Steinberg mural; Floor plan of 8th floor of Terrace Plaza Hotel with lobby, Skyline Restaurant, terrace, etc., and diagram of terrace lighting and sketch of Steinberg mural. Drawing, collection of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Architects, New York.
Counter-clockwise from upper left: View of hotel room; View of same hotel room with wall raised in to ceiling to create suite; View of bathroom with glass wall - all Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH, circa 1948. Photographs by Ezra Stoller / Esto; Floor plans for 19th floor (originally apartment-style level) and typical of 9th through 18th floors (hotel floors), Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH. Drawings, collection of SOM, New York.
From top to bottom: Sub-basement level loading dock, Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH. Photograph by Ezra Stoller / Esto; Eighth floor kitchen, Terrace Plaza Hotel (circa 1948). Photograph by Ezra Stoller / Esto.
Counter-clockwise from top: Original floor plan of 20th-floor Gourmet Room restaurant, kitchen and terrace, Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH. Drawing, collection of SOM, New York; View of cantilevered Gourmet Room restaurant and terrace; Night view of Gourmet Room restaurant from exterior - both Terrace Plaza Hotel (circa 1948). Photographs by Ezra Stoller / Esto.
Clockwise from upper left: View of Gourmet Room restaurant, showing custom-designed furniture and panoramic views; View of Gourmet Room restaurant, showing Miró mural and diners - both 20th floor of Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH (circa 1948). Photographs by Ezra Stoller / Esto; Postcard of Joan Miró mural, circa 1948.
II. Existing Conditions
The Emerys sold the hotel to the Hilton chain in 1965. The two-story, street-level Bond’s department store windows were reduced to one story; the entrance on Sixth Street was altered to create a drive-through entrance; the Miró, Steinberg and Calder artworks went to the Cincinnat Art Museum and numerous other interior changes have occurred. Despite these, the Terrace Plaza remains one of the most significant buildings of the mid-20th-century and many original interior materials and detailing remains, such as entire walls of beautiful marble veneer, stainless steel-clad columns, woodwork, railings, balustrades, ceiling canopies, light fixtures, etc. Many of the original spaces are eminently restorable and there are 360 occupiable hotel rooms and roughly 250,000 of rentable square footage in the lower seven stories. There are currently several ground-floor tenants, including a hat shop, clothing retailer and a convenience store. The hotel is currently in operating condition, but is in need of significant rehabilitation efforts.
Terrace Plaza Hotel, corner of Vine and 6th Streets, Cincinnati, OH (circa October 2008). Photograph by Shawn Patrick Tubb.
Site plan of Terrace Plaza (in red) and surrounding context in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio.
Counter-clockwise from upper left: View of carport along Sixth Street; Street-level hotel lobby; Typical retail block converted office floor; View of west and south elevations; View south from Sixth and Vine Streets, showing hotel on right - all Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH (circa October 2008). Photographs by Shawn Patrick Tubb.
Counter-clockwise from upper left: 8th-floor terrace, facing southeast; Former lounge area near 8th-floor Skyline Restaurant, showing original marble wall and stainless steel-clad columns; 8th-floor Skyline Restaurant, showing original stainless streel-clad columns and railings; 8th-floor elevator lobby, showing original marble wall and elevator doors - all Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH (circa October 2008). Photographs by Shawn Patrick Tubb.
Clockwise from upper left: View of 11th-floor hotel room corridor; View of roof penthouse, facing east; View of Gourmet Room, showing 1960s-era renovations - all Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH (circa October 2008). Photographs by Shawn Patrick Tubb.
First Floor Plan
Seventh Floor Plan (typical floors 2-7)
Eighth Floor Plan
Ninth Floor Plan (typical floors 9-19).
Twentieth Floor Plan
Cincinnati, Ohio is a mid-sized, Midwestern city with a metropolitan population of approximately 2.2 million. Downtown Cincinnati is the geographic and cultural heart of the region. With several Fortune 500 companies and a growing residential population, downtown has been revitalizing and reinventing itself for the new century. The adjacent Fountain Square District and Backstage District have been undergoing major investments and renovations - drawings hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area each year.
Within a few blocks of the Terrace Plaza are located cultural and civic icons such as Fountain Square, the Aronoff Center for the Performing Arts, the Contemporary Arts Center, the Duke Energy Convention Center, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and dozens of other amenities.
Downtown Cincinnati has several hotels providing nearly 3000 guest rooms. Rates range from $89 to $209 per night with the median cost for a 3-star hotel at $109. Downtown department stores include Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as many boutique retailers.
Potential uses for the former retail block of the building could include: department store or other retail, supermarket, cinemas, entertainment, and dining. The 350-room hotel block could be easily rehabilitated as a hotel or could be converted to apartments or condominiums. The restaurant spaces could feasibly be reopened for dining, or could be reused as amenity space, nightclubs or other functions.
From top to bottom: View from Fountain Square, showing upper floors of hotel at upper right; View of east elevation from Vine Street - both Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH (circa October 2008). Photographs by Shawn Patrick Tubb.
OVERVIEW OF DEVELOPMENT INCENTIVES:
Terrace Plaza Hotel Renovation
National Register of Historic Places
The Register is the nation’s official listing of sites important in local, state and national history. Listing confers prestige and is an official recognition of the building’s significance. Federal and state tax incentives are available for rehabilitation of income-producing historic buildings listed in Register.
• Prepare nomination
• Present completed application to state and local review boards
Historic Preservation Easement
Preservation easements provide permanent protection for historic properties. By donating an easement, an owner gives the easement-holder (CPA or another organization) the right to prevent all present and future owners from making changes to a historic property that would destroy its historic character, while still retaining other rights of ownership. If the building is listed in the National Register, the value of the easement can then be used as a charitable deduction.
• Prepare easement document and all accompanying documentation
• Monitor easement
Federal Rehabilitation Tax Incentives
For substantial rehabilitation of income-producing historic buildings. The owner can deduct 20% of qualified rehabilitation expenses from federal taxes. Work must meet stringent preservation standards and be approved by both Ohio Historic Preservation Office and National Park Service.
Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit
For substantial rehabilitation of income-producing historic buildings. The owner can deduct 25% of qualified rehabilitation expenses from state taxes, with an application cap of $5M. The work must meet stringent preservation standards and be approved by Ohio Historic Preservation Office.
The enabling legislation has established funding for two future rounds for fiscal year 2010 (July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2010) and fiscal year 2011 (July 1, 2010 – June 30, 2011) where a minimum of $15 million dollars in tax credits will be available.
• Prepare three-part federal and state tax credit applications
• As part of team, provide input to developer, architect and contractor on meeting preservation standards
• Act as liaison with Ohio Historic Preservation Office
Federal New Markets Tax Credits
The New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) program promotes private investment in underserved areas. Taxpayers who make investments in Community Development Entities (CDEs) can receive a tax credit worth 39 percent of the initial investment, distributed over 7 years, along with any anticipated return on their investment in the CDE.
City of Cincinnati Commercial Tax Abatement
The City of Cincinnati Department of Community Development’s Community Reinvestment Area Commercial Tax Abatement Program encourages rehabilitation and new construction through property tax incentives. Property tax abatement is available for any increased valuation that results from the improvements to the property for both new construction and renovation. Multi-unit residential (4 or more units), mixed-use, commercial, and industrial structures are eligible based on the project and an agreement that must be executed between the property owner and the City of Cincinnati Department of Community Development.
The Commercial/Industrial abatement period for renovation is 12 years. It is a net 75% abatement after execution of the school board agreement. A minimum of $40,000 in costs is required.
City of Cincinnati LEED Incentives
The City offers property tax incentives to encourage new construction and rehabilitation of commercial and multi-unit residential properties that meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. Commercial LEED projects do not have to demonstrate financial need to be approved for the tax abatement. There is no cap on the maximum market value eligible for abatement, though the percentage and term of abatement on improvements proposed varies depending on need and LEED costs.
City of Cincinnati Tax Increment Financing
Tax Increment Financing (TIF) defrays the cost of the City being involved in a development project by redirecting payment of property taxes in the amount of the value of new improvements. The land must be owned by the City and the investments must have a public purpose. TIF financing permits development activities to move forward by providing a reliable revenue stream for the repayment of the City’s initial investment in land assembly and/or public improvements.
For more information about Federal New Market Tax Credits, Commercial Tax Abatement, LEED incentives or Tax Increment Financing, contact the City’s Economic Development Department at 513-352-2499 or visit: http://www.cincinnati-oh.gov/cdap/pages/-3479
The Netherland Plaza Hotel (now owned by Hilton Hotels), built 1929-31 as part of Carew Tower project by Thomas Emery’s Sons - considered one of the first mixed-use, “city within a building” concepts in the U.S. Located just one block south of the Terrace Plaza Hotel, the Netherland Plaza Hotel was restored in the 1980s and listed on the National Register in 1994. Currently it is one of the most popular hotels and beloved buildings in Cincinnati for its rich history and lavish Art Deco interiors.
From top to bottom: Northwest corner of Netherland Plaza at Race and Fifth Streets; interior of former hotel lobby, now Palm Court Restaurant. Photographs from web used without permission.
The Cincinnati Preservation Association hopes to assist in locating potential sympathetic developers for the Terrace Plaza Hotel and to help in planning sensitive and economically-feasible adaptive uses for the building and its multiple spaces.
The CPA desires that certain key spaces might, if possible, undergo full or partial restoration, consistent with possible new functions.
The CPA will assist any interested developer(s) in any way feasible.
More information is available on request.
Bobbie McTurner, Executive Director
Cincinnati Preservation Association
342 West Fourth Street
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
Terrace Plaza Hotel, corner of Vine and 6th Streets, Cincinnati, OH (circa 1948). Photograph by Ezra Stoller / Esto.