We headed to the Cincinnati Museum Center last Saturday to take the free Rotunda Tour of Union Terminal. This 45 minute + tour is offered by volunteer docents and is one of the many Cincinnati Museum Heritage Program Tours.
We started off in the middle of the rotunda, right next to the admissions desk. David, our awesome tour guide, started the tour with a bit of background on Union Terminal (why it was constructed, who was behind it, how it was set up back in the day, etc.). He had large visual aids that he used to point out the layout and he also had images of what it looked like back then.
One of the coolest parts of the tour was the climb to the catwalk. The Rotunda Tour took us up a flight of steps and out onto the catwalk that runs above the entry doors. It was a view you can’t get on your own. The catwalk presents some amazing views of the Rotunda and the tile artwork that graces Union Terminal.
On the catwalk we learned the story behind the mosaics. We also learned about the construction and engineering behind the windows along the front of the building (think hot air rises). Remembering that air conditioning is NOT a thing of the past, this space depended upon these windows to let hot air out and cool air in to keep the temperature as comfortable as possible.
Our tour also took us behind the scenes and into what used to be the Union Terminals administrative offices. We started off with a walk through what used to be the receptionist’s area. The offices are in pristine condition and still have the original art deco touches like cork floors (for sound absorption - crucial in a large train station), ornate desks, aluminum trim, curved walls and doors, etc.
We proceeded from the receptionist’s area into the office of Union Terminal’s President’s office. This office space is incredible. The walls are curved (including the wood doors). The inlays are superb. The desk is original as is the lighting… and just about everything else in the room!
From there we proceeded into the conference room, which they still use today. This massive room includes seating along the wall with inset ashtrays and humidors for cigars. The massive table is gorgeous. These office spaces are a true gem in terms of art deco decor and architecture.
The tour took us into what used to be the Rookwood Tea Room, a true Rookwood masterpiece. The tile is all Rookwood and the tea room (now an ice cream parlor) is still in its original form. Our tour guide told us to re-create this room today it would cost approximately half a million dollars. Even the tables and chairs in this room are original.
There are more stops in the tour including the old dining rooms, the ladies’ restroom (true!) and the Amtrak train station (still in use today). In addition, after the tour you can take a walk up to Tower A to see what used to be the control tower for the incoming and outgoing trains.
The Rotunda Tour is held at Union Terminal (aka Cincinnati Museum Center) which is located at 1301 Western Avenue
Rotunda tours are free and currently happen on Saturdays at noon, 1.2.and 3pm and Sundays at 1,2, and 3pm (please check their site to confirm).
There is a fee to park at Union Terminal/Cincinnati Museum Center.