By 1985, with the mall concept not working, the City of Cincinnati, the owners of Union Terminal, began investigating alternative uses. The Union Terminal Association (UTA) formed in 1986 to help facilitate Union Terminal’s long term preservation and is made up of concerned community members, county, and city officials. The organization leased Union Terminal from the city and began the process of securing tenants for the building. One of the top-rated concepts for reuse as indentified in many studies had been a museum, and it was this strategy that UTA pursued. The UTA, the city, the Cincinnati Historical Society (CHS), and the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History (CMNH) came together to discuss the possibility of establishing a Heritage Center at Union Terminal.
Both CHS and CMNH had deep roots in the Cincinnati community. The historical society began as the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio, founded in 1831 in Columbus, OH. In 1849, the society moved to Cincinnati and eventually refocused its historical and collecting efforts on regional history. In 1963, the society changed its name to the Cincinnati Historical Society and continued to preserve the city’s rich and diverse history in their library collections.
The natural history museum can trace its roots to the Western Museum Society of 1819. The society’s focus on research and collecting was continued by the Western Academy of Natural Sciences of Cincinnati, founded in 1835, and the Cincinnati Society of Natural History, founded in 1870. In 1958, the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History moved from Central Parkway to Gilbert Avenue, where it was an important part of the Cincinnati community for many years.
Both organizations were interested in the Heritage Center concept, with CHS being interested in starting a museum and CMNH being interested in finding a new home since they had outgrown their facility on Gilbert Ave. The two organizations worked with the city and county to renovate Union Terminal into a multi-museum facility suitable for Cincinnati Museum Center. In 1986, Hamilton County approved Issue 3, a $33 million bond levy, to support the conversion of Union Terminal into a museum facility, which was passed by county voters in May of 1986. The State of Ohio and the City of Cincinnati also contributed $8 million and $3 million respectively to support the project. In addition, more than 3,000 Cincinnati individuals, corporations, and foundations also contributed to the building’s renovation.
The new facility opened in 1990 with the Cincinnati History Museum, Cincinnati Historical Society Library, Museum of Natural History and Science, and the Robert Lindner Family OMNIMAX® Theater. Amtrak also restored passenger rail service to Union Terminal in 1990 with the Cardinal Line, which runs between Chicago and Washington D.C. In 1997, the Cincinnati Children’s Museum joined Cincinnati Museum Center. Each of the museums offer fun and engaging activities, the OMNIMAX@ offers magnificent films on its mammoth five-story screen, and our collections departments continue to preserve, protect, and promote objects important to our mission. Cincinnati Museum Center also offers world-class changing exhibits which provide insight into many different subjects, including dinosaurs, ancient Egypt, Imperial Russia and human anatomy.
All of these things allow Cincinnati Museum Center to support the long term preservation and restoration of its home, Union Terminal. In 2004, Hamilton County residents again supported Union Terminal by passing a five year operating levy which helped to provide for the occupancy costs of Union Terminal and provided some funds for capital repairs. In 2009, Cincinnati Museum Center began Project One, a year-long restoration and stabilization of the Southwest wing of Union Terminal. This project, funded by public funds from the 2004 Levy and the State of Ohio, resulted in a comprehensive ground to roof restoration including structural, roof, and exterior masonry repairs, new windows and a new HVAC system, as well as the restoration of two historic spaces, the formal dining room and the three historic dining rooms used by train passengers and locals alike.
By the end of the project, both historic spaces had been brought back to their original splendor and the structural concerns had been addressed. This project has provided valuable insight into the cost and needs for a full restoration of Union Terminal. In 2009, Hamilton County residents approved an extension of the 2004 levy to continue to sustain Union Terminal. Today, Cincinnati Museum Center is one of the premier arts and cultural organizations in the city and is helping to guarantee the continued survival of one of Cincinnati’s gems, Cincinnati Union Terminal, along with assistance from City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
Image Captions: 1 Printed Works Collection, Ephemera Collection A post card issued by the Committee for the Heritage Center at Union Terminal for Issue 3, a bond issue to support the transformation of Union Terminal into a museum facility. Streetcar and Ice Age photos by Michael Keating; Woods photo by Todd Joyce; OMNIMAX Theater photo by Sarah Brancato. 2 Union Terminal Color Slide Collection This shows the Museum Center Foundation, Cincinnati Historical Society, and Museum of Natural History and Science directors at the grand opening of Cincinnati Museum Center in 1990. 3 Union Terminal Color Slide Collection With the vast space Union Terminal offered, many amazing exhibits were constructed to support the museums mission of education. Here we see the Public Landing exhibit under construction, as crews work to recreate a section of 1860s Cincinnati. 4 CMC Online Photo Archive The Cincinnati Children’s Museum joined Cincinnati Museum Center in 1998. 5 Scott Gampfer This shows the first floor hallway prior to restoration. This hall connects the historic dining rooms with the dining rooms below. 6 Scott Gampfer This is the hallway after restoration, just as it appeared in 1933 when the building opened. 7 Nick Massa Pierre Bourdelle painted five ceiling murals at Union Terminal. Here we see one of the three historic dining room murals undergoing a cleaning to remove years of cigarette smoke and dirt.