How Long Did It Take To Build That?

Over the weekend, we took my son and my 16-year-old (almost 17 years old, now) to visit the Hall of Justice.

All right, all right, I’m kidding.  Slightly. That building up there (which really was the inspiration for the Hall of Justice) is the Cincinnati Museum Center. It’s not quite as impressive as usual, because there’s a whole lot of internal and external renovations going on, but it’s still pretty cool.

“How long did it take to build that?” my niece asked.

“Two years!” my son declared.

“I don’t know,” I confess.

“Maybe forty years,” my niece suggests.

How long did it take?

Well, according to the Museum Center web site, construction started in August 1929 and was completed on March 31, 1933. So, about 3 and 1/2 years.

Well. That was short.

The construction time? Or the article?


Yeah, well, the building was built in the 20th century. As I pointed out to my niece when she guessed – half tongue-in-cheek – that it took 40 years, the building was originally designed to be a rail hub. They had ways to haul supplies and materials in, and things like cranes and bulldozers and the like. It wasn’t all teams of oxen dragging granite blocks and the like.

Rail hub?

The building that is now the Cincinnati Museum Center started out as Cincinnati Union Terminal. See, as Ohio History Central explains, Cincinnati was linked to “a number of other major cities through its rail lines, but the original system had not been well-coordinated. Trains ran through several different railroad stations around the city. In the early 1900s, railroad companies began developing plans for a single railroad terminal that would provide service for all passenger and freight lines entering the city. It was not until the late 1920s that construction actually began on the project, which became known as Union Terminal.”

The Union Terminal complex, at its height, took up 287 square miles acres and had 94 miles of track – some of which you can still see if you visit today. It was designed to handle a lot of traffic. See the way that the building rises up in a hemisphere in the center? That facade covers a half-dome that, when it was built, was the largest half-dome in the world (and is still the largest in the western hemisphere). The terminal could handle 108 arriving and 108 departing trains a day, and was designed to accommodate as many as 17,000 people (although it hit over 20,000 during World War II, when soldiers passed through on the way to their posts).

Union Terminal operated from 1931 to 1972, when it finally closed for business. The city of Cincinnati purchased the site in 1974. In 1979, the Joseph Skilken Organization converted it into a mall, which opened with 40 tenants on August 4, 1980. The mall failed and closed officially in 1984, although a single store (Loehmann’s) continued in operation there until 1985 and a weekend flea market operated on the site for several years.

In 1986, a Hamilton County bond levy was passed to fund renovation of the site and to convert it into a museum. Four years later, in November 1990, the terminal reopened as the Cincinnati Musuem Center. The next year, it also began serving as Union Terminal once more. Amtrak began thrice-weekly passenger train runs on July 29, 1991.

So, how long did it take?

It depends, ultimately, on what you’re looking at. It took three and a half years to build the original Union Terminal facility. Turning it into a mall took 23 months, and turning it into the Cincinnati Museum Center took four and a half years.