© 2022 Cincinnati Public Radio
Connecting You to a World of Ideas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Cincinnati Museum Center Launches Union Terminal Restoration

Tana Weingartner
Construction is already underway but an official ground breaking was held Thursday.

Fences and scaffolding are going up outside and inside the Cincinnati Museum Center as construction has officially begun on the Union Terminal restoration.

"Together we will restore a building that saw too many final farewells as soldiers shipped out to battle, but even more joyous reunions following World War II and the Korean War," said CEO Elizabeth Pierce during a ceremonial ground breaking. "We are going to fix an institution that has been home to inspiring curiosity and igniting a passion for knowledge in more than 18 million children and adults for over 25 years. We will repair the Hall of Justice. We will fix and preserve Union Terminal."

Hamilton County Commission President Chris Monzel was also on hand to say the county is overseeing the project "to ensure that the structural work to the building is going to be completed on time and within budget." The Board of Commissioners approved the levy request proposal to raise funds for the repairs. Taxpayers agreed to the five-year, quarter cent sales tax in November 2014.

The $212 million project is slated to wrap up in Fall 2018. The Natural History Museum and the Cincinnati History Museum will be closed during the two-year project. The Children's Museum and special exhibit space will remain open during construction.

We will repair the Hall of Justice. We will fix and preserve Union Terminal.

Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
Scaffolding is going up inside the rotunda for the Cincinnati Museum Center's temporary lobby during construction.

The Cornerstone Trowel And The Keystone Key

Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

During the ceremony, Pierce held up a silver trowel. "In 1931 they used that trowel to put the cornerstone in place for this building."

Curator of History Collections and Fine Art David Conzett says Cincinnati Mayor Russell Wilson used the trowel ceremonially (at left) on November 20, 1931 to set the building's cornerstone.

"It's more of a piece of jewelry than it is a trowel," says Conzett. "It was actually made by the Herschede Jewelry Company here in town and it's sterling silver with an ivory handle."

Conzett calls the trowel a hidden treasure, adding it can be seen at the Geyer Collections Facility.

Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

The Museum Center also has an engraved gold keystone and gold key dating back to the building's opening.

"This was presented in March 1933 when they opened the building," says Conzett. While this is the only keystone and key in the museum's collection, Conzett says he's hoping there are others still around since they were presented to all the architects and project leaders at the time.

Does the key still fit a lock at the building? "I have no idea," he laughs. "I'm  not sure if it actually fits a door in the building or not. And so many of the locks have been changed since 1933. I don't know that it would hold up very well. It looks like it's gold wash."

Upcoming Work

The first step in any construction project is to secure the site and ensure the safety of all workers and visitors. Crews will begin to construct fencing around the exterior of the building. This will necessitate a change in the traffic pattern for drop off at the front of the building. Vehicles will not be able to access the main entrance but may drop off guests at the base of the fountain before parking in the north lot. Many of the artifacts, scientific specimens and exhibits have been moved out of the Museum of Natural History & Science and Cincinnati History Museum but some larger pieces were unable to be moved. Construction will start on shelters to protect areas like the Cave and Cincinnati in Motion during the restoration project. A temporary lobby will be constructed in the Rotunda to allow visitor access while the building undergoes restoration. Scaffolding will form a framework for the lobby before walls and a ceiling are added. Cranes will move into place at the rear of the building as scaffolding systems are erected to allow crews to safely move from roof level to roof level on the exterior of the building. Scaffolding will begin to crisscross the front of Union Terminal as crews begin the process of restoring the limestone. Those black streaks you see on the limestone aren’t dirt. They’re actually gypsum, a new mineral formed by a chemical reaction as acid in rain water reacts with the limestone. It’ll take a similar chemical reaction to remove it.

What To Expect If You Visit

The front entrance drop off zone will be reconfigured at the beginning of the month due to scaffolding on the exterior of the building. Once that is complete, you will not be able to drop off or pick up at the front of the building. The new drop off and pick up zone will be at the bottom of the fountain. This area will not be covered but the walkway along the building on the north side will be covered. The parking lot on the north side of the building will still be available for guest parking. There will be new handicapped spots in this lot. The temporary lobby scaffolding will start going up mid-July. You will still be able to see the Rotunda for a period of time but will not be able to leave the carpeted area in the front of the Rotunda. You will still purchase your tickets at our box office in the same location. Due to the temporary lobby scaffolding, there will not be access to restrooms on the main floor. Restrooms will still be available in the Duke Energy Children’s Museum and outside the entrance of the Special Exhibit Gallery. Both the escalators and large elevator that lead down to the Duke Energy Children’s Museum and Special Exhibit Gallery will continue to be available for guests. We will still have wheelchairs and strollers available for rent. There will be food service available on the lower level with limited grab-and-go options starting July 5. We will continue to have retail available in the Special Exhibit Gallery that is in conjunction with the content of Da Vinci – The Genius. There will be no retail available on the main level. Public safety and first aid will continue to be available on main level. This will continue to serve as our lost and found as well.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.