Friday, October 1, 2010

The Rise of an Icon.

In July 2008, the second phase of Queen City Square began construction. Phase II, dubbed the "Great American Tower" (after primary tenant Great American Insurance) would eventually come to be a 41 floor office tower topped with a "tiara" inspired after the late Princess Diana's, a tribute to Cincinnati's nickname of the "Queen City." The first Cincinnati skyscraper to be constructed in the past two decades would continue to rise despite the onset of the "Great Recession" while other major construction projects in nearby Kenwood became rusty hulks on the suburban skyline. A new icon was rising in Cincinnati.

- The view of downtown Cincinnati from atop Great American Tower at Queen City Square.

The idea for a skyscraper at Great American Tower's location had long been a dream, but serious planning didn't begin until 2002, nearly 70 years after the American skyscraper boom that saw the construction of buildings like the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building and Cincinnati's own Carew Tower.

- An early conceptual image of the building from 2002.

Realizing that I might not have much of a chance to photograph the construction of a skyscraper in my home town again anytime soon, I searched for an opportunity to be able to photograph this one. I pitched an idea to my friends at the Cincinnati Business Courier who enthusiastically supported it. Thanks to them and the kindness of the folks at Western & Southern, I was able to photograph the construction from top to bottom this summer. The photos originally appeared in a full page layout of the Courier, accompanied with an article by Dan Monk.

- November 2008 photograph of the construction process. Taken while flying with a friend.

The construction of skyscrapers had become a symbol of Americana as the country surged out of the roaring 20's and into the Great Depression. No one captured this better than photographers Lewis Hine and Charles Ebbets. I wanted to convey a similar emotion with my photographs of Great American Tower, hence the black and white theme and placement of subjects in certain compositions.

- Lewis Hine photograph showing the construction of the Empire State Building.

On a gorgeous Friday morning I was running late and realized I had no quarters for the meter as I got out of my car. Who cared? I was about to photograph the construction of a skyscraper. I met fellow photographer and friend Jake Mecklenborg and Jose, a representative of Western and Southern financial group who would be leading our tour. With hard hats and goggles on, we boarded the outer construction elevator and found ourselves on the way to the top of the tallest building in Cincinnati.

- Workers placing beams for the "tiara" top of the tower.

- Workers bolting pieces of the "tiara" into place.

- Jose Marques of Western and Southern Financial group viewing the tower construction.

- A workman applies touch up paint to the "tiara."

- View from inside the "tiara" during construction.

The rest of the photographs can be seen here in an interactive slide show at the bottom of this article. It features an audio interview I conducted with Mario San Marco of Eagle Realty Group, the firm in charge of leasing out the office space in Great American Tower. In the interview, San Marco lays out why a skyscraper is more than just an office building:
"...development of an architectural landmark to have a prominent place in the city skyline and become an image in which all citizens are proud.

Just as Cincinnati built the Carew Tower during the "Great Depression," Great American Tower rose during the "Great Recession." The spirit of unique American ingenuity and a new symbol for the city, Great American Tower has become the Rise of an Icon.

Updates | Oct. 18, 2017:
  • The slideshow at the end of the article is no longer hosted. 
  • Great American Tower is still the tallest building in the city with no contenders on the horizon or any plans for an observation deck. 


  1. Terrific work Ronny...really well done.

  2. That's really cool. I'm jealous. Did you get to ride the crane?

  3. Thanks Randy, glad you liked it!

    Quim, unfortunately no. We took the work elevator that used to be on the outside on the ballpark side.