Thursday, November 8, 2012

[Views of Cincinnati] Carew Tower Observation Deck

- Carew Tower observation deck in Cincinnati, OH.

The observation deck of the Carew Tower, the only one open to the public in Cincinnati, is vastly different than that of most major city tourist attractions. It served as the location for the five newest frames made in support of 224 Views of Cincinnati.

- Nov. 2010 photograph from the John Hancock Observation Deck in Chicago, Illinois.

My favorite building in Chicago is the John Hancock Tower. From below, the straight-forward and practical 1960's era architecture protrudes straight up in a mix of dark black lines. At the top is one of the best views of Chicago.

When you depart the elevator, you walk right into a gift shop with all the tourist traps - overpriced souvenirs, a snack bar, gimmick photo booth etc. Surrounding that tourist trap though are tall panes of glass that let you gaze out across the vast landscape of one of America's most impressive cityscapes. You can look out onto Lake Michigan, stare back into Chicago's skyline and downtown, look North at the neighborhoods or look west towards the industry and setting sun. The flat landscape of Chicago makes the sunset even more impressive than the mid-day view. One floor below, there's the "Signature Room" - affording the same views with fancy dining and tourists clamoring for a table.

- Hancock Tower Signature Room, Nov. 2011.

Across town there's the Sears Tower. Once the world's tallest building, it too offers its own observation deck and tourist attractions like glass ledges that you can stand out upon and look straight down.

- "The Ledge" atop Chicago's Sears Tower. August 2012.

In Cincinnati, only one skyscraper features an observation deck that is open to the public: The Carew Tower. Unlike its Chicago brethren, there's no downstairs waiting area or queue line. You simply walk into the building and ring for an elevator. While the Chicago towers will take you straight to the observation deck, Carew's elevator only gets you most of the way there. The last four floors you have an option: stairs or another elevator, except this elevator is incredibly tiny. Even if you opt for the second elevator, you still need to climb one flight of stairs to reach the peak.

At the top of the stairs is a tiny gift shop selling postcards and other knick knacks. You pay two dollars in cash to the attendant and then can walk straight out into the open air deck. There's no suicide fence like on the Empire State Building in New York or restaurant, gimmicks and glass lobbies like the buildings in Chicago. The small gift shop atop The Carew is like a remote outpost atop the urban landscape.

While no longer the city's tallest building, the newer Great American Tower doesn't feature any kind of observation deck, although the view there is quite incredible. The Carew still manages to tower over the city though and unlike Chicago, the nearby terrain is is varied and hilly. At the corners of the deck are four quarter powered telescopes.

On this particular day the wind was calm, the deck was empty aside from a few people coming up here and there. The city below is quiet, save from the sounds of a bus recording announcing an arrival at Government Square that gets whipped up in the wind to the top of the tower. The view, like Cincinnati's skyline is diverse. You can see into the suburban hills of Kentucky, down the Ohio River, into the corporate skyscrapers and beyond to the dense, urban neighborhoods. The view is one that showcases the big city feel of downtown Cincinnati with a postcard-ish small town vibe in the distance. The observation deck itself is peaceful, a nice escape from the regularity of life below.

#93 - Carew Outpost
An observation deck guest lines up a photograph with their cell phone looking to the west, while the sun casts a shadow on the outpost-like gift shop.

#94 - Midwestern Oligopolis
The Carew Tower casts a shadow on the Fifth Third Bank building on the left, while the city's other corporate towers take in the setting sun - the suburban landscape in the distance behind them.

In an August 2012 article from The Atlantic Cities entitled "What Your Skyline Says About Your City," the author lays out different categories of city skylines. In a category titled "Oligopolis," he defines these skylines as such:
"Found primarily in North America, the Oligopolis is marked by the clear dominance of a handful of prominent towers headquartering firms in the region’s key industries. A key feature of these cities’ downtowns is parking lots, a clear indication that CBD land isn’t exactly in high demand. Examples include Pittsburgh and Houston, where CBDs turn into ghost towns after the districts’ workforces have headed back to the ‘burbs for the evening."

The above photograph reminded me of the black & white ones I made from Chicago's John Hancock Tower in the Fall of 2010. Since Chicago would fit the author's category of a "Shock City" and Cincinnati that of an "Oligopolis," the title fits.

#95 - Untitled
Patterns of two office buildings in the Cincinnati skyline as seen from the Carew Tower.

#96 - Untitled
Tinted green window color and the warming of the sun on the side of this office building as seen from the Carew Tower.

#97 - Untitled
Cincinnati's Over-The-Rhine neighborhood seen in the distance behind two corporate towers in the foreground.

#98 - Quarters Only
One of the Carew Tower's telescopes with the city skyline beyond it. Photograph inspired by Reddit user "zerophaze."

For the rest of the photographs in the series, check out: 224 Views of Cincinnati.


  1. The deck doesn't get enough local respect in my opinion. Every time I'm up there, either I'm the only person there, or the only one from Cincy.

    1. I agree. A lot of times when I talk to people about it, they don't even know it exists. I wish they would do tours of it or set up something to really show it off - like some placards or photos that point out things of interest.

  2. That photo of OTR with the corporate office's in the foreground is an awesome photo! Great job!

    1. Thank you! I think that's one of my favorites in the series so far.

  3. G-DAMMIT!!
    Sometimes looking at your pictures I feel like I should just smash my camera and forget it.
    But I won't, I'll just try harder and keep admiring your work.

  4. You pretty much answered your own question about why more people don't know about the observation deck - because downtown is pretty much for workers during the day, and becomes a ghost town after work.

    Nobody wants to go down there. When I lived there, I used to take the family down there on Xmas Eve Day to see the Xmas trains at the power company. Then, we'd eat at Tower Place (gone now), go up to the observation deck, then head on home.

    Cincinnati reminds me of Toledo - a patch of land with a couple of high-rise buildings and that's pretty much all there is.

    1. I don't think you've been to downtown Cincinnati at night in the past few years. Hell, you can't find a restaurant in OTR that doesn't have a 90 minute wait on the weekends.

  5. Agreed. The revitalization of otr and art along with the banks on the riverfront have made downtown fashionable.