Monday, March 19, 2018

The Terrace Plaza | Part 2 - The Present

With a passing glance, the Terrace Plaza’s front entrance seems like any other urban hotel. There’s still quite a few cars parked under the awning, as if valet service is catering to a busy check in. On this day, there were plenty of guests inside, but they weren’t of the lodging variety.

- The tour group walking alongside one of the building's closed street level tenants.

This section of the Terrace Plaza series will recount a tour through the building, Part 1 highlighted the building's past and Part 3 discusses its future.

I was joining the second tour of the day with the Cincinnati Preservation Collective. An old Crowne Plaza doormat sat in front of an old podium as we crammed into the lower lobby. A few easels with copies of original blueprints gave everyone something to ponder while we excitedly waited for the tour to begin.

- Original blueprints on display.

Our guide, Andy, called everyone to attention in the cold, drafty room with exposed drywall and ripped up carpeting. He took us through some basic history, noted how the building was once so revered that it received attention from Time, LIFE, Harper’s, and Fortune. I’ve photographed a lot of forgotten and forlorn structures over the years. The tours that were done unofficially were often the most exciting, but even though I was at the Terrace Plaza that day with a tour group and permission, I found a similar excitement. To me, it seemed so surreal (and yet expected) that if a building like this would be left to rot, of course it would be in Cincinnati. We’ll fight over a redundant pedestrian bridge to a parking garage, but ignore an architectural icon.

Andy took us outside first. We stood on Sixth Street, facing the monotonous wall of brick and the shuttered, ground level Mediterranean restaurant. Looking straight up, you could see the edges of the Gourmet Room’s round facade. A woman passing on the street caught me at the tail end of the tour group and asked what we were all looking at. I pointed to the multiple stories of bricks across the way and then up to more interesting structure above. “I never knew that was there,” she said.

- Cincinnati's iconc Carew Tower as seen from behind the Terrace Plaza.

Our group rounded the corner and found our way to the back of the building. In a service area/alleyway between the Terrace Plaza and its neighbors, the sun shone bright despite the cold temperatures. Back here, the hotel could be more clearly seen, along with a direct view of the iconic Carew Tower. Andy pointed out the delivery/service areas hidden between the Plaza and its neighbors as we emerged on the other side of the block, marching past Batsake’s Hat Shop, the mainstay tenant of the hotel’s street level retail spaces.

- Alleyway connecting the Terrace Plaza's service area to Vine Street.

We were lead back inside and down a dark hallway to where three elevators once served “Terrace Office West,” the former department stores that later became an AT&T call center. 

Making our way back the lower lobby, small groups were ushered up the one working elevator to the hotel itself. I lingered at the back, snapping some photographs of the lower hallways/interior arcade.

- Hallway of the interior arcade that once connected the lower lobby with street level retailers.

When the elevator came to a halt and opened up, bright natural light shone in as I saw other tour-goers buzzing around. For a second, it felt like the lobby of an active hotel.

We listened to Andy and the other guides give some more historical information and then everyone wandered about. Despite the condition, the details of the hotel still remain ornate and beautiful, from the marble walls to the ornate tile floor to the simple handrails and the stylized Terrace Plaza, “TP,” logo emblazoned on the elevator doors in a shiny, metallic finish. An idle piano sits near windows lined with HVAC vents to keep them clear of condensation and preserve the dynamic views of the surrounding city.

- Elevators of the upper lobby.

- Decorative, metallic logos on the elevator doors.

- Vents lining the windows once kept the glass clear year round to preserve views of the cityscape.

- The northwestern side of Downtown Cincinnati as seen from the upper lobby windows.

- The former Skyline Dining Room.

Our group was split in two as we were lead through dark stairwells and into the former kitchen, once an elaborate system that served the hotel’s various eateries and room service operations. A few floors upwards and we were shown former rooms. Somewhat small by today’s standards, it’s not hard to envision them as fixed up and still offering a nice place to stay, some of them offering a great angle of the nearby Carew Tower.

A pool table sat in a former suite overlooking Sixth Street at the end of a floor that was filled with tour attendees popping in and out of rooms, all of whom seem to be in disbelief at how amazing the building seemed.

- Billiard supplies in a former suite.

We made our way back downstairs and into the large, open lobby surrounded by high glass windows and featuring prints of Phil’s work that showcase areas we wouldn’t have time to visit.

Through the doors, we stepped out onto the actual terrace. The roof was slippery and grimy, and the once manicured landscaping lining the area had been left to grow wild. Yet, even in a state of disrepair on a chilly December day, it’s not hard to envision what a great spot this would be to grab a drink and breathe in the city around you.

- The actual terrace of the Terrace Plaza hotel.

- The terrace offers a picturesque setting several stories above the ground, yet among several Downtown buildings.

- The Daniel Carter Beard "Big Mac" Bridge as seen between skyscrapers from the terrace.

Back to the express elevators, we were whisked in small groups to the top floor. Up here, the interior differs. Thanks to the Hilton group seeking a more French-influenced interior style to mirror the restaurant’s menu, the wood paneling and carpet somewhat clashes with the modern design of the rooms.

- Decorative elements left behind from the era when the Gourmet Room's modernist designs were replaced with a European inspired style.

A slight set of steps leads to a curved bar and a second set leads to the rounded glass and views of the intimate former Gourmet Room.

- Steps in the Gourmet Room.

- The bar area of the Gourmet Room with steps leading to the dining room.

Our hosts offered up mimosas and snacks as everyone chatted and took in the sights. For years, I had been catching glances of the “UFO-like” structure in the Downtown skyline; now I was in it, looking out and down at the city around me, a city whose momentum seems to be in flux and story still ongoing.

Standing in that room, you’re hopeful that the Terrace Plaza will still be part of that ongoing story.

- The main dining room of The Gourmet Room. Once a Mobil 5-Star rated restaurant, it was relegated to merely banquet space in later years.

- Looking out on the city from the inside of The Gourmet Room.
- View of the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood from The Gourmet Room.

- A plate from The Gourmet Room on display. Note how the logo stylistically ties into the elevator logos seen prior.

- The Gourmet Room's outdoor seating area as seen from within its windows.

We couldn’t step out onto the outside dining area up there, but we did get a chance to visit the rooftop area on the other side. Up there, we were walking across gravel, past a massive HVAC unit and a singular room jutting up from the roof. Apparently, this was once the head chef’s office.

I lingered back with Phil and Ryan as we made photographs and the tour group began heading down. We were the last few to catch an elevator back, shaking Andy’s hand, thanking him for the opportunity to see this place.

Back out on the street, it was a cold, albeit sunny, Saturday. This section of Downtown isn’t as busy as the areas two blocks over. It’s very quiet. Looking back up, it was hard to believe that everything we just saw is hidden behind stark, seemingly bleak brick walls. It’s sad that it has stayed hidden. That it hasn't been brought back to life like so many other spots in a city now embracing its past. The Terrace Plaza wouldn’t just be an attempt to revitalize another historic structure, it would be a completely unique offering, its modern aesthetic unlike any other place in the city and a gem among the Midwest.

Thankfully, there are people hoping to save it.

The story concludes in Part 3 with a look at a potential future.
Part 1 covers the building's rise and fall.


  • All photographs by Ronny Salerno for Queen City Discovery unless otherwise credited.
  • Editing by Andrea Ward.
  • My friend Ryan also shot his fair share of photographs within the building. They're great and you can check them out on his Flickr page.


  1. Wow! Those views of the city are amazing!

    1. I couldn't agree more, both the terrace and room above have a great view. It's definitely unique.

  2. My parents hung out at the Gourmet Room in the madmen era. I just wanted to let you know that there was a lounge that ran along the windows before you went up the stairs to the dining room. It was called the Panorama lounge. The tables and chairs ran along the windows and was sort of the waiting room for the dining room.

  3. Hey, thanks! I didn't realize that it was labeled as something else besides just The Gourmet Room. I'd kill to have a drink up there in a revitalized building.