Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Museum Center seeking expanded landmark status

The Cincinnati Museum Center announced an effort to expand the scope of Union Terminal's National Historic Landmark status at a press conference Saturday morning.

Timed to coincide with special Memorial Day weekend programming at the Cincinnati History Museum, the announcement of the expanded designation would recognize the building's contribution as an important home front location during World War II.

Union Terminal was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and was recognized as a National Historic Landmark for its art deco architecture in 1977.

"This building is our organization's most precious artifact," said Cincinnati Museum Center president and CEO Douglass W. McDonald. "With this effort, Museum Center is seeking to give proper recognition for Union Terminal and the role that it played for so many brave soldiers serving this country."

Throughout the war, Union Terminal served as a major transportation hub for military personnel and their families, increasing its passenger count three-fold between 1940 and 1944 and averaging more than 34,000 passengers a day at its height.

In 1941, Union Terminal's Rookwood Room became home to the first Troops in Transit lounge in the country, serving more than 3.3 military men and women during its five years of operation, checking more than 2.2 million pieces of luggage, sending out more than a million pieces of mail, and caring for more than 4,000 babies of service personnel.

Organized by representatives from the Travelers' Aid Society, Federation of Churches, the Catholic Women's Club and the Federation of Jewish Women's Organization, the lounge soon came under the operation of the USO.

"It was the women of Cincinnati who made this happen," said Cincinnati Historical Society Library director Ruby Rogers, who has assembled many of the artifacts detailing the wartime history of Union Terminal. "And remember that this was a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, so Cincinnati really was at the forefront."

In 1942, a "Quiet Room" was established with six screened cots to allow GI's a chance to rest in between train connections, and, later that year, an additional three rooms were added to provide a total of 52 cots.

In 1943, the station's balcony was converted into a lounge for women and children, caring for an average of 200 babies a month and furnished with couches, cribs, canned milk, strained foods, karo syrup, and diapers.

By 1944 and 1945, USO spaces at Union Terminal operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"It was an incredible job, and it shows what character these women of Cincinnati had, and what contributions they made," Rogers said. "They were the army behind the army."

The approximately 400 women who served at the lounge did everything from organizing, to hosting, to baking cookies.

"Now I know some people think baking cookies is not a big deal, but let me remind you that food was rationed during World War II," she said. "The basic ingredients of cookies – flour, sugar, eggs, milk, butter – when these women baked cookies and brought them to Union Terminal every month, it meant their families didn't have them. So the little things were important."

Unlike other USO facilities in Cincinnati and across the country, the lounge was not segregated.

"To me, one of the most significant things about the USO in Union Terminal is that it was integrated, unlike the U.S. military, and unlike other USO locations in Cincinnati and across most of the country," Rogers said. "We need to remember that."

Connie Pillich, state representative (D-28th) and United States Air Force veteran, sees the value in the Museum Center's effort.

"As a veteran of the United States military, I hold Memorial Day in a very special place in my heart," she said. "And the men and women who died for our country deserve all of the recognition we can give them and more."

To Pillich, the history and significance of the building is "immeasurable".

"Not just to the Tri-State, but to the entire country," she said. "Think of the memories that these halls hold. As we move forward in this process, I look forward to supporting the Cincinnati Museum Center and Union Terminal as much as I can, because the process of designating some place as a National Historic Landmark is extremely important, and I can't think of any place more deserving than this building right here."

McDonald said that the Cincinnati Museum Center intends to be successful in its effort.

"The Museum Center's always been proud to be in one of the few places that's a National Historic Landmark, but we really think it's important that we expand the designation," he said. "That it be known not only as a National Historic Landmark because of the marvelous architecture, but to be recognized as a National Historic Landmark because of the historic events and the unique role this building has played in the history of our community and our nation."

Previous reading on BC:
Inside Cincinnati Union Terminal (2/18/09)
Photos: Union Terminal turns 75 (4/4/08)