Cincinnati's Terrace Plaza Hotel Is One of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Constructed in 1948, the Plaza was the first International Style hotel to be built in the United States, with a majority of the design work completed by a 24-year-old female architect, Natalie de Blois.

click to enlarge PHOTO: NICK SWARTSELL
Photo: Nick Swartsell

Downtown Cincinnati's Terrace Plaza Hotel has been placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of the 11 most endangered historic places in America

"The Terrace Plaza is an architecturally innovative building that helps tell the story of ground-breaking female architects like Natalie de Blois, who was a key part of the International Style building’s design," said Katherine Malone-France, Chief Preservation Officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Often overlooked, her story and so many others are among those the National Trust is seeking to highlight through our Where Women Made History campaign. Reuse of the Terrace Plaza would honor those achievements while providing economic benefits for downtown Cincinnati.”

According to the National Trust, "Each year, America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places sheds light on important examples of our nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. More than 300 places have been listed in its 33-year history, and in that time, fewer than 5% of listed sites have been lost."

Constructed in 1948, the Plaza was the first International Style hotel to be built in the United States and was one of the first hotel construction projects launched after World War II. Its prominent place at 15 W. Sixth St. downtown and its innovative interior and exterior design belied Cincinnati's conservative reputation at the time.

Filled with Modernist art, futuristic features like push-button elevators, a television in every room, guest-operated climate control and a distinctive eighth-floor terrace supported by a block-long, windowless facade that housed department stores, the building was a premonition of the coming sleek aesthetics of the 1950s and beyond. What's more, the majority of the design work was completed by a 24-year-old female architect, the aforementioned Natalie de Blois, who launched her career working for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, now a major architectural firm, on its first hotel project.

But the 20-story structure has been largely vacant for more than a decade, save ground-floor retailers like Batsakes Hat Shop. There are numerous structural and aesthetic fixes that need to be made — boarded-up windows need to be replaced, plants are growing from the structure, key operational components are missing from the building and more.

“Redevelopment of the Terrace Plaza is a challenge, but in Cincinnati there is a great track record of caring for our historic treasurers," says the Cincinnati Preservation Association's Executive Director Paul Muller. "We hope the '11 Most Endangered' recognition will help us let people know about the historic role the Terrace Plaza played in the emergence of modernism in post-war America.

"We encourage the City to promote responsible redevelopment of the Terrace Plaza that includes its historic features. The City can make it clear to developers that the historic aspects of the building are important and should be part of redevelopment plans." 

In January 2019, Cincinnati City Councilmember David Mann filed an application with the city's Historic Conservation Board seeking to make the Terrace Plaza Hotel a local historic landmark, a move that could provide more protections as developers eye redevelopment of the Modernist building.

The CPA says that designation is pending further action.

In March 2019, the building's owners, JNY Capital, said they want to return the towering structure on Sixth and Vine to its former glory — including revived rooftop terraces, glass-walled Gourmet Room restaurant and other features — and have enlisted original architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to help. 

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