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Postcards from the 48½th floor

2005.08.19 — Culture | Postcards | Travel | by Derek Jensen

Carew Tower

Carew Tower. (hi res)

The tallest building in Cincinnati is Carew Tower, the 49-story skyscraper built during the Great Depression. On that 49th floor, there is an observation deck that allows you to look out on the city in all directions. I knew the view would be pretty spectacular, so when I learned about it, I made plans to go there one afternoon when the sun was shining. With the weather this summer, that turned out to be the hard part.


To get to the observation deck, you have to go thru the shopping mall on the lower floors and take an elevator to the 45th floor, the top full story. Then you get in a tiny shower-stall-like elevator to go up to the 48th floor, the top partial story.


Finally, you walk up a stairwell and go thru a door that opens into the "49th floor," which is actually a small room that contains only a cashier's counter and a display case of Cincinnati memorabilia that you could have bought in the mall ten minutes ago.


Fifth Third Bank headquarters

Fifth Third Bank headquarters. (hi res)

A surly woman who seems only vaguely surprised to see you will say only "Two dollars." It's hard to imagine that she gets many visitors in a day, this woman who sits in the highest office chair in Cincinnati, and apparently she likes it that way.


Oddly, in spite of the fact that her office potentially has the best view in the city, her "floor" has no windows but the small porthole in the door to the observation deck. Once you go out on the observation deck, she can't see anything you're doing, so if you're looking for a place to join the Half-Mile High Club....


Cincinnati to the north

View to the north, with the Federated Department Stores, Kroger, and Convergys headquarters buildings.
(hi res)

The first thing that strikes you about the view are the other, lesser skyscrapers of Cincinnati. Several major corporations have their headquarters in the city, and those buildings dominate the skyline. Oddly, Carew Tower itself is not a headquarters building; it's occupied by a variety of companies, plus the shopping mall in its lower levels.


The most prominent is the Fifth Third Bank headquarters building, a 32-story slab tower without much character. It's a good-looking building by 1960s' architectural standards, but that ain't sayin' much. It's the highway patrol car of skyscrapers. It and its attendant buildings surround Fountain Square in what they call "Fifth Third Center," which is an even dumber name than "Fifth Third Bank."


Kroger headquarters

The Kroger headquarters. (hi res)

The Federated Department Stores headquarters building is a squat, white box with a reasonable amount of style for its 21 stories. Federated owns Macy's and Bloomingdale's, and there's a nice Macy's store in town that I got kicked out of for taking pictures of Fountain Square.


The Kroger headquarters building is another slab tower, but since it's only 25 stories tall, it looks like cereal box. It has a nice plaza in front of it, which is more than I can say for a lot of skyscrapers.


Cincinnati to the northwest

View to the northwest. (hi res)

The Convergys headquarters building has some color and style, with cutaways and beveled corners. But there's something about it that says, "Hell yes I was built in the 80s. Duran Duran rocks!"


There is also a good view of the 26-story US Bank headquarters building, but it has a similar look of trying to hard to be subtle about not wanting to look plain. US Bank also owns the naming rights to the hockey rink, the US Bank Arena, formerly Riverfront Coliseum, site of the 1979 Who concert tragedy.


Notre Dame stadium

Paul Brown Stadium, to the southeast.
(hi res)

On the south side of the observation deck, there is a great view of Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals play. I imagine this would look spectacular at night during a game, but the Carew Tower observation deck is only open until 5:30, when the surly attendant goes home to her basement apartment.


There's also a good view of the highway tangle on Cincy's southeast side. It actually seems to be a pretty good traffic artery, altho it cuts off the downtown area from the riverfront. A new park is being built in what is now a parking lot between the football stadium and the baseball stadium, so maybe the highways will be included in the beautification project.


Notre Dame stadium

The arch bridge to the southwest. This photo was taken from the roof a parking garage a couple of blocks closer.(hi res)

Cincinnati has several bridges in close proximity across the Ohio River. The most famous is the Roebling Suspension Bridge, which I've taken a number of pictures of. From the observation deck, that one is obscured by Scripps Center, which doesn't look as cool from the back as it does from the front.


Others are plain truss bridges that carry car or train traffic, but one is a bright yellow arch bridge that has a lot of character. It's visible from the observation deck, but it's pretty far away, so the pic included here was taken from a parking garage roof.


More postcards from Cincinnati....


f e e d b a c k

Steponavich writes:

Nice.... what's bigger cincys skyline or Clevelands?

Derek writes:

Thanks for the inquiry! It’s a good question. I haven’t spent much time in downtown Cleveland, but Cleveland is a bigger city, with about half a million people to Cincy’s 330,000. Cleveland’s tallest building is a musch taller (57 stories to 49 stories) than Cincy’s, but I certainly think Cincinnati’s skyline is more dramatic.

Judge for yourself:




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