Carew Tower is the tallest building in Cincinnati, forty-nine stories tall in the heart of downtown, and a National Historic Landmark – listed on April 19, 1994. The building was designed by the architectural firm of Shreve, Lamb and Harmon Associates, the designers of the Empire State Building – but construction began in 1929, before the Empire State Building was conceived. This building served as the basis for the design of the larger Empire State Building – there's a reason and Shreve, Lamb and Harmon Associates was able to produce the building drawings for the Empire State thing in just two weeks. They used these plans – they just made the New York building twice as tall. As a kind of in-joke, back in the eighties, a giant inflatable gorilla, as in the King Kong movie, was attached to the upper floors.
But as construction began in September 1929, just one month before the stock market crash on October 24, work on the Carew Tower was scaled back from what they originally intended. The grand details - architectural motifs, friezes, and decorative metal – were stopped at the third floor, and plain bricks were used on the floors above. Times were hard.
It was ready in early 1931 – construction took thirteen months, working around the clock, twenty-four hours a day. And it cost thirty-three million dollars, in 1931 dollars.
These days it's mixed tenants – a shopping mall, the Netherland Plaza Hotel, and offices – but the Palm Court, the former lobby of the hotel, and now the restaurant, is described by the hotel as the "finest example of French Art Deco architecture in the world" – most of the decorative work had been created in France several years prior to construction and exhibited at the 1925 Exhibition of Decorative Art in Paris. And the whole place simply reeks of Jazz Age exuberance, and the Babbitt-like glorification of industry and progress.
All that came crashing down on October 24, 1929, when the markets crashed and the Great Depression got underway – but work had begun the month before, so they finished it pretty much as planned. It's a place of lost dreams, with sculpture on the exterior and interior of the building executed by New York architectural sculptor Rene Paul Chambellan, and gorgeous local Rookwood Pottery floral tile, and the art deco detailing straight from Paris.
This is what is left of the Jazz Age.