Union Terminal in Cincinnati is one of those happy examples of a defunct historic building finding new use. Rather than meeting with a wrecking ball, the art deco building now houses multiple museums– and features a priceless Rookwood tiled ice cream parlor. I’d seen the parlor pop up on a travel tv show ages ago, and had to stop by while I was in town. Take a look inside with me:
When the terminal first opened in 1933, this delightful space was a tea room, though it soon served as USO headquarters during WWII. In 1972, Union Terminal was shuttered, then re-born as a short-lived shopping center, during which time the tea room saw its first stint as an ice cream parlor. Today, the terminal has been successfully operating as Cincinnati Museum Center for almost 25 years, and the Rookwood Ice Cream Parlor serves local favorite Graeter’s Ice Cream.
(Apologies for the conspicuous lack of ice cream in the photos, I foolishly ate real food for breakfast, instead of waiting for an ice cream breakfast).
Rookwood Pottery was founded in Cincinnati in 1880 by the grand-daughter of a wealthy local businessman. Maria Longworth Nichols Store was inspired by Japanese pottery she saw at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Already an accomplished artist, her ceramics painting hobby became a full fledged business, employing 200 artisans.
The company added architectural pottery to their repertoire in 1902, and Rookwood tiles featured prominently in many Cincinnati homes and businesses. Rookwood also produced some pretty amazing large custom pieces, like the ram’s head fountain at the Netherland Plaza Hotel. The whimsical design of the tea room tiles is attributed to artist and Rookwood designer William E. Hentschel.
A couple historical photos of the tea room. As you can see, the furniture has gone through different iterations, but because the tiles have been so well preserved, the room hasn’t changed much:
You can find more vintage photos and info on Union Terminal here.
Thinking about visiting? While there is a charge for parking, you can visit the Rookwood Ice Cream Parlor without purchasing admission to the museums in Union Terminal. Just turn to the right after entering, and you’ll see the parlor sign along the wall.