In its earliest years, Cleveland did not even have a skyline. Though the original surveying party laid out Public Square and the early street grid, the city’s first settler, Lorenzo Carter, instead chose to build his cabin along the bank of the Cuyahoga River below the plateau that was to eventually become ‘downtown’. Soon, however, structures were being constructed about Public Square and throughout the growing village.
After the completion of the Ohio and Erie Canal in 1832, the community grew rapidly, incorporating as a city in 1836. The growing city’s wealth was founded on industries fed by river, lake, canal and rail traffic — warehousing, shipping, ore, coal, manufacturing, steel, and automobiles. By 1889, the Society for Savings Building became the city’s tallest structure, at 10 floors and 152 ft. However, within 7 years, it gave way to the 221 ft.-tall Guardian Bank Building.
By 1920, the founder of Standard Oil, John D. Rockefeller, had made his fortune, and had erected a 17-story structure bearing his name on West Superior Avenue. Eight years later, The Terminal Tower took command of the downtown skyline, towering over Public Square to a height of 708 ft. (52 stories). In typical Beaux-Arts style, The Terminal Tower is capped by a series of step-backs, crenellations, spires, and radial flourishes that give it a distinctive wedding-cake profile against the clouds.
Offering a decidedly different profile is the former BP America Building (now 200 Public Square), opened in 1987. Held to just 658 ft. (45 stories) so as not to outdo The Terminal Tower, this structure presents two slightly flared wings to its massive vertical slab. Its overall mass is reduced and finessed by its stair-step setbacks both in plan and in elevation. Its Late Modernist (almost Brutalist) styling and extruded vertical mass make it a striking visual counterpoint to The Terminal Tower only a few hundred yards away.
In 1991, these two giants were joined by a third, Key Tower, headquarters of Key Bank, just north of Public Square. Key Tower established a new record for the city, soaring to 948 ft. (57 stories). It also added yet another style and profile to the skyline. Key Tower, designed by Cesar Pelli, is an elegant Postmodern spire clad in warm stone and silvered metal. Its uniquely terraced pyramidal cap of reflective metal added one more distinctive form to the profile of Cleveland.
The fourth and latest unique form to occupy the city’s skyline arrived over a decade later with the Carl B. Stokes Federal Court House Building. This structure contains only 24 stories, yet rises to a height of 430 ft. Occupying a site southwest of Public Square near the Cuyahoga River, it is modeled on a Greek column, clad in whitish stone, with a curved façade and a massive accentuated cornice.