Ohio Icon: Carew Tower

Ohio Icon: Carew Tower

People sitting around a fountain outside of Carew Tower

Photo courtesy of Cincinnati USA CVB

Location: In the heart of downtown Cincinnati, just southwest of Fountain Square.

Provenance: Described by developer John J. Emery as a “city within a city,” Carew Tower was dedicated in 1930 and pioneered the idea of a mixed-use skyscraper complex, anchored by a common base. It originally included a 49-story office tower, the 29-story Netherland Plaza hotel, an 18-story parking garage, the Mabley & Carew department store, and an upscale shopping arcade. Carew Tower derived its name from retail magnate Joseph T. Carew, while “Netherland” alluded to the hotel’s location in the basin between the Ohio River and the crescent of hills that shape Cincinnati’s landscape.

Emery planned Carew Tower during the economic boom of the Roaring ’20s, but the concept was so new and expensive that no bank would fund it. Certain of success, he liquidated investments to underwrite the $33 million project shortly before the stock market crashed. Carew Tower thus not only saved Emery from financial ruin but also provided sorely needed jobs during the Great Depression. Built with a steel skeleton covered by limestone and buff-colored brick, the complex had a prestigious pedigree.

Principal architect Walter W. Ahlschlager, who had designed the luxurious Peabody Hotel in Memphis and the InterContinental hotel on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, created its art deco styling. The contractor was Starrett Brothers Inc., which also constructed the Lincoln Memorial and the Empire State Building.

Pre-dating New York’s Rockefeller Center, Carew Tower cemented Cincinnati’s image as a modern and progressive city. The 574-foot-high skyscraper reigned as the Queen City’s tallest building for 80 years, before being usurped by the 665-foot Great American Tower in 2011. The complex has had only three owners (the Emery family, Belvedere Corporation, and commercial real estate broker Greg Power), and its most significant change was the parking tower’s demolition in the 1980s.

Significance: Epitomizing skyscraper modernism, Carew Tower is a beloved Cincinnati symbol and quintessential feature of its skyline. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1994.

Currently: The Carew Tower complex houses offices, shops, restaurants, and the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza hotel, with wow-worthy French art deco décor. A charter member of the Historic Hotels of America, Netherland Plaza’s guests have ranged from Winston Churchill and George H.W. Bush to Elvis Presley and Natalie Portman. Its flagship restaurant — Orchids at Palm Court — is Ohio’s only AAA Five Diamond restaurant and one of only 67 in North America.

It’s a little-known fact that: Carew Tower’s 49th-floor observation deck affords visitors spectacular views of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.