Though it’s no longer the tallest building in town, Carew Tower is still one of the most recognized buildings in Cincinnati and an important part of the city’s history.
The ‘20s were still roaring when plans were unveiled for a new skyscraper to be built on the site of the Hotel Emery and the Mabley & Carew department store. The new building would not only contain a new Mabley & Carew store, but a hotel, shops, and restaurants. It was one the earliest city-within-a-city concepts to be developed along with New York City’s Rockefeller Center which was built around the same time.
Ground was broken in September 1929 only a month before the stock market crash. After the crash, construction was scaled back. Only the first three floors were built with expensive and ornate elements, while the remaining floors were constructed with plain brick and less costly materials.
Carew Tower under construction in 1930
Along with the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, Carew Tower is an excellent example of Art Deco design. This is particularly noticeable inside the building with its sleek mix of polished wood and mosaic marble finishings.
Before the building opened in 1930, St. Nicholas Plaza was selected as the name of the hotel. Linens, glassware, stationary, and other items were ordered, all embossed with the letters SNP. However, the name could not be used because in the late 1800s there was a St. Nicholas Hotel on Fourth St., and though it was long closed, the owners of the Hotel Sinton claimed that they had purchased the rights to that name. The name Netherland replaced Nicholas and eventually, the St. was dropped leaving the Netherland Plaza name so familiar to Cincinnatians. It is currently part of the Hilton hotel group.
In 1960, Mabley & Carew was bought by Allied Stores, who moved the operation across the street. Starting in 1967, Carew Tower, along with the PNC tower (at the time called the Central Trust Building), was featured in the opening and closing credits of the soap opera The Edge of Night, with Cincinnati acting as the fictional Midwest city Monticello.
Cincinnati as the fictional city of Monticello in The Edge of Night
In 1991, Tower Place opened, a shopping mall inside the lower floors of the Tower complex. The Ray Combs Cincinnati Comedy Connection was a tenant, along with Morton’s of Chicago steakhouse as well as suburban mall staples like The Gap, The Limited, Camelot Music record store, Footlocker, and more. At a cost of $100 million, it was hoped the mall would lure shoppers back from the suburbs, which it did but only for a few years. In 2013, after years of declining traffic, the last tenant moved out.
Though the Great American Tower surpassed it in 2011 as the city’s tallest building, Carew Tower actually stands taller as it sits on higher ground. Today, the hotel still welcomes guests from all over the world, and the observation deck remains a popular spot for locals as well as visitors.