Let’s play word association: Think of the word “Greyhound.” Chances are, the terms “sleek,” “aerodynamic,” and “futuristic” are not likely to jump to mind. Decades ago, however, they may well have. Not too long after the automobile and road travel gained wider public acceptance, Greyhound was one of the forward-looking companies seeking to captivate those who wanted to go far distances on America’s roads and to make such travel accessible for all. The best of smooth, fast, and sleek long-distance highway trips didn’t have to be reserved for the well-to-do.
From the Post-Depression 1930s to after World War II into the 1950s, Greyhound aggressively promoted an image of speedy, convenient, and exciting travel through its buses and various stations that the company built in cities and towns. These days, it may be hard for some to consider such stations and buses as anything more than an afterthought when bus trips too often conjure images of interstate fast-food, vending machine donuts, and stations with the charm of drive-in banks. Not so that time period, however. During this ambitious expansion, many Greyhound buses and stations were in the Streamline Moderne design, a single, unified symbol of sleek movement and modernity.
The Greyhound station on a winter night
This history is likely unknown to many, and one that I literally rode into just after the Christmas holidays when I arrived at the Cleveland Greyhound bus station, just on the eastern edge of downtown. The station, which the transport company opened in 1948, is in the Streamline Moderne style. It’s a still-busy terminal that Greyhound’s go-to architect of the period, William S. Arrasmith, designed. Cleveland’s was the most ambitious the company constructed for this purpose following World War II, and it was the last for which Arrasmith employed the Streamline Moderne style, according to Docomomo International, a key organization for the preservation of modernist architecture.
During this era, Greyhound wanted its stations to convey the same message of graceful aerodynamic motion as its bus fleet, as Arrasmith biographer Frank Wrenick observed in his book, The Streamline Era Greyhound Terminals: The Architecture of W.S. Arrasmith. Erected in 17 months, the Cleveland station opened during the tail-end of the Streamline Moderne era, a brief, intense, and late-phase Art Deco style that had its zenith in the 1930s into the 1940s. Its forms of curving motion and technological progress were prevalent in transport stations, hotels, banks, office buildings, and locomotives.
“All the Best Elements”
The Cleveland station evokes that Streamline feel perfectly. It has sculpted, rounded edges; a smooth Indiana limestone surface; Greyhound bus blue porcelain enamel panels; flat roof; corner windows in horizontal bands; and chrome window edging, all reflecting the Streamline Moderne style. The horizontal hugging of the landscape reinforces a feeling of motion, much like Greyhound’s racing dog symbol. “The Cleveland terminal is where all the best elements of the [Streamline Moderne] style are distilled: curvilinear flowing lines, smooth surfaces, cool grey color, and free standing sign,” observes Docomomo International.
Cleveland’s Greyhound station is a landmark with an uncertain future.
Photo Credit: Colin Rose, Flickr via Wikimedia Commons
Arrasmith’s first bus station for Greyhound was in Louisville, in 1937. The company was so impressed with what he had done it retained him for dozens of other terminals. From 1937 to 1948, the architect was responsible for some 50 streamline-oriented Greyhound bus terminals, many of which have been torn down. His accomplishments were not just in producing distinctive buildings of architectural character but as a pioneer, working with industrial experts, in the smooth, efficient use of space for handling bus traffic and customers. At Cleveland’s prior station, those getting on and off buses would crowd in the streets while the driver double-parked vehicles. In Arrasmith’s new station, Greyhound had 21 loading docks for company and commuter buses in the rear, with easy accessibility into a large waiting room with seating for more than 300 people.
Nearly seven decades after Greyhound opened the Cleveland station, it isn’t a relic but a functioning, busy terminal with approximately 57 bus departures and arrivals per day. In 2000, Greyhound undertook a $5 million restoration, which included constructing a small dormitory for bus drivers on the second floor and restoring the original gold and white diamond terrazzo floor. In my visit, I thought its interior facility was clean and decently maintained, but certainly not welcoming or full of amenities, which one wonders about given the number of passengers who traverse daily through it. It’s a missed opportunity perhaps.
Like other train and bus stations, this one may see new life for another purpose. Late last year, Greyhound confirmed the company is working with the City of Cleveland to move its operation, according to The Plain Dealer of Cleveland. The station sits in the middle of Cleveland’s Playhouse Square neighborhood and some pockets of housing, so Playhouse Square and other leaders are envisioning repurposing the station for commercial and retail use, the newspaper reported. Civic and transportation planners also have discussed the possibility of Greyhound’s move helping to spur the construction of a transit hub in Cleveland that would combine Greyhound, Amtrak, and the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.
Perhaps, if this comes to fruition, it’s a win-win if bus travelers through Cleveland have a new, convenient bus-train terminal and developers transform this building into a place that draws those who live and attend events in the area. If this occurs, however, surely Greyhound’s history of this ambitious early era, Arrasmith’s architecture and his impact on bus travel, and the role this Streamline Moderne survivor played in America’s taking to the highway deserve much more than a sideways nod and a small plaque.
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