Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting the architect of the Terrace Plaza Hotel. Natalie De Blois attended Miami's Western Program and then Columbia University to study architecture during WWII. She was able to do this because most men were drafted into the war at that time. There were only 18 students in her class at Columbia. After the war, she began working for Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM). She was quite young when she designed the Terrace Plaza for Thomas Emery. It was the first modernist building in Cincinnati, and it got a lot of good press at the time. The first 7 floors of the building were two department stores, Bonds (menswear) and JC Penny. The lobby for the hotel was on the 8th floor, along with a restaurant and outdoor plaza (with skating rink). The hotel rooms were in the upper half of the building, and on the top floor was the round Gourmet Room. See Queen City Survey for some photos and old postcards.
Readers know I am not a fan of modernism, so I found Ms De Blois more fascinating than her building. She was a rare woman in a male dominated field and rose to partner status in one of the most influential architectural firms of the 20th century. She met with and collaborated with many of the great names in architecture and the fine arts. She also worked with many UC graduates over the years and found them to be great apprentices. She later taught at the University of Texas, Austin, and was a much beloved professor. At 87 she is still a powerful presence and still swims daily in Lake Michigan, weather permitting I suppose.
Today before returning to Chicago, she is taking a tour of the recently vacated Terrace Plaza. The tour will be filmed. My understanding is that this effort is a collaboration between the Cincinnati 3F (modernism fans) and the Cincinnati Preservation Association. There is debate among preservationists about which modernist buildings are worth fighting to save. Buildings must be 50 years old to be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, and a lot of modernist work is beginning to be eligible.
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