Let Slip the Dogs, part 2 (Surviving Greyhound Terminals of W S Arrasmith, USA)

Thanks to the fiasco at the opening of the Hartford terminal (see last week’s entry), Greyhound was desperate to find a new architect for its Washington D.C. terminal, Lamb & Associates having ruled itself out of the job so spectacularly. William Strudwick Arrasmith got the job, whereupon he designed one of the best-looking of all the Greyhound terminals, which opened in 1940. It was also a joy to use for bus drivers. The bus stands were arranged in a fan shape behind the terminal building, each stand wider at the rear than at the front, and as a result extremely easy to drive into and reverse out of. Unlike at Hartford, there would be no stuck buses in Washington D.C.. This overhead shot illustrates the layout well:

Washington D.C. Greyhound terminal from above, during 1973. By Yoichi R. (Yoichi Robert) Okamoto, 1915-, Photographer (NARA record: 2987665) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Washington D.C. Greyhound terminal from above, during 1973. Photo by Yoichi R. (Yoichi Robert) Okamoto, 1915-, Photographer (NARA record: 2987665) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The building was finished in limestone rather than blue enamelled panels. This was not only in keeping with the monumental architecture and finish of many of Washington D.C.’s buildings, but once again represented ‘total design’ harmony between terminal and bus. The new Silversides bus (see one here), designed like its Supercoach predecessor by Raymond Loewy, was introduced in 1940, sporting the fluted stainless steel body that has entered the collective consciousness as what a vintage Greyhound bus ‘ought’ to look like. It was dramatic, but less colourful than the previous all-painted bus, and Arrasmith’s new terminal was more restrained in colouring too. Its light grey limestone finish matched the new buses, and the edges of the canopy over the main entrance are even more directly inspired by the Silversides bus. Located on a corner, Arrasmith followed the site’s natural boundaries to curve back the wings of the building, adding to its character. Here it is:

Greyhound Terminal, Washington D.C., image by streetsofwashington [CC BY 2.0] via this flickr page
Greyhound Terminal, Washington D.C., image by streetsofwashington [CC BY-NC 2.0] via this flickr page

It survived in use for many years, but in the late 1970s after Streamline Moderne had fallen completely out of fashion, it was bizarrely encased in a hideous exostructure (which you can see on this webpage). Although closed as a bus facility a couple of years later it was eventually declared a landmark and was restored to fulfil a new role as the entrance to an office building built on the site of the bus stands, in which form it survives to this day. Very nice it looks too:

Washington D.C.'s old Geryhound Terminal. Notice the clock. You'll see one like it again on the Cleveland Terminal. Photo by Mr.TinDC [CC BY 2.0] via this flickr page
Washington D.C.’s old Greyhound Terminal. Notice the clock. You’ll see one like it again on the Cleveland Terminal. Photo by Mr.TinDC [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr page

It’s actually quite a celebrated building, certainly the most well-known of the surviving Arrasmith terminals, so much so that architectural model company Chisel and Mouse makes a lovely little sculpture of it you can buy for your home (see here).

The Washington D.C. terminal opened the door for Arrasmith to become Greyhound’s chief architect for all its work in the east of America. Having developed a new limestone-faced style for his Greyhound terminals, further buildings of this type followed.

The next surviving example is at Erie (Pennsylvania). Easily one of the smallest terminals Arrasmith designed, squeezed onto a thoroughly inconvenient site, this tiny building has survived despite (or perhaps because of?) its diminutive size. A very clever step back/down halfway across the front of the building makes it seem a lot larger than it actually is, and it retains its streamline curves on one end (the left hand end butting up to the neighbouring building rather than standing in splendid isolation as so many of the Greyhound terminals did). The entrance canopy performs a 90-degree turn to become the terminal’s totem, also at the far left. The run of windows on the left hand side upper floor terminates in a lovely rounded end, which is very Streamline Moderne. The terminal is now the Boardwalk Center, a bar/nightclub venue, but its heritage is absolutely unmistakable. It’s not well represented photographically, so Google Street View is our friend here (spin the Street View around if you can’t see the terminal, I’m having trouble embedding it facing the right direction…):

The terminal in Buffalo (New York) opened in 1941. Like Erie, it was a small (but not quite as small) terminal, again squeezed onto an inconvenient and narrow site. Arrasmith’s design solution was virtually the same as at Erie, but with all the elements in reverse order. So the totem was at the right hand end of the building, again of a piece with the canopy, but this time in a reverse L-shape. Like Erie, the frontage was stepped down (but not backwards) halfway across, to give the illusion of greater size to the building, and there was a rounded end to the window run on the upper floor. One feature not seen at Erie is a highly characterful porthole window in the end of the building, which looked down onto the bus stands. Now the Alleyway Theatre, the Buffalo terminal’s heritage is a little less easy to discern, especially as it has lost its pylon. To my great annoyance, I walked past it last year and although I clocked the building’s Streamline Moderne architecture, I didn’t realise it was an ex-Greyhound terminal. I would have taken a photo of it if I had, but here’s one taken by someone else.

The Alleyway Theatre, Buffalo, previously a Greyhound terminal. Photo by Tom Bastin [CC BY 2.0] via this flickr page
The Alleyway Theatre, Buffalo, previously a Greyhound terminal. Photo by Tom Bastin [CC BY 2.0] via this flickr page

A street beautification project in Buffalo has resulted in several trees growing up right outside the theatre, making it difficult to capture photographically, though the limestone facing comes across very well, as does the porthole window. What you can’t see is the canopy over the entrance which, like the one at Washington D.C., perfectly matches the Silversides bus. The theatre’s website has some photos of the building’s previous existence, here, which does show the canopy very nicely, as well as some of the polished metal fluting details on the building.

1942 saw the last Greyhound terminal to be built before America entered the Second World War, in Baltimore (Maryland), and it was another of Arrasmith’s. This was a larger building, though it was less streamlined than Arrasmith’s previous terminals. In fact, it bears more resemblance to the Post-war Modern terminals we’ll come to later in this article.

The ex-Greyhound terminal in Baltimore. Photo by Sean_Marshall [CC BY 2.0] via this flickr page
The ex-Greyhound terminal in Baltimore. Photo by Sean_Marshall [CC BY-NC 2.0] via this flickr page

Built on a corner site, the terminal is unusual in having a deeply recessed main entrance, which is situated at the corner. The overhang of the building’s upper storey is supported on a square pillar. Along with the totem and canopy structure, which wraps right around the corner of the building, the whole thing gives the impression of the upper storey floating above ground level. Gone from this building are the continuous runs of glazing, the windows here being placed individually with masonry between them. Also gone are any rounded ends to window runs or walls. All in all, it’s quite severe in appearance. It has long since been abandoned as a bus terminal but still survives as office/retail space.

The first Arrasmith-designed Greyhound terminal to open after the war did so in 1948. According to one website with an interest in Greyhound terminals, the Daytona Beach (Florida) terminal was Arrasmith’s first post-war terminal, in 1947, but Wrenick (2007) doesn’t credit the Daytona Beach building to Arrasmith, so it’s difficult to know whether to include it here or not. I’m going to exercise caution, and instead press on with the first post-war terminal that everyone agrees is by Arrasmith, in Cleveland (Ohio).

Greyhound and Arrasmith were back with a bang. This was to be no Erie/Buffalo small building on a narrow site. This was to be one of the largest, and most dramatic, terminals Arrasmith would design for Greyhound. As the Cleveland News (modestly) put it, “Greatest Bus Terminal in World to Open in City Tomorrow”. Arrasmith’s biographer Frank Wrenick (2007: p155) is slightly more restrained, describing it as “one of the most cohesively designed of Greyhound’s streamline terminals”. I’m more inclined to go with the former assessment, as it’s hard to think of any bus terminal which had been built up till that time which was as magnificent, inside and out, as Cleveland’s. It survives in use to this day, a testament to the enduring appeal of Arrasmith’s design.

Cleveland Greyhound terminal. Photo by Colin Rose (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Cleveland Greyhound terminal. Photo by Colin Rose (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s a long, low, building when seen from the front. If you wanted to freeze in built form the sensation of a Silversides bus passing at speed, this is exactly how you would do it. The conjoined totem and canopy is present and correct, of course, but the long runs of continuous glazing are as wide and as narrow as was practically possible to give as much horizontal emphasis to the frontage as Arrasmith could manage.

Cleveland Greyhound terminal from the other side of the main entrance, mostly so that you can admire the long, narrow window runs. Photo By Eli Pousson [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Cleveland Greyhound terminal from the other side of the main entrance, mostly so that you can admire the long, narrow window runs. Photo By Eli Pousson [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Inside, some of its original glamour has been lost behind later fittings which aren’t of the same quality as the originals would have been; the original benches were solid oak, for instance. But you can still see the quality of the underlying design if you look hard.

Inside Cleveland Greyhound Terminal. Photo by Alex Leung [CC BY 2.0] via this flickr page
Inside Cleveland Greyhound terminal. Photo by Alex Leung [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr page

The flooring design is original (the diagonal checkerboard pattern is typical Arrasmith), and there’s some lovely detail around the tops of the columns and the top of the restroom block. Despite its brilliance, it was the last of Arrasmith’s great Streamline Moderne terminals. Architectural tastes had moved on and Arrasmith moved with the times (the Cleveland terminal had actually been designed before the war). The next terminal he designed was a Post-war Modern structure, every bit as attractive as his Streamline Moderne terminals, but lacking the curves which characterised his pre-war work, in favour of sharp corners and taller windows spaced more widely apart and no longer wrapping round the building. The finish of the facades changed too, and Arrasmith’s terminals were now generally faced with buff-coloured brick rather than smooth grey limestone.

Some 20 other Post-war Modern terminals followed, initially of great style and presence, though more restrained than the pre-war Streamline Moderne terminals. As the 1950s wore on however, and Modernism became increasingly anonymous, Arrasmith’s terminals followed suit, and his last few buildings seem less celebratory of the coach travel experience than earlier works. That, perhaps, mirrored the rise of the private automobile in America; its explosive growth starting to replace trains and long-distance coaches as the travel mode of choice.

Facing this changed environment, Greyhound changed its management, and the new personnel wanted a break with traditions of the past, Arrasmith’s work included. His last commission for Greyhound opened in 1960 in New Orleans (Louisiana).

The Post-war Modern terminals were the most numerous type of terminal Arrasmith designed, and three survive. The first is in Lansing (Michigan), dating from 1950 and no longer in use for transport but instead as an office (again, spin the Street View around if necessary to see the building).

It’s a medium-sized terminal that displays a lot of the typical elements of Arrasmith’s Post-war Modern work. It’s finished in buff-coloured bricks, and is strong on 90° angles rather than curves. The flutings and flourishes that marked the Streamline Moderne terminals have vanished, with the exception of the totem and canopy, which retain some nice curves. But even here the two elements are discreet, rather than flowing one into the other.

The small terminal in Montgomery (Alabama) opened in 1951. It would go on to play a key part in the American civil rights movement during the 1960s (more details here), as Arrasmith’s Jackson terminal also did. No longer in use as a Greyhound terminal, it is now a museum explaining its historical importance.

Arrasmith's Greyhound terminal in Montgomery. Photo byBy Spyder_Monkey (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Arrasmith’s Greyhound terminal in Montgomery. Photo by Spyder_Monkey (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It is faced with the typical buff-coloured brick of the Post-war Modern terminals, and it’s nicely proportioned, but it lacks the sheer on-street presence that most of Arrasmith’s other terminals have. Perhaps it’s the large expanses of plain, unadorned walls.

The terminal in Birmingham (Alabama), on the other hand, which also opened in 1951, was one of the larger ones. It’s still in use as Greyhound station, and here it is:

Greyhound terminal, Birmingham. Photo by Fiona Cullinan [CC BY 2.0] via this flickr page
Greyhound terminal, Birmingham. Photo by Fiona Cullinan [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via this flickr page

This is arguably the most attractive Post-war Modern terminal that Arrasmith designed, and the last of his terminals to survive. The overall massing of the building is very effective, and it looks far more recent than its actual age of 64. Again it’s finished in buff-coloured brick, with a super clock and very smart porthole window (something of a hangover from the Streamline Moderne terminals; it can be seen on the far right of the building). The totem is not original – the original one was more curvy, and looked a bit like the one at Montgomery.

Arrasmith wasn’t Greyhound’s only architect, although his scientific approach to terminal design marks him out as uniquely important to the wider history of public transport. There are a fair few other notable Greyhound terminal survivors, many of which employ the early Greyhound Blue style invented by Arrasmith. That’s an article for another time, though.

Eleven terminals out of at least 50 remain to illustrate Arrasmith’s work, with three still performing their original role. It’s not a brilliant survival rate, but those buildings tell the remarkable story of Greyhound’s relationship with Arrasmith, and the architecture that resulted from it. They enhance the streets on which they stand, and act as a reminder of the glory days of stylish coach travel. You can’t really ask for more than that.

bibliography and further reading

First and foremost: Wrenick, Frank E. (2007): The Streamline Era Greyhound Terminal. McFarland & Company: Jefferson, North Carolina, and London

Bayer, Patricia (2011): Art Deco Postcards. Thames & Hudson: London. A number of visualisations of early Greyhound terminals can be found here. It was the gift of this book that finally provoked me into writing this article, which I’ve had on the slate for a long time. Thanks Dad.

RoadArchitecture.com’s Greyhound terminals page. Lots of lovely Greyhound terminals and information here

how to find the Greyhound terminals

On the beauty of transport’s map you can:

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