The Terminal Building was planned in 1915 and erected between January and August l9l6 to provide headquarters for the Lincoln Traction Company, as well as leased office space. The architect was Paul V. Hyland of Chicago. He had designed an earlier office building in Lincoln (with partner Herbert H. Green) for the First National Bank, just east across Tenth Street from the Terminal Building site. That eight-story, terra Cotta and buff brick building retains its exterior integrity and meets National Register criterion for significance in the areas of architecture and commerce.
During the period of construction of the Terminal Building, architect Hyland designed two significant Lincoln residences, the McAffee House and the Frank H. Woods House.
Little else is known about Hyland, beyond these four significant Lincoln buildings. One of his Chicago commissions has been identified, a twelve-story office building of 1929 (Equitable Building, 180 Washington Street, with partner Raymond O. Corse), and he is known to have been active at least into the late 1930s. Hyland is listed among Lincoln architects in the 1917 and 1918 city directories, with Joseph G. McArthur as his "representative." McArthur is memorialized on the Terminal Building's bronze plaque as ”Sup't" just below Hyland's name, and it seems likely that he, not Hyland, staffed the architect's Lincoln office.
Considering the diversity and significance of his four known Lincoln projects, learning more about Hyland is of considerable interest to local architectural history.
The Terminal Building is a good example of what Whiffen calls the Commercial Style-tall office buildings with straight fronts. flat roofs, level skylines. abundant. large windows, and restrained ornamentation. While the terra-cotta facades of the Terminal Building are distinctive among tall Lincoln office buildings. the molded decoration is of shallow projection and small scale for a building of this size. and is organized to reinforce the characteristic, Commercial style balance of horizontal and vertical elements.
In addition to its architectural value, the Terminal Building derives significance (as well as its name) from its association with the Lincoln Traction Company. That organization was formed in 1897 as a reorganization of the Lincoln Street Railway Company, founded in 1881 as Lincoln's first street railway and in service by 1883. In the sixteen years between the founding of Lincoln Street Railway and its reorganization, approximately a dozen other streetcar companies were franchised in Lincoln, but Lincoln Traction Company was the largest. Controlled by out-of-state investors, Lincoln Traction was a target for public and private ire over disputed tax payments. fare increases, and maintenance and improvement policies. In 1905 local interests formed the competing Citizens Railway, largely to pressure Lincoln Traction. This tactic was successful to the degree that when Lincoln Traction and Citizens Railway merged in 1909 (retaining the Traction nae). former Citizens directors held six of the eleven seats on the new board and only one of the directors was not a Lincoln man.
In merged form, Lincoln Traction Company owned and operated almost all the streetcars in Lincoln. According to a company advertisement, its streetcars traveled 2,617,666 miles and carried 12,222,597 passengers in the year ending June 1916. The company also had its own electric generating plant which not only supplied the streetcar lines, but also sold electricity and steam to private customers. The merger of 1909 was followed by a painful series of consolidations and abandonments of unprofitable lines, which produced the company's most prosperous period in the early 1910s. Presumably this prosperity gave rise to the plans for the new headquarters. A separate entity, the Lincoln Terminal Company, was formed by Lincoln Traction Company directors to construct the building. with.William Sharp serving as president of both companies.
The new structure served as the "terminal" of the Traction Company's various lines, with ticket counters in the lobby and the ample marquee for sheltering waiting passengers. The building's name also reflected optimistic hopes that future interurban lines would emanate from there as well. The basement provided employees’ locker rooms, showers, and a lounge with billiards tables. In addition to the ticket counters. the first floor housed the company's electrical appliance store. while the general offices occupied most of the third floor. Although the majority of the building was occupied by other tenants. a large rooftop sign for the Traction Company left no doubt as to the prime occupant of the structure.
The First World War brought reduced income to Lincoln Traction Company, followed by labor strife and a bloody strike in 1917. The company ran deficits in the early '20s. as buses started competing with its streetcars on the suburban lines. A holding company took over Lincoln Traction in 1926, mainly to acquire the power plant. which was split off from the transit operation.
That same year the company began to acquire its own buses. Already by the late 20s the system was half bus/half streetcar, while revenues continued to decline. Just three streetcar lines remained after 1931. National City Lines, a bus operator, acquired Lincoln Traction Company in 1942 and eliminated the company name. just one year before abandoning Lincoln's last streetcar line in 1943.
Most of the streetcar tracks were removed by federal relief projects in the 1930s. The Lincoln Traction Company power plant on K Street was operated and expanded by new owners until it was completely replaced in 1949. The major, extant historical resource directly associated with the company is the Terminal Building.