I first became fascinated by the Buffalo Central Terminal when I was 12 years old. Not knowing its story, I set out to learn as much as possible, and even wrote a scholarship essay about my plan to give back to the Buffalo community by renovating the terminal. Of course, at that time, I didn’t quite have a handle on the condition of the building, or the millions of dollars it would take to bring Buffalo Central Terminal back to its original glory. All I knew was the feeling I got looking up at its beautiful architecture, and my desire to turn the city of Buffalo around, one project at a time.
Of course, growing up and becoming educated on “the way of the world,” revealed that this project was not as easy as coming up with a good idea and writing an essay to convince people that a 12 year old child had the answer to an overly complex situation. It takes time and resources – resources that amounted to millions of dollars. Now that I know the Buffalo Central Terminal’s story, I am even more inspired to support its preservation and restoration. So what brought the Buffalo Central Terminal to where it is today? Let’s take a look at its history from the start.
At the turn of the 20th century, railroads were the largest form of transportation in America. At the time, Buffalo was the eighth largest city, and had three railroad passenger facilities located downtown. Because of the city’s growing population, these facilities quickly became congested, and the desire for a much larger passenger facility became a priority. While the Buffalo Central Terminal was originally planned for the heart of downtown, where City Hall currently stands, developers quickly realized that this site was too small to accommodate such a facility, and that it would only congest downtown traffic even more. Developers were also interested in “pulling” the heart of the city away from Lake Erie, and thought that building the terminal 2.5 miles outside of downtown would move more business to this location; just as the Penn station in NYC pulled commerce from lower Manhattan to middle Manhattan when it was built. And so, on March 29, 1926, construction for the Buffalo Central Terminal began at the corner of Lindbergh and Lovejoy, presently Paderewski and Memorial Drive. Over 100 homes were taken down in order to accommodate the terminal in this predominantly Polish neighborhood, affecting more than 2,000 residents.
Three years and $15 million later, the Buffalo Central Terminal was open for business on June 22, 1929. The building itself is known for its Art Deco style, and its elaborate Egyptian and Roman influences, predominantly seen in the arched windows and surrounding pillars. The terminal was built to accommodate 200 trains and 10,000 passengers on a daily basis – producing 1,500 new jobs for the city. While the Great Depression did hit less than four months after the Buffalo Central Terminal, the first two decades of business were booming, especially during World War 2, with soldiers and travelers taking full advantage of this new, innovative and centrally located transportation hub.
With the ending of the War, and increased use of automobiles and air travel, passenger railroad services drastically declined in the 1950’s, indicating the beginning of the end for the Buffalo Central Terminal. In 1968, Penn Central Railroad took over control of the terminal until 1971, when it was then acquired by Amtrak. The last train departed from Buffalo Central Terminal in October 1979 – 50 years after it first opened its doors.
Since the closing of the terminal, there have been multiple private owners that were unable to keep up with the maintenance and back taxes of the complex. One of the owners ended up selling off parts of the building, just to stay afloat with the taxes owed on the building. In 1991, the building was foreclosed on and ownership turned over to the city of Buffalo. During this time, nothing was done to maintain the building, and it was left to the demise of weather and vandalism. The Buffalo Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (CTRC) urged the city to let them buy the property in 1997, and they did so for a symbolic price of $1.
The non-profit organization quickly realized that much of the damage done to the building was irreversible, but they have continued to pursue restoration plans since its acquisition. After six years of intensive labor and fundraising, the main tower has been stabilized enough to allow access to the general public beginning in 2003. Since then, the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation has created a master plan for this historic site. Check out this master plan in my next posting, The Buffalo Central Terminal: Now.