Buffalo’s Central Terminal: Big, beautiful and back from the brink

BUFFALO’S CENTRAL TERMINAL STANDS EPIC AND FORLORN WITHIN SIGHT OF THE MAPLE LEAF as it travels between Toronto and New York City. The station’s Art Deco tower looms behind the abandoned and weed-choked platforms on the far side of the rail corridor from the Amtrak train; the last train left the station nearly forty years ago.


There are photos online of the grand waiting room of the Central Terminal in its worst years, with islands of debris surrounded by pools of water on the floor. Today the current owners have fixed the roof and cleaned the floor and there are rows of tables set up for an upcoming event. They don’t build rooms like this anymore, so you’re forced to stop and drink in the vast space before your eye finally takes in the details.


The big four-sided clock on the far end of the room was sold some time in the ‘80s and relocated in Chicago in 2003, where it was bought back by the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation. Previous owners and scrap dealers had looted the building for fixtures and there’s an open call out for anything that can be donated or returned.


I’m shown around by Mark Lewandowski, the director of the CTRC, the non-profit agency that took on the mammoth task of bringing the Central Terminal back from the brink in 1997. They do regular monthly events and rent the station out as a film location and offer group tours to stop people from breaking in to take pictures. There’s a website and a gift shop.


One of the magazine stands has been restored, and there are still signs pointing to the activity that used to fill the huge room – the old ticket booths, plus a tailor, a bootblack and a liquor store. The Central Terminal is true Art Deco, finished in 1929, and not the more stripped down Streamline or Moderne that came later, and it’s still full of rich period Deco detail and examples of the workmanship that went into its construction, like the brick vaulting on the ceilings.

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It’s also full of stories. Mark takes me down a grand set of stairs to what was once supposed to be the entrance to a streetcar station. Looking down Paderewski Drive by the entrance to the terminal, it’s a straight line to Buffalo’s downtown. Way ahead of its time, the city planned to run tracks out to the station. Unfortunately, the taxicab monopoly in the city was run by John Montana of the Magaddino crime family, whose Van Dyke cabs would exclusively run out of the station. The streetcar station was never finished, the line never built.


Mark unlocks a door and leads me up into what were the headquarters of the New York Central Railroad, and it’s here where the damage done by years of abandonment to the elements are obvious. On either side of long hallways, plaster has peeled off walls and ceilings of offices long stripped of furniture.


In a few rooms you can still see evidence of the bachelor pad owner Anthony Fedele built for himself when he lived here in the early ‘80s. In another set of rooms are the scavenged remains of the once high tech switching controls for the tracks running along this stretch of the NYCR’s rails. It’s not hard to see why the building has been a popular location for ghost hunters and paranormal investigators.


The Central Terminal complex is huge, and large parts of it, like the baggage warehouses that line the approach along Curtiss Street, are off limits. It was built ambitiously, and was only ever used to near its full capacity during World War Two. The train concourse and the platforms were severed from the terminal in 1982 and that part of the complex, owned by Amtrak and CSX, is strictly out of bounds.


The part that the CTRC bought for a dollar and back taxes in 1979 is still huge, and includes the iconic Deco office tower, which has been nicknamed The Daily Planet for the way it echoes the architecture of Metropolis in the original Superman comics. The best possible use imagined for the site in the future is bringing rail traffic back to the station, and the city has been taking the idea seriously, especially considering the age and size of the tiny Exchange Street station downtown.

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A recent report explicitly tied the future of the terminal to the surrounding neighbourhood, which has been neglected almost as much as the station. Continuing stabilization of the building is called for, on the way to making the station concourse a year-round event facility and re-opening the long-closed restaurant. Having turned a corner on its own revival, Buffalo has made places like Silo City and the Central Terminal part of its long term plans, so it’s actually possible to imagine a day when the train station will no longer be famous as a huge, beautiful ruin.

Rick McGinnis was hosted by Visit Buffalo Niagara, which has not approved or reviewed this story.

Photos and story © 2018 Rick McGinnis All Rights Reserved