This Art Deco masterpiece was built to handle over 200 trains and 10,000 passengers daily, as well as 1,500 New York Central employees. It included shops, a restaurant, soda fountain, parking garage and all other services required for daily passenger operations. Although the Central Terminal had the misfortune to open mere months before the onset of the Great Depression, the building was extremely busy during its first two decades of operation, with no period busier than during World War II. Following the War, passenger rail travel fell precipitously as automobiles and air travel began to dominate. In 1955, the New York Central Railroad put the Buffalo Central Terminal on the market, though there was little demand to purchase such a large building. With the decline of passenger rail service, the New York Central mothballed much of the sprawling Buffalo Central Terminal and created a small station within a station to service the remaining passengers.
In 1968, the Terminal complex was absorbed into the Penn Central Railroad following the merger of the Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads. Penn Central continued to operate passenger trains from Buffalo Central Terminal until 1971, when Amtrak took over operations of the majority of intercity passenger rail service in the country. The final passenger train departed the Buffalo Central Terminal in October 1979, 50 years after this national landmark opened its doors.
The Roaring Twenties
The Buffalo Central Terminal Opens for Business
New York Central Railroad, The City and Grade Crossing, and the Terminal Station Commission signed an agreement to allow BCT to be built at its present location, 2.5 miles from downtown business district.
Site preparation starts. Sewer and drainage systems and 30 miles of track laid. Lindbergh Dr. built (now Memorial Drive). Groundbreaking for underpass south of terminal allowing William St. (most direct connection to downtown) to cross under New York Central main line.
Patrick Crowley, president of New York Central Railroad, elected architects Fellheimer & Wagner to design BCT. Construction begins on the 17-floor office tower and terminal.
Steel work raised throughout the year, last rivet driven in December. All iron work done by Premier Fireproofing owned by Otto Klotz.
BCT construction completed. Grand opening June 22nd. Grand opening includes Chamber of Commerce Gala attended by 2,200 people, the largest event in Buffalo at that time. At 2 p.m., the first train departs from the terminal: the Eastbound Empire State Express.
The Great Depression
Surviving the Great Depression
The 1930s were pretty stable as far as transportation needs, even during the Depression. If you have a Central Terminal story from this era, please share it with us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Post War
The Rise of Rail in Support of the War
The Terminal was an essential hub for moving troops, goods and services during the war years. If you have a Central Terminal story from this era, please share it with us via email@example.com.
The Golden Age
The Decline of Passenger Travel
Due to loss of revenue and decline in train use by the general public, the BCT is put on the market for $1,000,000 (1/14th of its original cost). It does not sell.
Public Service Commission allows New York Central Railroad to abandon Buffalo-Niagara Falls Service.
The Civil Rights Era
The End of the Twentieth Century Limited
Pullman Service Building, Coach Shop, Ice House and Power House demolished to reduce taxes and maintenance.
New York Central Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad merge, forming the Penn Central System, the terminal’s second owner.
The Disco Era
The Doomed Penn-Central System
Penn Central Railroad declared bankrupt
Amtrak is created. Amtrak takes over majority of the intercity passage service in the US, using the Buffalo Central Terminal as its Buffalo terminal until Oct. 28, 1979.
Penn Central RR, Lehigh Valley RR, Erie-Lackawanna RR, Lehigh & Hudson River RR merge to form Conrail. Conrail now owns the Buffalo Central Terminal.
Amtrak abandons the Buffalo Central Terminal on Oct. 28, in favor of using its new Dick Rd. station in Cheektowaga, and the reopened downtown exchange station. The last train leaves the Buffalo Central Terminal on Oct. 28. Anthony Fedele & Galesi Realty purchase the Buffalo Central Terminal for $75,000.
The Anthony Fedele Era
The Auction of the Buffalo Central Terminal
Train concourse bridge from the terminal is demolished to allow passage of taller freight cars on the Belt Line. Property is separated.
The Buffalo Central Terminal is placed on State and National Registers of Historical Places. Nominated by Julia S. Stokes, NY Deputy Commissioner for Historic Places, confirmed nomination in a letter by Orin Lehmen, Commissioner, NY State Office of Parks and Recreation and Historic Preservation and State Historic Preservation Officer.
NY State Energy Office energy surveys are requested by Buffalo Central Terminal owner Tony Fedele for the remaining five buildings of the Central Terminal Plaza complex and are carried out by J.M. Hague III, P.E.
Anthony Fedele defaults on taxes and US Bankruptcy Court Judge John W. Creahan orders foreclosure sale, the city puts the Buffalo Central Terminal up for auction. Thomas Telesco wins the terminal for $100,000. He is the only bidder.
The Grunge Decade
The train concourse, owned by Amtrak, is leased to private contractor for heavy equipment storage
In August, the Buffalo Central Terminal property is transferred to the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation. After almost 20 years of neglect and abuse, CTRC principals and visionaries Scott Field, Tim Tielman and Tom Hryvniak lead the way in beginning to preserve this landmark.
The Restoration Era
The Central Terminal Restoration Corporation Steps Up
The Preservation League of New York State selects the Terminal as one of seven most endangered properties, the first Erie County building to receive this special designation.
The Buffalo Central Terminal turns 75 – with a big celebration. The CTRC receives $101,000 from the City of Buffalo for rehabilitation of the building. A campaign to return the original concourse clock begins. Internationally known artist Spencer Tunick fills the concourse with nearly 1,800 naked bodies in the name of art.
The concourse clock returns to Buffalo and is installed in the concourse. A public fundraising effort led by WBEN generated $14,000 and M&T Bank donated $25,000 so the clock could be purchased and restored – and eventually displayed at M&T Center in downtown Buffalo.
Buffalo Central Terminal sees record-breaking numbers of visitors – including 20,000 in September alone, due to the first-ever Train Show, the Buffalo Brewfest and the annual Picnic on the Plaza Oktoberfest.
The CTRC celebrates its 10th anniversary. Dyngus Day returns to the Central Terminal.
Two large capital improvement projects are completed: abatement in the restaurant area, and new concrete work on the entrance corner. Most notably, the CTRC receives the Daniel B. Niederlander Award for “outstanding programming by a local heritage organization” from the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society. It is quite a prestigious honor, and one the CTRC shares with Shea’s Performing Art Center.
In honor of the Terminal’s 80th birthday, the concourse clock is officially returned permanently to the concourse. Longtime Terminal supporters and CTRC Board of Directors leaders Michael Miller and Russell Pawlak pass away, after tremendous contributions to the restoration of the Central Terminal.
The Central Terminal wins a $10,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Launched by Dave Majewski, the Urban Habitat Project begins its award-winning run on a three-acre portion of Central Terminal property. The National Trust for Historic Preservation holds its annual conference in Buffalo with sessions and receptions at the Central Terminal.
Toronto antique dealer Robert Navarro donates an original light fixture back to the Terminal, and also returns the $3,000 raised by the CTRC to purchase the artifact.
The Central Terminal successfully completes the repair and restoration of the roof.
The East Side’s own Goo Goo Dolls film a music video at the Terminal. The movie Marshall films scenes at the Terminal while completing $90,000 worth of cosmetic upgrades to the concourse. The Central Terminal names Stinson Developments as designated developer to come up with a large-scale, multi-use plan for redevelopment. After the collapse of the roof at Buffalo’s downtown train station, the Terminal becomes one of the leading candidates to become Buffalo’s new train station.