The 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.
The Buffalo Central Terminal was to be located at the intersection of Lindbergh (Memorial Drive) and Lovejoy (Paderewski Drive), adjacent to the Railway Express Agency building which was constructed in 1917. In order to facilitate construction, over 100 homes were cleared at the site located within the city’s Polonia neighborhood.
The New York Central Railroad selected the New York City architectural firm of Fellheimer and Wagner to design the new terminal. The firm, recognized for its successful railroad station designs, designed numerous iterations including: Winston-Salem Union Station (1925), Boston North Station (1926), Cincinnati Union Station (1929), South Bend Union Station (1929), and Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Station (1933).
Construction of Buffalo Central Terminal commenced on March 29, 1926, and included significant site work and realignment of the adjacent track work, along with construction of the terminal building and 15-story tower, passenger concourse and platforms, baggage and mail building, power plant, two signal towers and two utility buildings. The Buffalo Central Terminal was dedicated and a grand opening gala was held on June 22, 1929, following completion of the $15 million structure.
The solution to the congestion, delays and smog caused by the multitude of rail lines and terminals in downtown was the creation of a “union station” to combine the passenger operations of multiple railroads into one facility. Although this solution had been sought for decades, politics and disagreements amongst the railroads hindered its evolution. It was not until the early 1920’s that the New York Central Railroad came to an agreement with the City of Buffalo and the Grade Crossing and Terminal Station Commission to construct a consolidated facility that would become the Buffalo Central Terminal.
The agreement stipulated that the new terminal would be constructed in East Buffalo, as there was little available land in downtown. In addition, the station would allow New York Central passenger trains to travel directly from New York City to Chicago without delay in Buffalo, which was not previously an option as trains were forced to pull into the downtown stations and reverse outward to move onward to their destinations.
At the turn of the 20th century, the city of Buffalo was the eighth largest city in the United States with a population in excess of 350,000, and was a major transportation hub that linked the Northeast with the Midwest and beyond. Although the city’s growth was initially spurred by the development of the Erie Canal, by the early twentieth century Buffalo had developed into the second largest railroad center in the country, served by fourteen railroad lines and 20,000 employees.
During the first decades of the 20th century, the railroad passenger facilities in Buffalo were located downtown between the Buffalo River and Terrace Street. Within this congested area were the New York Central’s Exchange Street and Terrace stations, the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western station located on the Buffalo River, and the Lehigh Valley station located on Main Street at the current site of the former Donovan State Office Building. The New York Central stations were extremely problematic as they were located at-grade and caused significant delays for non-rail traffic.
1925 – 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.
1926 – Site preparation starts. Sewer and Drainage systems and 30 miles of track laid. Lindbergh Dr. built…now Memorial Dr… Groundbreaking for underpass south of terminal allowing William St. (most direct connection to downtown) to cross under New York Central main line.
1927 – 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.
1928 – Steel work raised throughout the year, last rivet driven in December. All iron work done by Premier Fireproofing owned by Otto Klotz.
1929 – BCT construction completed. Grand opening June 22nd. Grand opening includes Chamber of Commerce Gala 2,200 people attended…largest event in Buffalo at that time. 2pm first train departs from terminal. (Eastbound Empire State Express)
The 1930’s was pretty stable as far as transportation needs, even during the Depression. We’d Love to hear your stories so we can add them onto this page. Just send five of six lines to our Executive Director and we’ll include them here.
The Terminal was an essential hub for moving troops, goods and services during the war years. If you have a story you’d like to share about this era, please send it to our Executive Director via email.
1956 – 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) Does not sell.
1959 – Public Service Commission allows New York Central Railroad to abandon Buffalo-Niagara Falls Service.
1966 – Pullman Service Building, Coach Shop, Ice House, and Power House demolished to reduce taxes and maintenance.
1968 – New York Central Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad merge, forming the Penn Central System, the terminals second owner.
1970 – Penn Central Railroad declared bankrupt
1971 – Amtrak is created. Amtrak takes over majority of the intercity passage service in the US Used BCT as its Buffalo Terminal until Oct. 28, 1979.
1976 – Penn Central RR, Lehigh Valley RR, Erie-Lackawanna RR, Lehigh & Hudson River RR merge to form Conrail. Conrail now owns BCT.
1979 – Amtrak abandons BCT on Oct. 28th, in favor of using its new Dick Rd. Station in Cheektowaga, and the reopened downtown exchange station. Last train leaves BCT on Oct. 28th. Anthony Fedele & Galesi Realty purchase BCT for $75,000
1981 – Train concourse bridge from terminal demolished to allow passage of taller freight cars on the Belt Line. Property is separated.
1984 – BCT 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.
1985 – NY State Energy Office energy surveys are requested by BCT 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.
1986 – Anthony Fedele defaults on taxes and US Bankruptcy Court Judge John W. Creahan orders foreclosure sale, the city puts BCT up for auction. Thomas Telesco wins the terminal for $100,000. He is the only bidder.
1993 – The train concourse, owned by Amtrak, leased to private contractor for heavy equipment storage
1997 – (August) BCT property transferred to Central Terminal Restoration Corporation. After almost 20 years of neglect and abuse, efforts begin to preserve this landmark.
Between the auction sale to the stripping of artifacts by the owners and vandals and then the sale of the Terminal to the Central Terminal Restoration Corp, this was a decade inter-weaved with failure and promise of a new tomorrow. We’d Love to hear your stories so we can add them onto this page. Just send five of six lines to our Executive Director and we’ll include them here.
NOW is the time for the reuse of the Art Deco Masterpiece – the Buffalo Central Terminal. The Terminal reuse plan calls for a center of education and the Arts with its main focus on adaptive reuse and how the Arts, Architecture, Engineering, Restoration and Urban Planning come together to take structures such as the Terminal and allow them to become legacies that live from generation to generation.
We’ve added education tours for 10+ years old and up through University level and we partner with local businesses, trades, unions and institutes of learning to pull the project together.
Be patient, we have a lot to do, but we can promise a strong platform for success in bringing back the Terminal.
If you have any questions, please email our Executive Director by clicking here.