Preserving Buffalo's past Buffalo Central Terminal part of Doors Open event
By Dave Johnson Tribune Staff Welland Tribune- Monday, October 17, 2005 @ 09:00
Buffalo, N.Y. - Buffalo's skyline is dominated by many classic and modern buildings, but one of its most interesting buildings - the Buffalo Central Terminal - sits about four kilometres away from the Niagara River and downtown core.
It takes only a few minutes' driving time down Interstate 190 from the Peace Bridge before Buffalo Central Terminal's tower stands out among tall church spires on the east side of the city.
>From a distance the terminal's 17-storey tower looks impressive, but as the building gets closer, the years of neglect and abuse can be seen. But at the same time, one can see the beauty the building once had in its glory years.
The terminal was opened this past weekend as part of Doors Open Niagara, an annual event which sees unique buildings on both sides of the border open to the public.
"Buffalo Central Terminal opened in June 1929 and functioned as a train station until October 1979 when the last train rolled down the tracks," says Russell Pawlak of Central Terminal Restoration Corp.
Two hundred trains a day used to roll down the tracks alongside the building, which sits off of Paderewski Drive, in its heyday.
"If you fought in the Second World War, you went through this station. It was a link to the rest of the country," says Pawlak.
Construction on the terminal, its tower and surrounding buildings started in 1926 and was completed in 1929, with the first train rolling down the tracks on June 22 of that year. The terminal was built for the New York Central Railroad and designed in the Art Deco style by New York City architects Alfred Fellheimer and Stewart Wagner. The two men also designed terminals in Cincinnati and Cleveland.
Pawlak says New York Central Railroad sold off the building in 1979.
"From 1979 to 1997 a number of people owned this building and they ruined it, they pillaged it. One of the owners fled town one step ahead of an indictment," he says.
In 1997 the Central Terminal Restoration Corp. bought the building. But the years of private ownership saw the building fall into disrepair, victim to vandals and the weather.
"One problem with the terminal was that there were a lot of flat roofs and flat roofs don't work too well in Buffalo's climate," says Pawlak.
Work began in 1997 to preserve and restore the building, which features terrazzo floor designs in four shades of marble and ceilings and walls made of Guastavino tile. Pawlak says over the years 4,000 windows have been boarded up, 300 tonnes of debris removed and major roof repairs have been carried out.
In the last two years, since the terminal has been open to the public, he says 50,000 people have been through it and a number of events have also taken place in the main concourse. Photographer Spencer Tunick, famous for his nude photographs of large groups of people, used the terminal as a backdrop last year. "There were 1,853 people here for that," says Pawlak, who added that he was in one of the shots, but only his face.
Besides Doors Open and other events, Pawlak says tours of Buffalo Central Terminal are run from May to September each year allowing people to get a glimpse of Buffalo's past.
Asked what the future of the terminal and its tower holds, Pawlak says he's not sure.
He says the Buffalo Central Terminal is a great venue, both inside and outside. "There's many uses for the terminal, the tower could be subdivided into apartments."
Besides the cost of preserving and restoring the building, Pawlak says one thing holding terminal back is the location.
It sits four kilometres from the downtown, which hurt it in the first place once transportation patterns and the economy of Buffalo changed, on the city's east side.
Pawlak says many see the east side of Buffalo as run down and crime-ridden. He grew up in the area behind the terminal and says the area is not as bad as people think.
"There's a lack of imagination and vision by the city of Buffalo as to what to do this area."
He says members of the Central Terminal Restoration Corp. plan to keep on preserving the building.
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