Buffalo Central Terminal Update

Chuck Maley's Central Terminal picturesA while back, I posted about a piece of architectural wonderment lying vandalized and dormant in Buffalo—the old Central Terminal. It’s a beautiful Deco train station from the 1920s, plopped into an otherwise unexceptional suburban neighborhood.

At the time the station was built, Buffalo was still an industrial and cultural center, with a population over one-half million. It was second only to Chicago for its tangling rail network. However, by the late 1970s, both the city and the station had seen better days. The station was boarded up, and the trains instead stopped at a new, strip-mall like parking-lot station not far away.

Well, there is some good news… it seems that some people do care about preserving the city’s heritage. Despite its vandalized and trashed interior, the building is drawing crowds—including some Canadian urban explorers.

What I love about structures like the Central Terminal is that they were built for the public to use. It’s absolutely unthinkable to imagine private corporations building such public spaces today—I think those years have passed, (as have the years of ridiculously cheap immigrant labor).

Here’s hoping there is a developer out there with deep pockets and a creative will.

The Central Terminal at a glance:

  • The Central Terminal opened four months before the Wall Street crash of 1929
  • Designed to handle an anticipated Buffalo population of 1.5 million, it cost $14 million to build
  • The 17-story office tower stands 271 feet high
  • The station closed in October 1979 after years of dwindling rail passenger service
  • A 1969 study estimated it would cost $54 million to restore it for office use, and $16.3 million to demolish it

10 Responses to “Buffalo Central Terminal Update”


  • November 21, 2003

    Listening to National Public Radio this morning, it was reported that the Preservation Coalition of Erie Country has placed Buffalo’s Central Terminal Building on their list as the eighth most likely building to be demolished.

    I find this statement somewhat disconcerting since the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation has achieved remarkable success with extremely limited funds and now the Preservation Coalition of Erie Country has decided to step forward?

    The Preservation Coalition of Erie Country has stated that they “may have access to funds to help preserve the building.” Where the hell have these people been for the last twenty-years?

    I hope this statement is true since most of their “accomplishments” I have seen is hindrance and delaying instead of preservation. If this organization has access to funds, why aren’t they prepping buildings for renovation? Such as repairing the roofs against leakage, removing windows to allow ventilation and securing the street level against vandals. Perhaps, even going so far as to removing asbestos making the property truly acceptable to a potential client or buyer.

    It is not my intention of playing the role of the antagonist in this matter but I would truly like to see something happen to this magnificent building.

    In fact, I have even outlined a feasible concept of resurrecting the building and placing it back into acceptable, practical use. In brief, use the main lobby as a Tops International Supermarket. Renovate the tower into condominiums since I truly believe that there are people who would like to own a piece of history thus channel monetary funds into the project.

    And, if I may extrapolate, consider renovating the former baggage claim and post office area into a combination residential and commercial space. Plus, a real visionary may consider using the former concourse and track platforms as “patio homes” which are becoming popular with the “empty nesters.” The possibilities are endless and the resulting good may be the replacement of East Buffalo’s decaying housing stock.

    These replaced home could be demolished and the property turned over to the Olmstead Parks Commission and areas adjacent to the many churches and cathedrals in East Buffalo could be used as cloisters or simply places for meditation.

    My concepts are not over the top of realism, but practical and all we need is someone with enough political clout to start the proverbial ball rolling.

  • This building is one of the many wonderful and historic places in this city. It offers a glimpse into the past when Buffalo was a thriving metropolis. There has got to be more people out there like us, that believe there is a better fate for this beatiful structure. Even in its current condition its true beauty shines through. It would truly be a crime if this building was destroyed, and unfair to future generations that could use it as a glimpse into the past of this wonderful city

  • I would like to correct some of Mr Williams misconceptions. I am the Executive Director of the Preservation Coalition of Erie County and the founder and past president of the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation.

    The Preservation Coalition has been involved with the Terminal for many years. We helped to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places and have organized several clean-ups. I personally acquired the building from the prior owner and set up the non-profit Central Terminal Restoration Corporation, now led by Russel Pawlak,

    The story Mr Williams heard was actually about the Terminal being placed on the “Seven to Save” list of the Preservation League of New York State. The listing did not indicate that the Terminal is in imminent danger of being demolished but rather should have statewide and national attention devoted towards restoring the building.

    The Preservation Coalition (www.PreservationCoalition.org) is not a funding organization, but a local membership group devoted to helping preserve Western New York’s architectural heritage. We get buildings designated as landmarks, do tours and lectures and provide information to individuals and businesses.

    The listing of the Central Terminal on the “Seven to Save” list was done with the permission of the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation in order to attract more attention to the Terminal.

    All of the measures that he mentions in his note, repairing the roofs against leakage, removing windows to allow ventilation, securing the street level against vandals and removing waste have been done. Over 500 tons of debris have been removed from the building and it has been reopened to the public for tours.

    While his ideas such as a supermarket or condominiums may be good, it takes more than good ideas but an individual or organization with the capital to carry it out. If anyone knows of such a group which might be interested, please have them contact me at ScottField@PreservationCoalition.org.

    For the latest information on the Central Terminal, visit our web site at
    http://www.BuffaloCentralTerminal.org

  • I stand corrected by Mr. Fields and I shall attempt to make amends by apologizing for my misconceptions and openly admitting that I misunderstood National Public Radios’ news address that concerned the Preservation League of New York State and not the Preservation Coalition of Erie County.

    I shall quote correctly: “The Preservation League of New York State selected the terminal as one of this year’s seven most endangered properties, meaning its worthy of special attention to secure its future.”

    However, my statements on how to secure historic buildings was not meant solely for the Central Terminal but for all derelict properties throughout the City of Buffalo. I am fully aware of the fact that the Central Terminal has been cleaned-up of debris and the windows have been sealed because I have assisted in that very process. I give full credit of that daunting task to the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation and not the Preservation Coalition of Erie County.

    Furthermore, I have approached Tops Corporation, Iskalo Developement, Benderson Development and Ciminelli Construction with my proposal for converting the main building into an international supermarket to service the entire community and converting the tower into condominiums. Perhaps not a novel concept but a hell of a lot more practical than some of the various other ideas that I have read such as a train museum.

    I even attempted reversed psychology with Benderson Development suggesting that they may possibly make amends after their wanton destruction of the Mid-City Building by resurrecting the Central Terminal Building.

    In an area like East Buffalo where pride is spoken of but not normally adhered too and appalling conditions are blamed on one select group of people, I believe the only approach is one of totally practicality.

    All of this, with no fanfare or accolades to no avail but perhaps, just perhaps, Mr. Fields I may have instilled an idea into some future entrepreneur?s head.

  • Granted, I do not know much about the terminal, but right now I live near it. It is now 2004, and I haven’t seen much done either.

    It’s a wonderful building and should be saved, but something does need to be done.

    On a windy day, like today (3/5/04), you can hear the building moan, when things move in it.

    That is dangerous for the area. I have seen early pictures of it, and it was a marvelous place. I’m sure Buffalo, and Erie County can bring that back.

  • Kelly Law,

    Finally, another voice of reason instead of the usual posturing from the Preservation League of Erie County or the Campaign for Buffalo whose motto should read: ?Save everything, even at the expense of costing the entire region possible employment opportunities.?

    This website is excellent and I only wish more people with common sense would use it as an electronic soap box on the need to preserve our buildings that are worth preserving. Instead, we read the ?tooting of one?s own horn? on the achievement of obtaining the Central Terminal Building from the previous owner.

    Excuse me, but I am sure that the previous owner was more than happy to dump the building after he stripped it of all of it?s Art Deco embellishments, copper gutters and any other items of value, scrap or otherwise.

    Since you reside in the area Kelly, could you tell me if there is a local (East Buffalo) interest in the building or is it just looked upon as another derelict structure that should be demolished?

    Do you think that the African-American or Polish-American members of the community would be interested in transforming the building into a heritage center or creating a central community within the building eventually expanding and/or improving the existing area?

    I do not normally agree with the ?urban renewal? mentality but I would not mind seeing the majority of business buildings that line Broadway demolished and returned to green space. East Buffalo would benefit by exemplifying the many outstanding beautiful cathedrals that are prominent in the area by allocating the property surrounding these magnificent buildings into cloisters or places for meditation.

    I would like to see the Broadway Market relocated into the main lobby of the Central Terminal Building thus becoming the center of the community and perhaps focusing on becoming more as-like a co-op where the local residents would have a choice as to where to shop instead of just Tops.

    And, yes, I fully realize that ideas are nothing more than ideas without financial backing but how much money was wasted on building the parking ramp that is the Broadway Market today?

    East Buffalo needs to down-size from its present over-abundance of aging housing stock where neighborhoods look like a gaping mouth with missing teeth as neglected and burned-out homes are eventually razed

  • Mark,

    I’m hoping there’s some interest in it. There aren’t to many people on my street, and the ones that I do talk to, are, well, I don’t know.

    I can try and get something going, but I’m not sure how successful I’ll be.

    There are a lot of African-Americans around here, and I know that a lot of the kids get into trouble. I would even like to see turned into a center for them even.

    I do agree with you about downsizing this part of the city. There are so many old houses, buildings, etc, that aren’t being lived in or used, and yet, there’s supposed to be a supermarket going up on Jefferson. I just don’t know about this city anymore.

  • Kelly,

    Sadly, neither you or I have the political clout to do much about the state of the Central Terminal Building et. al.

    The organizations that claim to take proactive roles are mostly talk and very little is actually accomplished other than creating a legal mess over a building that eventually is demolished, as like the Vernor’s Building on Main Street for example.

    The “new” director of the Preservation Coalition appears to be another autocratic “tooting of his own horn type” and I shall include an email I sent to him recently that was, naturally, ignored.

    God forbid anyone should question the elitist group of preservationists…

    Dear Mr. Scott Field,

    I am not fully aware of how exactly the Preservation Coalition of Erie County generates funds to maintain operation and I would have to believe that there must be other sources of revenue other than donations from members.

    Keeping the preceding statement in mind, I am wondering why your website newsletter is not more thoroughly updated. The occasional addition of information is added but the existing information is simply “pushed to the bottom of the page” and never updated.

    The Central Terminal “call for volunteers” is fully acceptable and I hope that your organization will spare some future “page space” for this years clean-up efforts and perhaps clarify as to whether or not the restoration corporation has any agenda in seeking out a possible future caretaker for the building. Such as the American Indian Association that was, apparently, considering the building for an athletic center.

    The building at 644 Michigan is going to be demolished. However, the signage and cast iron columns will be rescued for posterity compliments of the Ohio based owner.

    Kudos to the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum for purchasing the former Christian Scientist Church on North Street.

    121 signatures on the Petition to Reuse the former AM&A’s Department Store Complex is a sad commentary on our local gentry.

    Joel Giambra is more concerned with the 11-million allocated to Uniland then the building and has confirmed the need to make the site shovel ready…tends to make one think “whose got whose hand in whose pocket?”

    Imagine if this money were used for historic preservation, not complete restoration, otherwise eleven million would vanish quite quickly. I am referring to repairing roofs, which would be our number one damage control, removing windows and securing buildings from vandals and transients. In other words, mothballing these buildings for a future time when this region sees a rebirth and a true, heartfelt interest in the past through our architecture and this may not happen in any of our lifetimes, but we would be instrumental in the initial effort.

    I am literally referring to spreading around this eleven million to mothball every historic building in the City of Buffalo that is in need of attention. And, this is not a far fetch concept.

    The Vernor Building is destroyed. Where are the city policies in preventing this from happening?

    Next year is an mayoral election year for Buffalo, do you, Mr Field have any political clout, affiliation or possible political ambition to push Tony Masiello out of the corridors of city hall?

    Excellent! The 108-year-old Birge mansion to become law offices. How about a full page photo session of the completed restoration work that the Buffalo Philharmonic could not afford to complete?

    Rich Products May Donate Church to Preservation Coalition…Update? Has this occurred yet and, if so, what are the Preservation’s plans, if any?

    State Calls for Preservation Participation Niagara Square Federal Courthouse. The courthouse has been place on a two-year delay. The project is as good as dead. Typical Federal maneuver when funds have been over-spent on other courthouse projects across the country.

    Preservation Coalition Praises Judge’s Decision on Richardson Complex.

    Ancient news, and we all know that absolutely nothing is being “stabilized” unless you consider a chain link fence “stabilizing.” Yet, another sad commentary on our politicians both local and state.

    Two-years ago I suggested to Tim Tielman that the complex be used as a skilled nursing facility with each individual section renovated as space is required for our future aging baby boomer population. The “tower section” would remain administration and renovated first following with the individual segmented buildings. HH Richardson’s design for fire protection would allow individual building renovation in stages that could be spread out over a number of years. Providing skilled nursing will be a highly sought after commodity in the next twenty-years and generate a huge source of money.

    I can not fathom that I am the only person reading your website and pondering these same issues, or, am I?

    Regards,

    Mark Williams

  • I know that this site is for the Central Terminal but I believe that we need to check the pulse of our other architecturally significant buildings.

    Therefore, I would like to introduce the HH Richardson Complex to this site as well with my response to the most recent court ruling concerning the buildings preservation.

    I will apologize for repeating myself but I am attempting to drive a few points home.

    “The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court has ruled on technical grounds that New York State does not have to maintain the historic H.H. Richardson Complex. The recent ruling represents a victory for the administration of Gov. George E. Pataki, which had appealed a November 2002 ruling in State Supreme Court that could have forced repairs to other historic structures as well.”

    This quote, taken from a recent editorial from the Buffalo News, is a sad commentary on our political leaders concerning our architectural treasures. Not only is this a slap in the face to all of us preservationist in Western New York, it is a major step backwards concerning all historic buildings in need of preservation. Accountability has been removed and empty promises by our Governor ring hollow:

    “Regardless of the court’s decision, the bottom line is that Gov. Pataki has made clear the revitalization of the H.H. Richardson Complex is a major priority,”

    If this is true, than why have the original court decision repealed? And, if the average reader were to read further as to what exactly the restoration process includes, it would make us all ponder as to where all of the allotted funds are being spent.

    “A concern of some preservationists is whether stabilization funds will be used for the complex’s brick buildings. A 2002 study estimated $7 million was needed to seal all the buildings. But while those funds are being put to use, stabilization work begun last fall by the state Dormitory Authority excluded the brick buildings.”

    To clarify, this means that the West wing, which is still fully intact and represents HH Richardson’s original design, is to be left in it’s present deteriorated condition. Amazingly, the East wing, composed entirely of Medina sandstone, was partially demolished and the remaining buildings were “remodeled” as office space sometime in the early 1980’s. Having had the opportunity to tour the East wing, I question how much stabilizing is actually required. Whereas, the West wing has been unused since the 1960’s and is literally collapsing upon itself in several locations.

    Incidentally, the reason why the East wing is made of Medina sandstone and the West is made of brick is because the project, in 1874, was a major cost overrun by the state and the “cheaper” brick was substituted to defer further cost overrun. Our political leaders seem to still be from the same schools reading the same books after one-hundred and thirty-years.

    “Claudia Hutton, Dormitory Authority spokeswoman, said Tuesday that bids for work later in the year are mainly being directed at the sandstone buildings.
    “We started at the core, because that’s the signature building of the Richardson complex,” Hutton said. “Then you go outward.”
    Hutton said the brick buildings would mainly begin to get attention after the sandstone buildings are stabilized, and then only if money permits.”

    Again, I find this statement almost surreal since the administration building was part of the circa 1980’s remodeling project and I question (again) how much stabilization is truly required. I am convinced that a certain amount of deception is being played out to the general public in order to placate while “demolition by neglect” is allowed to manifest itself in the sections of the complex that require the actual stabilization.

    We all know that absolutely nothing is being “stabilized” unless you consider a chain link fence “stabilizing.” Yet, another sad commentary on our politicians both local and state.

    Two-years ago I suggested to Tim Tielman that the complex be used as a skilled nursing facility with each individual section renovated as space is required for our future aging baby boomer population. The “tower section” would remain administration and renovated first followed with the individual segmented buildings. HH Richardson’s design for fire protection would allow individual building renovation in stages that could be spread out over a number of years

    As for stabilization funds, perhaps the 11-million allocated to Uniland Development for the purchase and demolition of the former AM&A’s building should be re-directed towards a general blanketing of building preservation. Imagine if this money were used for historic preservation, not complete restoration, otherwise eleven million would vanish quite quickly. I am referring to repairing roofs, which would be our number one damage control, removing windows and securing buildings from vandals and transients. In other words, mothballing these buildings for a future time when this region sees a rebirth and a true, heartfelt interest in the past through our architecture and this may not happen in any of our lifetimes, but we would be instrumental in the initial effort.

    I am literally referring to spreading around this eleven million to mothball every historic building in the City of Buffalo that is in need of attention. And, this is not a far fetch concept.

    I can not fathom that I am the only person pondering these same issues, or, am I?

  • The clouds of controversy already begin to form in regards to Albany’s preservation attempts of the HH Richardson Complex.

    “The state’s priorities in regard to the City of Buffalo amaze me,” said John Juszkiewicz, first vice president of Police Benevolent Association.”

    “Joseph Foley, president of Professional Firefighters 282, agreed. “It is a shame that when they’re threatening to cut city programs and lay off firefighters, politicians seem to have enough money for pet projects,”

    “I just wish they could have put a little more emphasis on the necessities of life rather than the luxuries.”

    State Sen. Dale M. Volker, R-Depew said “In all honesty, most of my constituents were extremely upset. They feel it’s a building, and there was a lot of feeling that the city and county are in trouble. (The issue) created a very unusual problem for Buffalo and Western New York, in that it was an investment that won’t (be realized) for so many years.”

    “Alas, poor Juszkiewicz, Foley and Volker! I knew them, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rises at it.” (Hamlet parody)

    Pet projects? Luxuries? Speaking solely for myself but surely echoed by many “preservationist at heart” the long awaited funds have been (allegedly) allocated from Albany for the preservation and restoration of the HH Richardson Complex.

    How sad those in positions of authority have already cast their naysayer’s vote, lacking any form of vision that this project is for the good of Buffalo and for the future of the City of Buffalo.

    The future begins today with (finally) preserving our past for the next generations to appreciate what the City of Buffalo has to offer in terms of what one of eight great architects of the 19th century designed and built throughout our fair, albeit faltering, city.

    The HH Richardson Complex was intended to be the north anchor of Richmond Avenue and had been cast adrift by the State of New York through abject neglect. The time has come for this error to be amended.

    If the state’s attempt to resurrect this building is thwarted by the status quo mentality of city services and politicians, I for one, recommend insurrection to insure that history remembers this period of time as a new beginning instead of just another failed attempt.

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