The New York Central’s Buffalo Central Terminal is a railroad station
that perhaps should have never been built. Not only was it constructed
towards the end of the “Golden Age” of passenger rail travel in this
country but also on the hope that the City of Buffalo would grow to the likes of Philadelphia, New York,
or even Pittsburgh, which never transpired. So, it’s not surprising
that the building was almost always much too large for the area it
served and looked very out of place on the outskirts of town where the
city never grew to meet it as was originally hoped. Today, BCT still
stands although a mere shadow of its former self having been neglected
for over 20 years until a preservation effort beginning in 1997 is
attempting to see it restored to its former glory.
Buffalo Central Terminal was built and paid for entirely by the New York Central System. The NYC's decision to build this new station was to replace two aging and cramped structures, which were located in the downtown area of Buffalo, the Exchange Street Station and Terrace Station. The idea of placing the new station over two miles away from the downtown area was to not only allow for more efficient train operations but also in the hope that the City of Buffalo, which was growing at the time, to eventually spread out to the east-side area where BCT was to be built.
The architects chosen by the NYC for the new station were Fellheimer & Wagner of New York City, which would also build the famous Cincinnati Union Terminal a few years after Buffalo Central Terminal. The new station was built in the Art Deco style, which was the defining fad of the 1920s and the 1930s and featured a magnificent 15-story tower (used for offices) along with a five-story main concourse area. The concourse area itself was nearly sixty feet tall and measured some 225 feet long by 66 feet wide. Other features of the station included restaurants, a Pullman Company maintenance facility, ice house, the central office tower, Railway Express Agency building, and even its own power plant! Opened to the public in June of 1929 it was hailed as a Buffalo landmark.
However, the beauty of Buffalo Central Terminal is hard to imagine today as the structure has sadly been stripped over the years of nearly every valuable and ornate decoration built into it. The station was constructed during the end of the “Golden Age” of passenger rail travel in this country, and actually opened the same year that the Great Depression hit the United States. As such, the terminal never truly reached its full potential and saw less-than-hoped-for passenger traffic pass through its doors throughout the 1930s (it was built to serve 200 passenger trains a day). However, with the onset of World War II in late 1941 the terminal did see near-capacity traffic during the conflict although things quickly died away after 1945. Still, it played host to Central’s most famous passenger train, the 20th Century Limited, Chicagoan, Empire State Express, and Pacemaker along with trains from the Pennsylvania Railroad and Canadian National.
As early as the 1950s the NYC was attempting to rid itself of Buffalo Central Terminal but could find no buyers. Interestingly, in 1956 the NYC, realizing that passenger rail travel was in an inevitable decline put up for sale more than 400 of its stations but sold only 50. In any event, BCT continued on under NYC, and then Penn Central ownership following the 1968 merger with PRR. In 1971 Amtrak took over passenger operations to the station and Conrail acquired the building in its 1976 startup. From this point, things only got worse. Around 1980 both Conrail and Amtrak moved out of the building and although it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 this did not guarantee the building’s future.
From this time through the 1997 the Buffalo Central Terminal fell on very hard times. Various owners used it for storage and stripped nearly every valuable piece of decoration from the building. Along with years of vandalism by the 1990s the station was nothing more than an eyesore on the city and in real danger of being demolished. This is when a group of Buffalo preservationists stepped in and purchased the building for a mere $1 in 1997. Since then the group has formed the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation to preserve the historic structure. Over the last several years they have been successful at shoring up the building and stabilizing it to allow for further restoration efforts (in that time they have been able to secure $1 million in state grant money as well as thousands in donations).
The long-term of goal of the terminal is to see it fully restored and, hopefully, used in some type of rail capacity once more. However, attempts at finding tenants or a real estate developer have unsuccessful to date. Additionally, the use of the building to serve trains has also come into question given the poor neighborhood in which it is now located along with the fact that Amtrak has stated it does not really serve the carrier's needs because it is situated so far from the downtown area. In recent years the terminal, among all things, has become best known by the public for its appearances on reality ghost hunter television shows. In any event, for more information on the ongoing restoration efforts with Buffalo Central Terminal please visit the group’s website by clicking here. Also, if you would like to learn more about the New York Central System please click here.