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Author Topic: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins  (Read 915 times)

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Offline KJP

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Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« on: November 03, 2009, 03:45:16 PM »
Once upon a time there was an active, magnificent train station called Buffalo Central Terminal which served tens of thousands of people per day and more than 200 daily trains at its peak. It housed hundreds of employees for the New York Central Railroad Co., one of America's largest companies, in a landmark 17-story tower above the terminal, as well as in adjoining buildings.

But there was a problem -- several, actually. The station was built where the railroad needed it, not where the public wanted it. It was built at the junction of railroad lines that allowed easy access for trains. But it was two miles east of downtown Buffalo in a working-class Polish neighborhood. And since local mobsters controlled taxi cab companies, they kept a proposed streetcar line from being built into the station making it less accessible. And, worst of all, the station opened on June 22, 1929, four months before the stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression. The massive, ornate and very expensive Buffalo Central Terminal would never reach its full potential.

Just 30 years later, as governments built airports and highway and rail passenger traffic went into a severe decline, New York Central began closing sections of the terminal to save money. NYC merged with its rival Pennsylvania Railroad in 1968 as Penn-Central, went bankrupt several years later, and absorbed into government-owned Conrail in 1976. Amtrak took over passenger operations in 1971 and relocated its eight daily trains to/from Buffalo in 1979 to the old but cozy Exchange Street station downtown and the new and suburban station in Depew. By the early 1980s, there was nothing left at Buffalo Central Terminal but vagrants, vandals and memories....

Halloween 2009 was a fitting day for a tour of the ruins of Central Terminal by a nonprofit group seeking to restore it. I was happy to be part of the small tour. Thanks to Bruce Becker, President of the Empire State Passengers Association for arranging the tour and to Mark Lewandowski, president of the Central Terminal Restoration Corp. for accommodating us. Lewandowski grew up next to the station in the neighborhood that has also fallen on hard times.

Here's where the station is located...


June 22, 1929 was grand opening day. On that day, the station awaited its first train. By the next day, more than 200 trains would have called on the station...


In the late 1940s the station, its track area, support facilities and surrounding neighborhood were all still intact when this aerial view was taken...


In 1944, a New York Central passenger train heads west out of the station bound for Cleveland, Toledo and Chicago...


But scenes like this one during World War II wouldn't last for much more than another 20 years...



And now to today.....


Coming up the driveway from Curtiss Street, this is the view I was confronted with...


We are surrounded by ruins...




They are trying to save the station and have made some progress over the past decade. But there is hundreds of millions of dollars worth of work left to do...


And so we enter the station...










This space formerly held a swanky restaurant. You can still see some of the fancy detailing on the wall. But now it is accompanied by graffitti. This space is used for meetings and functions...




From this location, you would have walked out....


....to this concourse over the tracks. But the concourse was severed in 1982 from the station I'm standing inside by Conrail which needed the overhead clearance for its larger freight trains...






One of the persons accompanying us was an aging volunteer from the Empire State Passengers Association. He was in his 70s, a frequent user of this station decades ago, and often stopped to look quietly at certain things like this wrecked passenger services counter. Only he knows the personal memories such scenes triggered....


Then we went upstairs (the elevators are long gone) to the New York Central offices above the station. Some of the offices had views of the station concourses, but only after the frosted glass windows had been broken out by vandals over the past 30 years. Apparently New York Central used frosted glass because it didn't want its employees distracted by sights of the hustle and bustle of its own station...











 


These are the archaeological remains of New York Central's train dispatching center inside Central Terminal. It controlled the busy mainline tracks west of Syracuse to Niagara Falls. But this was all relocated to a modern dispatching center at Selkirk Yard near Albany. One of our tour companions checks out one of three consoles...


That isn't snow on the floor next to the cold radiator -- it's dust...


Amazingly, the site owners have already hauled away more 300 tons of debris left by Conrail when they abandoned the facility in the early 1980s. But there are still many offices in the tower that look like this...


And so our small tour group asked some final questions of our guide moments before thanking him and saying goodbye...


But just to show that all is not desolate rail-wise in Buffalo, we headed east to Amtrak's Depew Station. On the way, we passed a CSX freight train getting ready to depart Frontier Yard...


The CSX freight caught up to us at Depew, as we held on to our hats and hairpieces on a VERY windy day. Some gusts easily exceeded 50 mph. But the freight train was moving at only about 30 mph...










I'm taking this a bit out of order, but I wanted to end with photographs of a passenger train. When we first arrived in Buffalo to meet our New York friends, we met at Amtrak's Exchange Street station downtown. Minutes after our arrival, Amtrak's "Maple Leaf" from Toronto heading for New York City pulled into this lesser used of Buffalo's two stations...


A few passengers got off and about a dozen got on board. At Depew, dozens more boarded for the dash to the Big Apple...


Even after we left Buffalo on that Halloween and headed west along Lake Erie's southern shore, our thoughts were still with the station whose ghostly chambers rattled and echoed with the sounds of the wind gusts and nothing else. It left a hollow, empty feeling that haunted us all the way back to Cleveland...
« Last Edit: November 03, 2009, 07:37:30 PM by KJP »
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Offline Stormy Daytons

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #1 on: November 03, 2009, 04:00:53 PM »
Beautiful.
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Offline MyTwoSense

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #2 on: November 03, 2009, 04:25:32 PM »
That is a gorgeous building. 

Online jmecklenborg

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #3 on: November 03, 2009, 04:29:09 PM »
Would air travel be as popular as it is if airports where as threadbare as today's typical Amtrak whistle stop? Greyhound stations are better than many Amtrak stations! 

Online ink

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #4 on: November 03, 2009, 04:31:49 PM »
Sad.

Offline Living in Gin

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #5 on: November 03, 2009, 04:32:37 PM »
Beautiful building... I remember going past it on the Lake Shore Limited a few years ago and thinking how sad it looked. At least it seems to be in much better condition than Detroit's Michigan Central Station.

Offline Robert Pence

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #6 on: November 03, 2009, 05:50:32 PM »
Would air travel be as popular as it is if airports where as threadbare as today's typical Amtrak whistle stop? Greyhound stations are better than many Amtrak stations! 

Would airports be as attractive and amenity-rich as they are if the airlines had to pay anything near the operating costs they incur, or if the massive quantities of tax-dollars spent on them were subject to as much howling criticism as passenger rail's pittance?

Buffalo Central Terminal's grand concourse looks much better than it did in earlier photos I saw of it, full of trash and litter. Those folks certainly have cleaned it up.

Online jmecklenborg

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #7 on: November 03, 2009, 06:12:22 PM »
Amtrak is a dependable whipping-boy for Wayne Allyn Root and other libertarians who are frequent talk radio guests. Never -- NEVER -- are the political motivations for the system's notorious money-losing routes even mentioned.  The service -- or lack thereof -- is never discussed in any detail. Meanwhile, we get weekly updates on CVG's woes by an "aviation expert" on 700WLW, but there is *never* any criticism levied at the third $250 million north-south runway completed around 2005, almost to the day when Delta started abandoning its hub. 

Offline C-Dawg

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #8 on: November 03, 2009, 06:34:12 PM »
Would air travel be as popular as it is if airports where as threadbare as today's typical Amtrak whistle stop? Greyhound stations are better than many Amtrak stations! 

Thankfully, that's not the case in Toledo.

But overall, yeah, our Amtrack stations need more love. This Buffalo station looks almost on the level of Detroit's legendary media whipping boy. What a gorgeous landmark building.

Amtrak is a dependable whipping-boy for Wayne Allyn Root and other libertarians who are frequent talk radio guests. Never -- NEVER -- are the political motivations for the system's notorious money-losing routes even mentioned.  The service -- or lack thereof -- is never discussed in any detail. Meanwhile, we get weekly updates on CVG's woes by an "aviation expert" on 700WLW, but there is *never* any criticism levied at the third $250 million north-south runway completed around 2005, almost to the day when Delta started abandoning its hub.

I think the issue is that mainstream media just doesn't understand rail issues at all. At times, it seems like a discussion that can't even take place since so many people are clueless about how things are funded in the United States (or are too biased to see an alternative). I mean the average KJP thread on Urban Ohio is better than anything you'd get in mainstream media.
« Last Edit: November 03, 2009, 06:41:29 PM by C-Dawg Njaim »

Offline BuckeyeB

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #9 on: November 03, 2009, 06:43:59 PM »
Same thing happened in St. Louis where a new $2 billion runway was completed (they demolished 2,000 homes in the process) just in time for a massive cutback by American Airlines. The runway is little used and is considered too far to taxi to by the airlines.

Back to BCT. The facility, grand and imposing as it is, is a monument to managerial shortsightedness. NYC built the station to satisfy operational needs, not public convenience and was terribly overbuilt. When one considers the number of huge stations on that railroad at Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Buffalo, it's no wonder they lost money!

BTW, NYC had a coal mine that supplied BCT and another station. BCT burned coal at the rate of 4 tons an hour!!! The waiting room ceiling is 58 feet from the floor, a huge space to heat.

The location and neighborhood is poor and I doubt BCT would ever be used for its original purpose.

Offline Robert Pence

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #10 on: November 03, 2009, 06:49:59 PM »

I think the issue is that mainstream media just doesn't understand rail issues at all. At times, it seems like a discussion that can't even take place since so many people are clueless about how things are funded in the United States (or are too biased to see an alternative). I mean the average KJP thread on Urban Ohio is better than anything you'd get in mainstream media.

I agree with that statement. Our local media people, especially in televison, learned everything they want to know about railroading by watching a couple episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine.

Offline Eigth and State

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #11 on: November 03, 2009, 06:57:13 PM »
   "It was built at the junction of railroad lines that allowed easy access for trains. But it was two miles east of downtown..."

   Sounds like Cincinnati. Oh, wait, the two terminals were designed by the same firm.

Offline Eigth and State

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #12 on: November 03, 2009, 06:59:06 PM »

   In the 1920's, the railroads were already starting to lose passenger traffic, yet they invested in a lot of passenger rail infrastructure anyway.

   Kind of like the airlines are doing today.

Offline KJP

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #13 on: November 03, 2009, 07:15:12 PM »
Not true. Railroads saw their market share peak in 1929, but their total ridership peaked in 1944. But it is true that the interurbans were on the decline after about 1922 (I forget the exact year). By 1930, most were gone.
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Offline Living in Gin

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #14 on: November 03, 2009, 07:19:24 PM »
One has to wonder how different our country would look today if it weren't for World War II. Europe's infrastructure was destroyed, so they had no choice but to rebuild. We chose to destroy our own infrastructure and then rebuild it to suit the needs of General Motors and Standard Oil.
« Last Edit: November 03, 2009, 07:19:32 PM by Living in Gin »

Offline Ram23

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #15 on: November 03, 2009, 10:02:09 PM »
One has to wonder how different our country would look today if it weren't for World War II. Europe's infrastructure was destroyed, so they had no choice but to rebuild. We chose to destroy our own infrastructure and then rebuild it to suit the needs of General Motors and Standard Oil.

Well Americans love the ability to go where they want to, when they want to.  It's going to be tough to ever change that way of living.  More so than cars, I think it's airlines that are doing the job railroads should be doing today.

Offline KJP

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #16 on: November 03, 2009, 11:00:41 PM »
Everyone loves mobility, and having good passenger rail service offers freedom of choice for people of means, and outright freedom of movement for people who cannot afford cars, cannot physically drive or want to live in urban settings where having a car is a pain in the ass.

But why has this thread turned to this discussion? Discuss Buffalo's station, its architecture, its location, its prospects for redevelopment (residential? retail? special events?) or if it should ever have passenger rail service again as is espoused by the facility's owners....

http://buffalocentralterminal.org/
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Offline Ram23

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #17 on: November 04, 2009, 07:57:56 AM »
Buffalo Central Terminal seems similar to Michigan Central Station in Detroit, being a massive building in an odd location two miles from downtown.  Cincinnati's Union Terminal almost suffered a similar fate, and could be looked at as a case study for successful renovation.  It's also two miles from downtown, in an odd location, and probably only kept it's rail service (3 trains per week I think) because the Museum Center is there.  Before it was the museum, it had a short stint as a failed retail complex... something that should also be taken into consideration before any moves are made at Buffalo. 

Offline McCleveland

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #18 on: November 04, 2009, 08:01:35 AM »
Perhaps photos like these wouldn't depress me as much if we were still capable of creating buildings the way we used to.  I really don't think we are anymore.

Offline Vince_908

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #19 on: November 04, 2009, 01:47:39 PM »
I love the Central Terminal just for what it is as well as for its metaphorical value. When it was at its worst, it symbolized a city that had reached a nadir. Now, as it gradually claws its way back to life, it symbolizes a city that I have good reason to hope is doing the same.

It's hard to know what could ultimately happen at the terminal, but I don't see why it would not be suited for passenger service for at least one of its functions, and it has proved popular as a location for large public gatherings. The views from the upper floors would be interesting, I'm sure, whether toward the surreal and flat landscape of Buffalo itself and the waters beyond or toward the beautiful hilly countryside that fans out beyond the city from southwest to east.

The neighborhood around the terminal is in rough condition, but, on the other hand, Buffalo has had success with off-downtown office development in the Larkin District, and the tower would be a great candidate for residential use if it were downtown or in one of many other neighborhoods. I'd love to see an East Side extension of the Metro Rail line that could pass through Larkin and by the Central Terminal on its way out to the airport or wherever.
« Last Edit: November 04, 2009, 01:48:17 PM by Vince_908 »

Offline mrnyc

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #20 on: November 04, 2009, 03:33:17 PM »
^ thank you for that. i was just wondering if it could be reincorporated into local transit or put to any other use.


I think the issue is that mainstream media just doesn't understand rail issues at all. At times, it seems like a discussion that can't even take place since so many people are clueless about how things are funded in the United States (or are too biased to see an alternative). I mean the average KJP thread on Urban Ohio is better than anything you'd get in mainstream media.

I agree with that statement. Our local media people, especially in televison, learned everything they want to know about railroading by watching a couple episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine.

i'm afraid i'm more cynical. yes there is a lack of understanding by mainstream media and thats a biggie. however, even tho big auto is in decline there are probably still a few other lobbies around that also strive to keep us in the dark re the benefits of rail service, such as road construction firms and the like. thankfully perceptions are changing.

Offline seicer

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #21 on: November 04, 2009, 09:46:36 PM »
Fantastic location. I have the opportunity to travel up there this winter to document the preservation of the terminal... I can't wait!

Offline Hayward

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #22 on: November 04, 2009, 11:25:43 PM »
Well they certainly cleaned house.  I mean there's electricity now it appears.  Thanks for the photos!

Offline KJP

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #23 on: April 11, 2012, 03:44:11 PM »
It's not always an empty station. This is their latest Dyngus Day festivities. The station is in a former Polish neighborhood....

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Offline Cleburger

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #24 on: April 19, 2012, 09:19:49 PM »
Well they certainly cleaned house.  I mean there's electricity now it appears.  Thanks for the photos!

Not much for plumbing though.  The Dyngus Day relief is found OUTSIDE the building in a fenced in Port-O-Let compound.  It gets ugly late at night....

Offline Jaybird

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #25 on: August 06, 2012, 07:48:52 PM »
I had the honor of being one of the first to participate in the Central Terminal's Photographers Day last month, for $100 I could take all the pictures I wanted with my tripod and explore the building (except the tower due to Peregrine Falcons being up there). Well worth it! It's an awesome building despite its derelict condition.

Offline KJP

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #26 on: August 08, 2012, 08:19:59 PM »
They're charging now? Well I got they to raise money somehow......
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Offline Jaybird

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #27 on: August 08, 2012, 09:55:47 PM »
They charge $10 per historic and guided tour (no professional photography). $20 for tower tours. The tour I was in was a special photographer's event @ $100, I was more than happy to pay for that. Interestingly enough, I think of the 15 people that were part of the tour, 12 were Canadians.

Offline KJP

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #28 on: August 04, 2014, 10:33:20 AM »
A new future for Buffalo Central Terminal?

Read about it and discuss it at:
http://www.urbanohio.com/forum2/index.php/topic,6079.msg719937.html#msg719937
"Many Americans are willing to die for their country. But pay taxes for it? No way." -- Me.

Offline Cleburger

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Re: Buffalo Central Terminal ruins
« Reply #29 on: January 15, 2017, 09:55:21 AM »
Buffalo Central Terminal was heralded as one of the premier examples of railroad art deco architecture when it was built in 1929

http://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/07/04/priority-buffalo-central-terminal-heralded-one-premier-examples-railroad-art-deco-architecture-built-1929/