Serving a mere 50 years, the Buffalo Central Terminal was built in 1929 by the New York Central Railroad. A single unified rail station had been proposed on this site since 1889, but it wasn't for another 40 years that it would finally happen.
Planning for the station was well under way by 1924. The location was chosen to give more room for trains, easing congestion at other existing stations, and they believed that Buffalo would quickly grow around it.
The cost of the project was estimated at $14 million and construction began in 1928. By June 2, 1929, New York Central Railway held a grand opening celebration with over 2,000 guests. Actual scheduled service, however, did not begin for another 21 days.
The BCT was big. Yet even though traffic began with over 200 daily trains, things were about to begin going downhill almost immediately. The depression hit, and the automobile was becoming an ever more popular method of transportation. During the war, however, traffic briefly spiked back up to 152 daily trains.
In 1956, with traffic again slumping, the New York Central Railway offered the terminal for sale for $1 million. There were no takers, and business continued to fall. In 1966, in order to reduce property taxes, several buildings on the property were demolished.
Costs continued to rise, and revenues continued to fall until finally the last train departed the station on October 28, 1979. Conrail closed its tower offices in 1980.
At the end of 1979, the building was sold for $75,000 to a realty company. The building was used for gala events, floor hockey, flea markets, and even had a private apartment for the owner, Anthony Fedele.
Fedele lost the building in a foreclosure for defaulting on his taxes in 1986. It was put up for auction and sold to Thomas Telesco for $100,000, as he was the only bidder. Telesco immediately began stripping and selling off anything of value from the building after which it was sold to Bernie and Samuel Tuchman.
The Tuchmans continued to ravage the Terminal for anything they could sell, and weren't too particular about how much damage they did in the process. They didn't bother to secure the building and so it also fell victim to constant vandalism. After many complaints, and badgering by local preservationists, the Tuchmans sold the Terminal to Scott Field of the Preservation Coalition of Erie County for $1 and the assumption of over $70,000 in back taxes. This was in August 1997.
The Buffalo Central Restoration Corporation was formed and continues to operate the building to this day.
Ok, so this was a "tour". They opened the building to the public. This day, however, was going to be something a little different. It was the first time they were opening part of the tower to the general public.
It sounded worth seeing when I heard about it, and in many ways, it certainly was. The building is beautiful, exhibiting characteristics nobody ever puts in public buildings anymore. Even the climb up the stairs to the 13th floor seemed worthwhile when I stepped through the window onto the balcony and looked out over the rail yard.
There are vast parts of this building that they won't let you see. There are parts of the rail yard they won't let you get to. There are adjacent buildings they don't want you to see, and they're careful to add details about alarms, smurfs, etc.
Putting me here and telling me I can't see all these things is like locking a cannibal in a Weight-Watchers convention and telling him he can't eat. The feast, however, will come another day.