by Jacob Conley, Ava Orton and Luke Toney
Mark Lewandowski has seen many ups and downs in his years of working at Buffalo’s Central Terminal. But now, the historic train station seems as well positioned as ever to take advantage of the city’s renaissance and capitalize on efforts to reuse the landmark.
“We were able to work with the state of New York and were promised $5 million for restorations to put in new windows and stuff like that,” said Lewandowski.
Lewandowski, the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation director of facilities, finance, tours and events, said “Through a lot of volunteer hours we were able to open the building up to visitors.”
In 1929 the Central Terminal in Buffalo was completed, and on June 22nd it opened to the public. The grand opening festivities included a party attended by over 2,200 invited guests. It was the largest event in Buffalo’s history at the time. Not long after the terminal’s grand opening however, the nation was hit with the Stock Market Crash of 1929, and travel across that country declined.
“The only people taking trains at that time, were the hobos,” Lewandowski elaborated, alluding to the struggles many Americans faced during the Great Depression.
Once the nation started to improve from its economic problems, so did the Central Terminal and the railroad industry as a whole, thanks in large part to America’s participation in the raging wars in Europe and the Pacific.
“World War Two was this place’s heyday,” Lewandowski said.
During this 1940’s upsurge, it was very popular, with more than 200 trains arriving a day. This lasted until the quality and dependability of car and air travel improved.
In the early 1970’s, Amtrak took control of the station, and with that marked the beginning of the end for the Central Terminal, a true sign of the times for passenger rail service. By 1979, the station saw it’s last train depart, and with that, Amtrak shifted operations to a much smaller station in Depew, N.Y.
In the early 1980’s a man named Tony Fedele purchased the building and used the complex to host events. He even lived there in an apartment with his dog that he used as security. Later, the terminal was foreclosed upon by the IRS due to Fedele defaulting on owed taxes.
Thomas Telesco purchased the station in the ensuing foreclosure auction, as he was the only bidder. Telesco spent $100,000 on the building and had plans to utilize the complex as a banquet hall. However none of these plans came to fruition, and Telesco mainly just used his ownership of the terminal to sell artifacts and other valuables found on the property.
Now the building is being renovated by Lewandowski’s corporation, to be used for events and as a mixed-use complex. However, the Central Terminal’s railroad past may not be fading away fully just yet.
“I have talked with officials from Amtrak, and they have said once the building [Central Terminal] is occupied, they will put a stop back in,” said Lewandowski. “It will not be a station again, but it will be a stop.”
Lewandowski and his non-profit, the Buffalo Central Terminal Restoration Corporation have secured a $5 million dollar grant from the State of New York for renovations to the station’s concourse. This, coupled with the tireless efforts of local volunteers, government officials, and organizations, the Central Terminal may once again see footsteps grace the marble floors of one of Buffalo’s most storied buildings.