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Home > Our City > Buffalo My City > Buffalo My City Watercolors > 37-A New York Central Terminal (1997)

37-A New York Central Terminal (1997)

Narrative by - David M. Rote
(Narratives are copyrighted)

After World War I ended, the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce was in the forefront of voices promoting the construction of a new passenger terminal to serve the people of Buffalo, replacing the aging Exchange Street station which had seen such luminaries as Abraham Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson pass through its portals.

It was announced in July of 1925 that a site had been chosen at Curtiss and Lovejoy Streets (this portion of Lovejoy was later renamed Paderewski and a new approach was named Lindbergh Drive, later renamed Memorial). Architects Alfred Fellheimer and Steward Wagner were chosen to design a terminal befitting the “Queen City of the Lakes” at a time when some 20,000 people were employed by the railroad industry in Buffalo.

Dominating the skyline on dedication day June 22, 1929 was the seventeen story terminal tower rising 271 feet with vertical fenestration and spandrels, truncated corners dominated by four giant clocks and topped by a setback buttressed crown. The main building concourse was 225 feel long and 66 feet wide and comprised a vaulted terra cotta and glazed brick ceiling which arched down to meet marble wall panels and a terrazzo floor. Originally a mounted American bison greeted passengers in the concourse but it was later removed to the Buffalo Museum of Science and replaced by a sculptured and bronzed paper maché bison.

Fellheimer and Wagner’s design bears the unmistakable influence of the Finnish-American architect Eliel Saarinen who had twenty years earlier designed the Central Railway Terminal in his native Helsinki complete with a tower, barrel vaults and massive semicircular windows and whose entry in the Chicago Tribune Building competition in 1922 was to dominate “the skyward trend of thought” throughout the twenties and thirties in the United States.

Saarinen and his son Eero were later (1939) to design the world acclaimed Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo while Fellheimer and Wagner immediately moved on to design Cincinnati’s Union Station, repeating the barrel vault design but with no tower.

The New York Central Terminal and its trackage covered seventy acres and arriving and departing trains were controlled by the largest interlocking signal towers in the world but for various reasons the terminal never achieved its full potential and today this great Art Deco monument, under new ownership, awaits plans for its future use.