Building Description New York Central Terminal, Buffalo New York

The New York Central Terminal is a monumental steel-frame brick clad complex built between 1927 and 1930 and located astride Curtiss Street in the southeast quadrant of the city of Buffalo, Erie County. The approximately 61 acre complex, located two miles from the central business district, is in an area characterized by the East Buffalo freight and stock yards, light manufacturing facilities, and commercial structures. The complex consists of ten structures:

1) the main terminal building flanked by three attached wings: the baggage and mail building, the U.S. Terminal Railway Post Office building, and the train concourse with platforms (now disconnected) and the underground baggage tunnel and above-ground truck ramp.

2) a detached power plant building;

3) a separate Railroad Express Terminal Building;

4) signal towers No. 48 and No. 49 and their adjacent signal repair shops;

5) two small utility buildings.

The principal feature of the complex is an octagonal tower that rises 271 feet above the track level and stands over and forms a part of the rectangular station building. All of the buildings in the complex were constructed within a three year period with the exception of the Railroad Express Terminal, which predates the complex by ten years. The majority of the buildings in the complex reflect the Art Deco style and are unified by their buff-colored rough faced brick exteriors, vertical projecting piers, and limestone and concrete trim. Despite some deterioration, the rail complex retains a high degree of architectural integrity. There is also an early twentieth century oil tank located to the east of the terminal.

There were also five coach repair shops located at the northeastern edge of the complex which were demolished in the 1960's. No features associated with the repair shops survive.

Paderewski and Memorial Drives and the circular traffic plaza form the northwest edge of the parcel. These thoroughfares, along with Curtiss Street to the south, delineate a triangular open green space which was designed to serve as a "courtyard" for the complex. Constructed to handle the huge volume of traffic flowing into the terminal, the roadways form a dramatic visual focal point for the entire railroad complex.

Main Terminal Building

The general configuration of the main terminal is a six-story rectangle with a twenty-story tower at the northwest corner, a five-story wing projecting west along the southwest corner, a three-story structure abutting the five-story wing and also projecting west, and a 450-foot train concourse projecting to the south. To the north of the building is a balustraded plaza running the full length of the facade and partially around the east and west sides.

The main terminal building is a six-story, rectangular barrel-vaulted structure measuring 300 feet long by 225 feet wide and 100 feet high. Positioned at the bend of Curtiss Street, the terminal is visually dominated by the octagonal, twenty-story tower on its northwest corner. The terminal has a granite base, grey brick facing and limestone trim. It is distinguished by large round arches under the barrel vaults on the east and west elevations. Flanked by pylons, these arches frame windows which nearly fill the entire ends of the building. A slightly smaller relieving-arched window marks the northeast corner of the structure. The building has vertical piers which divide the elevations into four-bay sections. Double-hung sash predominate. Projecting brick panels compose the cornice.

The tower at the northwest corner of the station is 80 feet in diameter and 271 feet high. The tower is composed of a series of setbacks flanking vertical piers. The buttresses, which mark the corners of the octagon, continue to the top to form an octagonal "crown" distinguished by a series of arched niches surmounted by stylized stone finials. Large clocks with stone surrounds are positioned above the eleventh story on each canted corner. Ornamental canopies are suspended above the north and west tower entrances as well as the northeast and east entrances on the main terminal building. The canopies are supported by wrought-iron cables with stylized Art Deco motifs and are decorated with the emblems of various railroad companies. Above the canopies are two-story, three-bay glazed windows topped by a stone frieze with different stylized geometric panels. Many of the first floor wrought iron spandrels have a stylized crest or wave motif.

One of the major exterior elements of the complex is a steel and reinforced concrete station plaza which encircles the facade and bends partially around the east and west elevations. The one-story plaza is demarcated by a stone balustrade with obelisks supporting light fixtures. The plaza measures 150 feet wide and 600 feet long and is level with the main floor of the station. Twenty feet below the station plaza is a circular plaza on Lindbergh Drive which measures 250 feet in diameter and constitutes the focus of six radiating thoroughfares. The main thoroughfare, 150 feet wide by 600 feet long, sweeps up a gently sloping incline to the station plaza itself. The area beneath the plaza encloses a street car terminal, a parking garage, baggage facilities, and a trucking center.

The tower on the northwest corner of the terminal provides the entrance lobby to the passenger concourse directly to the south. A battery of elevators in the lobby of the tower leads to the fifteen floors of office space above. Dark grey Botticino marble covers the floor and walls of the entrance lobby. The main passenger concourse, which lies in a general east-west direction, is 66 feet wide, 225 feet long and consists of a barrel-vaulted ceiling with 64-foot domes at both ends. There is a balcony at each end of the concourse. The concourse is decorated with sky blue and buff-colored Guastavino tile which extends down the walls to meet a continuous twelve-foot wainscoting of light and dark Botticino marble. Large round-arch windows light the interior.

At the west end of the concourse are eighteen curvilinear ticket offices which are entirely enclosed by glass, with the exception of the bronze grilles which form the ticket windows. The ticket counters, along with the concession counters and the circular information booth in the center of the concourse, have Botticino marble tops and wainscoted fronts surmounted by bronze-finished frames and ornate overhead grille friezes. The lighting fixtures in the concourse consist of bronze pedestals with frosted globes mounted on marble corbels, a number of ceiling lights, and two ornamental chandeliers supported from the vaulted ceiling. The floor is composed of four different colored terrazzo tiles (cedar and pink Tennessee, Botticino, Red Verona) with a dark border and sectional stripes to ornament and break up the large floor space.

The interior retains nearly all of the original storefronts complete with their period signs and advertisements. The main entrances and exits have prominent stone pier surrounds with glazed panels above, wrought-iron stylized Art Deco motifs, and grillework with wave patterns.

Large Art Deco style floor lights flank each entrance/exit. The Art Deco decoration extends to the telephone booths, water fountains, and mailboxes. Positioned in front of the northeast entrance atop a five-foot marble podium is a large bronze statue of a buffalo placed there in 1958 to replace the stuffed buffalo which had stood there since the station's opening.

Although a lofty open space, the concourse was relatively quiet when in use due to a special sound-proof structural system. The foundation pillars were set in vibration mats consisting of alternate layers of asbestos and lead. In addition, the walls and domed ceiling were faced with a unique type of tile that has the property of absorbing sound. Finally, the floors were insulated by lining the concrete base with two-inch-thick cork slabs.

The waiting room adjoins the south side of the concourse and is connected to it by a series of doorways. The room measures 108 feet long by 59 feet wide and has a high arched ceiling. The interior decorations include dark Botticino marble wainscoting, above which are panels of plate glass mirrors under large arches. The arch springers and ceiling are paneled in the Spanish antique style and painted sky blue with a prominent cloud effect. The end walls are adorned by medallions representing the Statue of Liberty, West Point, Niagara Falls, and a locomotive symbolizing transportation. Also at the end of the room are large, marble-faced clocks flanked by six-foot plaster plaques set in relief. The original back-to-back oak settees which provided seating space for passengers have been placed in storage.

Along the north side of the passenger concourse opposite the waiting room is the restaurant, which is 100 feet long and 56 feet wide. Six-foot ornamental iron grilles divide the restaurant into three sections: a coffee shop, a lunch room and a dining room. A wainscoting of black and gold marble encircles the room, which has a low ceiling with heavy beams and recesses decorated in the Art Deco style with gold and silver leaf. The central lunch room has a double "U" shaped counter which has a skirt of Botticino marble and black Carrara glass tops along the coffee shop counter. Geometric designs in brilliant reds, greens, and golds decorate the plaster walls.

The baggage room, to the west of the waiting room, is connected with the main baggage floor below by means of a spiral chute for lowering packages. Parcel checking facilities are located at the east end of the terminal near the main concourse. Adjoining the baggage room and waiting room to the rear are the lavatory facilities for men and women. These rooms are finished with white Carrara glass and have black and white hexagonal floor tiles. Mahogany doors separate them from the waiting room. The exit lobby is located at the northeast corner of the terminal, opposite the train concourse, and has a twelve-foot-high wainscoting of light and dark Botticino marble and buff-colored Guastavino tile on the vaulted ceiling.

Secondary passenger facilities such as newsstand soda fountains, travel agents, liquor stores, barbers, concession stands, and telegraph offices are scattered throughout the station. All of the stands are Art Deco in design with Botticino marble, Carrara glass, and ornamental ironwork with a silver and bronze finish.

Offices occupy the upper three floors of the passenger terminal. Located below the main concourse is the track level, mezzanine floor, and the basement. Extending under only a portion of the building, the basement contains food storage rooms and the heating and ventilating systems. The track, or street level, floor is occupied by storage rooms, rental areas, and a baggage room. The mezzanine floor is composed of locker, dormitory, and lavatory facilities for train crews as well as rental and storage areas. The continuity of the mezzanine floor and the basement is broken at midpoint by the extension of Curtiss Street, which was relocated and extended in conjunction with the station project. The large thoroughfare is used for delivering supplies and serves the baggage and mail facility located adjacent to it.

Adjoining the southwest corner of the main station building and extending west along Curtiss Street is the steel-frame, five-story baggage and mail building. The fifteen-bay building is sixty feet wide and 350 feet long with brick facing which matches the main station. Delineated by piers, each bay is comprised of four window bays with double-hung sash. The fourth bay to either side of the center, which is six stories in height, has a slightly higher projecting parapet than the others. The upper three floors are used for office space while the lower street level is divided in half between the handling of baggage (east half) and the handling of railway mail (west half). Both sections have concrete trucking platforms, rolling steel doors, and canopies.

Abutting the northwest corner of the baggage and mail building is the three-story railway post office building. The sixteen-bay brick structure has a flat roof and a central row of monitor lights. Delineated by brick piers, each bay is composed of four horizontal window bays separated by brick mullions. The second and sixth bays from each end have parapet projections while the central four bays are stepped higher than the others. A train shed covered with corrugated metal awnings extends past the west end of the building.

The fifty-foot-wide train concourse extends from the south side of the passenger terminal for a distance of 480 feet over all of the platform tracks of the station layout. The brick facing and stone trim matches that of the station. The six round-arched bays are divided by a series of slender brick piers with enclosed stairways, resembling buttresses, extending below each bay from both sides. The seven stairways on the west lead from the terminal to the track platforms while those on the east provide entrance back into the terminal. The train concourse is positioned twenty-one feet above track level with the stairways and ramps giving access to the trains from the platforms, which serve two tracks each. The platforms, which vary in length, are distinguished by curvilinear canopies. A four-bay, flat-roofed wing originally connected the six-bay, gable-roof train concourse to the main terminal. However, in 1981 the connector was demolished in order to make a thoroughfare for the larger, modern trains. Beneath the station tracks is an underground baggage subway which extends 660 feet to the southeast of the main terminal. A one-story, nine-bay brick structure houses the truck ramp which leads into the underground baggage subway.

Power Plant Building

Located approximately 300 feet directly to the east of the station is the three-story, brick power plant with limestone trim and coping. Each elevation of the rectangular structure has a tall central structural bay divided into three window bays by slender piers. Double wooden entrance doors are on the ground floor. The taller central bays are flanked by two triple window bays to either side. The large rectangular multi-pane windows have corbeled lintels. Truncated piers form buttresses at each corner of the building. Entrances on the north and south corners have large round-arched, multi-light transoms with brick corbel lintels. A large smokestack originally protruded from the central part of the roof but only the lower five feet remains. The power plant contains coal boilers, air compressors, and an electric sub-station. The coal boilers produced steam which was distributed through an extensive system of pipes and ducts to the station building and throughout the yards for car heating, brake testing, and car lighting.

Railway Express Building

Situated to the southwest of the main terminal is the Railway Express building constructed in 1917. The structure is 60 feet wide, 860 feet long, and two stories high. The concrete structure has a flat roof and plain cornice. The north and south elevations are punctured by thirty-six bays of large, multi-pane, factory-type sash; the east and west sides have three bays of similar fenestration. The first story on the north side consists of raised loading platforms with large sliding metal doors. A flat awning is connected by cables between the first and second stories on the north side; however, some sections of the awning are missing. A large train shed covering four tracks extends the full length of the south side and projects far beyond the end of the building. A small, one-story, flat-roofed addition projects from the west side.

Signal Towers and Repair Shops

Signal Tower No. 48 is located east of the station; Tower No. 49 is positioned past the west end of the station behind the Railway Express Terminal. Both buildings measure approximately twenty-one feet wide by 109 feet long and are two-story, seven-bay brick utilitarian structures with flat parapet roofs and metal awning-like cornices. Tower No. 48 has second floor bay windows on the north and south elevations. Tower No. 49 has one second floor bay window on the north elevation and two on the south side with exterior iron stairs leading to them. Both structures were constructed of sound-proof material to prevent interference with the other signal towers in the Buffalo area. To the west of each signal tower is a detached one-story, five-bay brick signal repair shop with a flat parapet roof.

Utility Buildings

Located between the signal towers and the main terminal block are two small, two-story, five-bay brick structures with flat roofs. The utility buildings contained various tools and locker space for the yard workers.

The majority of the structures retain high architectural integrity with the exception of the Railway Express building which has most of its windows missing. In 1981, a connecting wing of the concourse was demolished in order to accommodate the larger, modern trains. The terminal is presently vacant.