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From the Magazine: All Aboard

Marty Slawiak has lived his whole life in Buffalo, New York. He married, had a couple of children, and built a career in the sheet metal business that he continues to this day. But it wasn’t until the death of his father that he truly discovered Buffalo Central Terminal. “After my father passed away,  I found out from my mother that he had worked at the terminal. Those were stories I had never heard as a kid.”

Eager to connect with his father’s past, Slawiak decided to take a tour of the historic train station. “I was hooked immediately,” he said. Ever since that day twelve years ago, Marty Slawiak has been volunteering at Buffalo Central Terminal—giving tours, painting door frames, installing lighting, windows, and railing, and advocating for the future of the abandoned Art Deco icon that is now sometimes used for events. Last year, Buffalo Central Terminal was included on the 2018 World Monuments Watch to bring awareness to the positive impact redevelopment could have at the site, giving new life to both the landmark and its surrounding community.

Slawiak's father during WWII.
Slawiak's father during WWII.

During World War II, when Buffalo Central Terminal was the second most heavily used train station in the country for departing and returning G.I.s, Slawiak’s mother and other members of the community would provide hospitality to soldiers as they passed through. “That was our country and that was our duty,” she told him.

Slawiak’s mother also regularly visited his father when he worked at the terminal’s commissary. After they married, his parents left from Buffalo Central Terminal for their honeymoon in Boston— a free trip that was a perk of his job. One day while volunteering, Slawiak found himself standing on the same platform where they had departed 60 years earlier to the day. “It was like the presence of my father drawing me in.” 

Buffalo Central Terminal, historic image

It turns out everyone has a story about Buffalo Central Terminal. During his time volunteering at the site, Slawiak has heard them all: women who waved goodbye to their husbands as they departed for war, never to see them again; newly-minted American citizens from the old country who traveled through the terminal to their new homes; adults who as children roamed the halls of “the greatest place in the world,” where “you could be free to do whatever you wanted to do.”

“You can’t believe how much this building has touched so many people in so many different ways,” said Slawiak. “Because it’s so beautiful, people remember this building.” Slawiak was 22 years old when the last train left the station in 1979. Construction of the interstate highway system and the growth of the airline industry led to a decrease in passenger rail traffic that was impossible to reverse. The closing of the terminal coincided with a larger slump for the city. “It seemed there was no progress [in Buffalo] after that,” he said.

Marty Slawiak is captured by a local newspaper installing lighting in Buffalo Central Terminal.
Marty Slawiak is captured by a local newspaper installing lighting in Buffalo Central Terminal.

Now, local advocates led by the Buffalo Central Terminal Restoration Corporation are envisioning a new future for the once-vibrant station—one with the potential to also revitalize its immediate neighborhood and the city as a whole. In April, the State of New York announced a $5 million grant from the “Buffalo Billion” project to restore the terminal’s concourse and make the space fully functional for community and private use, year-round. Redevelopment discussions are ongoing.

Slawiak outside Buffalo Central Terminal.
Slawiak outside Buffalo Central Terminal.

Slawiak, for one, can’t wait for the day that Buffalo Central Terminal shines again. “I think it’s the greatest building in the whole city,” he said. “When you walk in, you just know it. It’s got to be saved.”

To read more stories from the 2019 Watch Magazine, click here.