Eternity in a big way, as Salvatore plans mausoleum in front of his Transit Road restaurant - The Buffalo News
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Eternity in a big way, as Salvatore plans mausoleum in front of his Transit Road restaurant

No, it won’t have a glass elevator whisking seasonally attired characters up and down, and there’s no word whether any crystal chandeliers will be inside.

But it’s true.

Restaurateur Russell J. Salvatore wants to build a mausoleum for himself in front of his landmark Russell’s Steaks, Chops and More and the connecting Salvatore’s Grand Hotel at 6675 Transit Road in Lancaster, where he himself would like to spend eternity.

“This way, when people pass by to go to the restaurant, they’ll say, ‘That’s where Mr. Salvatore is laid out,’ and they’ll think of me,” Salvatore explained to The Buffalo News.

The mausoleum “won’t be anything gaudy,” he assured.

It’s not exactly understated, either.

A rendering he provided to The News shows what appears to be a grand mausoleum with a peaked roof and four Roman columns along the front. Two doors are emblazoned with the letter “S” surrounded by laurel leaves.

“I don’t want to be forgotten,” said Salvatore, 80, who has devoted his life to his restaurants and the surrounding community. “Once you go in the ground, they forget you in a week.”

While he has no plans to use it anytime soon, Salvatore said, he expects the mausoleum to be built by May.

Salvatore has been communicating with the Lancaster Town Board about his plans.

“It is an unusual request, but if you know Russ as long as I have, it’s not a surprise to go out of the world this way,” Supervisor Dino J. Fudoli said. “It seems only fitting.”

The mausoleum would be placed in his privately owned Russell J. Salvatore Patriots and Heroes Park in front of his Transit Road restaurant. The park already has a memorial to the victims of Flight 3407, replicas of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and a statue of an archangel.

News of Salvatore’s plans went viral on social media, with many calling it “weird” and “bizarre.”

“Is this guy’s ego unbelievable?” scoffed one commenter.

Some scratched their heads at Salvatore’s desire to be entombed along a busy commercial street or quipped about the unappetizing nature of associating a burial site with a restaurant.

“I won’t ask for anything aged there,” Greg Martin tweeted in Ransomville.

Others rose to Salvatore’s defense, pointing to his community involvement and calling his philanthropy in Western New York beyond compare.

“He’s just a sweet old man. If he wants to buried and rest for eternity on the business which he built, who are we to say no?” the commenter wrote.

Salvatore said he has heard some negative feedback about his decision and said he wonders now if he’s doing the right thing.

“I just love my park, and I want to be there forever,” Salvatore said. “I hope I haven’t offended anyone.”

Salvatore, who founded the famed Salvatore’s Italian Gardens at 6461 Transit, said he put a lot of thought into the decision and consulted his family before pursuing the idea further.

While Salvatore is known for his opulence, he’s also known for his generosity.

Last week, he donated $3,000 to the Food Bank of Western New York in the name of a major donor of modest means whose donation was stolen during a burglary.

Last year, after a stay in Erie County Medical Center, Salvatore donated 350 flat-screen televisions to be installed in patients’ rooms. And on two separate occasions, he bought 10,000 Buffalo Bills tickets to prevent the football games from being blacked out on TV.

“He’s done a lot of good for the community,” said Mark S. Aquino, a Lancaster councilman.

Aquino said he would be agreeable to Salvatore’s having his own mausoleum if it passes muster with code and with state officials.

“Russ likes to do things in a big way, so I guess this would ultimately be in the big way,” Aquino said. “Whatever legacy he wants to leave, I’m OK with.”

The rendering indicates that the mausoleum would be sizable and would cost a substantial amount of money.

“It’s not a small stone. It’s a pretty good tribute,” he said of the plan. “It’s an interesting use of real estate.”

No formal proposal has yet been filed with the town, though Fudoli said Salvatore approached his friend Paul R. Leone, Lancaster’s Industrial Development Agency consultant, and Fudoli about the idea a few weeks ago.

Town officials are researching Salvatore’s idea and acknowledge they don’t believe that one like it has ever come before the town. Fudoli said Salvatore approached the town informally recently to ask for permission to build the mausoleum.

“We do need to research if any past ordinances in the town would prevent it,” Fudoli said, though, so far, nothing seems to stand in the way of the mausoleum being built.

Fudoli said he has talked about the idea with Town Board members, who he said seemed generally supportive. “There was no push-back from the board, though I don’t want to speak for them,” he said.

Fudoli acknowledged the uniqueness of Salvatore’s idea. “It is a very different request, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” he said.

Building Inspector Jeffrey H. Simme said his understanding is that a final decision rests with the town. “The town does not have anything in its code to say you can’t” have such a mausoleum, Simme said.

If the structure is larger than 750 square feet, it would face town Planning Board review.

No state laws prevent people from being buried on public property as long as they are a proper distance from water sources, according to the state Division of Cemeteries. That would not be a concern, as Salvatore would be laid to rest aboveground.

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