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DREAM OF BUILDING DOWNTOWN TRANSPORTATION MUSEUM KEEPS ROLLING RIGHT ALONG

A 35-year dream is well along the road to coming true, as a Buffalo businessman completes plans to open a state-chartered transportation museum downtown by next year.

The Buffalo Transportation Museum will showcase the city's role as an early developmental center for the automotive and aviation industries and its historic national stature as a port and railroad hub.

"We want to specialize in Buffalo-made things," said James Sandoro, whose extensive personal collection will form the core of the initial museum displays.

Sandoro, owner of the Buffalo Motor Car Co. and several buildings in the Seneca Street-Michigan Avenue area, said the museum probably will open in a multistory structure with more than 42,000 square feet of floor space.

Details still are being worked out, and other nearby buildings would be available for expansion or for use by related historical groups in a transportation museum "campus."

The automotive memorabilia collected by Sandoro and his wife, Mary Ann, a former Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society exhibits curator, is being sorted and conserved for eventual display.

Thousands of items include posters, antique globe-topped gas pumps, trophies, emblems, garage signs, children's pedal cars and an array of early bicycles.

"This has been, for 35 years, our dream," Sandoro said. "We don't have children, so after 35 years, we're finally giving birth -- to a museum."

Stars of the first museum displays will include Sandoro's Buffalo-made Pierce Motorette, a Thomas Flyer built the year after a Thomas model won the round-the-world race and a 1912 Stewart truck.

The new downtown museum, he said, "will hold 10 to 15 cars on the ground floor, and the other floors can hold bicycles and motorcycles and small things."

"This is going to constantly change," Sandoro said. "It's going to be aimed at children as much as adults."

Also planned are a library and research center, and a gallery for transportation-related art.

The museum's board of directors recently received the state charter, and renovation work is expected to begin as soon as a final building selection is made. The group will seek to expand the collection through donations or purchases. It also hopes to work closely with the Historical Society and other local transportation-related history groups.

Some future exhibits already have taken some exotic routes to the new center. An architectural medallion that once graced a West Coast dealership for the Buffalo-based Pierce Arrow Corp., for example, needed an earthquake to get here.

The large and heavy glazed embellishment, in near-perfect condition, was unearthed by a bulldozer repairing quake damage to a Los Angeles-area back yard.

The homeowner said the long-buried and forgotten disk apparently had once been used to anchor a fountain.

Sandoro said the museum buildings, surrounded by parking lots, also will be used as a center of antique and classic motorcar shows and meets, many of them focusing on upcoming centennials of such key events as the Pan-American Exposition, the founding of the Buffalo Auto Club and the start of both the Thomas and Pierce Arrow companies.

"The next five years are probably the greatest five years for centennials we're ever going to have," he added. "We were really at one time the king of automobiles, in the first 10 or 20 years of this century, and then Detroit took over."

The centennials are helping to spur the launching of the museum, with private instead of government planning money.

"I can't wait for them to do something, I've got to do it now," Sandoro said. "Finally, after all these years, the museum is going to happen."

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