Russell Pawlak is president of Central Terminal Restoration Corp., which has been involved over the past several years in restoring the building. Last year, the terminal was designated as one of the state's "Seven to Save" sites by the Preservation League of New York. Pawlak discussed the developments at the terminal.
Q: How are restoration efforts progressing?
A: Preservation of the building is well under way, to the extent that the Central Terminal will easily see its 100th anniversary. The CTRC has continued to repair roofs and install new interior drains and make other repairs. Additionally, we're committed to landscaping our property to enhance the overall appearance of the grounds. We know how much that green space means to the kids who live nearby, and we take care of it. Much work needs to be done but steady progress continues.
Two years ago the public could not enter the building. Thanks to a generous grant from Erie County, we were able to remove 300 tons of debris from the building and replace all of the broken tower windows with Plexiglass and painted wood. After considerable work, the terminal reopened to the public in 2003 and saw 12,000 visitors. 2004 may see more than 20,000.
Q: What is in the future for the Central Terminal? How likely is it that it will be used as a transportation facility again?
A: In my optimistic moments, I do feel that rail service could be restored to the Central Terminal -- with that accounting for only a small percentage of the building's activity. But that restored link to its past would be wondrous. As far as the building's immediate future, we will continue to conduct tours and have special events of interest to the public. Area people have been outstanding in their interest and support of our efforts to preserve the best-loved building in Western New York. For so many people, the terminal is linked to some of the most important events in their lives: going off to war, honeymoons, departing for college, military service, meeting relatives, wives and husbands there, starting a new life in a new city. The building resonates with powerful memories.
Q: What kinds of groups have asked to use the terminal?
A: There has been constant interest in the terminal, ranging from art classes to photography clubs to independent film projects. Real estate and teacher associations have asked about scheduling tours, and private individuals have inquired about using it for wedding receptions. The Discovery Channel filmed an urban explorer episode there, a Canadian documentary crew is covering the events of the 75th anniversary year and the Goo Goo Dolls shot over three hours of footage there for their July 4th DVD.
A number of major Western New York agencies are investigating the use of the Central Terminal for fund-raising events.
Q: How much damage was done to the terminal before your group began its restoration efforts?
A: Twenty years of irresponsible ownership (1979 to 1998) resulted in the removal of all art deco ornamentation, ranging from the clock and concourse light fixtures to every doorknob in the building. Not only was decorative ornamentation removed, anything that had value was stripped from the terminal, including the copper water pipes.
Many of the items have been located, or their whereabouts are generally known. The biggest mystery for me is where is the zinc bar? I also believe many smaller items remain in private hands in Western New York.