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James and Mary Ann Sandoro

James and Mary Ann Sandoro, owners of the Buffalo Transportation/Pierce-Arrow Museum, were in the driver’s seat last June. That’s when the site at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Seneca Street presented the Frank Lloyd Wright Filling Station exhibit in a new 40,000-square-foot glass-and-steel atrium to a room full of well-wishers.

The project was 12 years in the making, and is expected to attract tourists in this country and beyond. But the couple have already moved on to their next goal: With the purchase last November of a building east of the Pierce-Arrow, they are planning to create the largest automobile museum in the world.

With more than a quarter-million artifacts in storage, the Sandoros won’t need to purchase anything to fill the anticipated 300,000 square feet of exhibit space. Their collectibles range from vintage Pierce-Arrow automobiles, carriages and bicycles to historic motorcycles, trucks, signs, postcards and Pan-American Exposition artifacts.

“We hope it will become very valuable as far as tourism, and that’s what we’re all about – tourism,” James Sandoro said.

The couple care passionately about their remarkable collections – and the community they share them with. James, who is from the East Side, and Mary Ann, who grew up in Dunkirk, have been married for 44 years, and have lived in a home a short distance from the museum.

To maintain the museum after they’re gone, the Sandoros have willed that, upon their deaths, everything they own will go to the not-for-profit museum.

“It’s exciting to see people enjoy all the stuff we have collected, and that we love so much, and that means so much to us,” said Mary Ann Sandoro, a former curator of exhibits at the Buffalo History Museum.

“We want to keep this intact for generations to come,” added James Sandoro. “This isn’t about our legacy. It’s about the heritage of all those families who came here from Europe, and other places, to make Buffalo the fantastic industrial powerhouse that it was.”

– Mark Sommer