Once the picture of the old frosted glass train station light started appearing on Facebook, money to buy it back from a Toronto dealer came in faster than Christopher Byrd imagined.
Instead of a month, it took two weeks to collect $3,696 in donations from 105 people from Buffalo to Alden to North Carolina, Virginia and California – people who wanted to help bring back the first of the original Art Deco lights to the decayed-but-still-beautiful Central Terminal station.
“I was just ecstatic,” said Byrd, founder of the station-neighborhood advocacy group Broadway Fillmore Alive. Once things got going after Thanksgiving, he couldn’t help but check the fundraising website chipin.com every half hour or so. “The numbers just kept going up and up and up.”
Sometime next week Byrd will drive from Toronto with the sconce that was once posted somewhere on the concourse of the terminal at Paderewski Drive. The 83-year-old, nationally registered historic place is now under gradual restoration.
For those who pitched in from $5 to $500, the project celebrated several related ambitions: to return the station to its former grandeur, to revive its formerly thriving East Side Polish neighborhood, and to champion the more general promise of preservation projects.
“I look at the light as part of a catalyst,” said Chris Ziolkowski, an Alden contractor who donated $100. A recent buyer of a house near the terminal that he intends to rehab and live in, he would like to see the rehabbing spread.
“It’s a good cause,” he said. “They did it in record time. How is that for grassroots?”
Before train service left the 1929 Central Terminal for Depew in 1979, the grand main concourse and its passenger walkway were lighted up with the sconces framed in the sharp lines of Art Deco’s futuristic aesthetic.
In the decades that followed, the abandoned station was sold in foreclosure auction and a former owner infuriated some by selling off the lights.
The ethereal assortment scattered. Two tall lights from either side of a doorway and six shorter ones were bought 20 years ago from a New York City dealer.
Greame Reading, a restaurateur and architect, used them as part of the signature design of his Deco Café in Hong Kong. His appropriation of the Buffalo lights fascinated traveling Buffalonians who shared their pictures on the Central Terminal’s photo site.
As Reading opened more Art Deco-themed cafes, he considered the lights to be such a critical part of the appeal that he commissioned replicas from China for his other restaurants.
“The power of the design is so strong that it’s making people comfortable now,” he said in an interview three years ago.
About a decade ago, the owner of a Toronto decorative arts shop found that he, too, was enchanted by the looks of a station light. “It’s quite a beautiful object and a rare one,” said Roberto Navarro, whose shop specializes in retro decorative objects. “In 1928, in Buffalo, that design was the vision of what was modern.”
From a Buffalo dealer, he bought one of the smallish – about 20 inches tall – sconces.
“I liked it, so I kept it for a long time,” he said of the light. He fixed it up to sell as a coffee table this year. “Eventually, I took it from my basement and cleaned it and put it in my store.”
When a Buffalonian spotted it in his King Street shop, a deal was slowly hatched.
At first Navarro was inundated with emails. Some rudely demanded that he just give the light back.
“A lot of them were not really reasonable,” he said. “I have a small business. I have to pay the bills.”
Instead, Byrd took up the cause shortly before Thanksgiving. Navarro had agreed to drop the price from the $9,000 he saw others were charging for similar lights to a more affordable $3,000.
“It’s about time that people wake up and take care of their heritage,” he said. “There’s a lot of building in Buffalo that deserves to be protected and restored.”
Since the Central Terminal was launching a formal $769,000 roof repair fundraising drive, Byrd asked for informal help on Facebook, using a cheery picture of the light surrounded by Christmas lights and the message, “Bring a piece of the Central Terminal home to Buffalo for the holidays.”
“Once it was posted on Facebook,” said Byrd, “it just started spreading everywhere.”
In the 15 years since the station has been owned by the nonprofit Central Terminal Restoration Corp., the station, now lit by ordinary fixtures, has become a venue for public events and grand annual revelries from Dyngus Day to Oktoberfest.
Not long ago, a replica of one of the old sconces went up on the wall. Retired sheet metal workers crafted it after calculating the measurements and design from old photos, said Maryn Rodgers, CTRC executive director.
To put sconces back the way they used to be, they will need a dozen, as there were six on each wall. With a real one to consult, making more copies should be easier.
“You have to have an original to create the template for any kind of proper restoration,” Rodgers said.
When the old light does come finally inside, it will be put on display for tours and locked up when it’s off duty. “It’s not going to leave again,” Rodgers said, adding that one day she’d like to set up a museum where the old ticket windows are.
Byrd is looking forward to the making the Toronto trip. An owner of a lighting company there has offered to look the light over and make any repairs. When he finally gets back to the old neighborhood, there will be a small party to celebrate everyone who helped.
“We did this. We’re giving back to the Terminal,” he said. “People should all be proud.”