BUFFALO CENTRAL TERMINAL Streetcar Station/Trolley Lobby
25 cycle powered lights originally provided the illumination.
Just off the eastern end of the passenger concourse is located a set of stairs leading down to the Streetcar lobby and waiting room. This space, although a fraction of the size of the main concourse, is just as grand. Featuring an art deco, marble staircase and vaulted ceiling, even during the peak years of the Terminal, this area was rarely utilized by the general public. The following is an excerpt from Garent Cousins history of Buffalo Central Terminal published in 1985 by Trains magazine:
The arriving Terminal passenger walked straight ahead along the eastside of the building to the exit lobby to hail a cab or be picked up by a car. An adjacent stair led down to track (and street) and into an area designated as the streetcar waiting room. Its doors were to open on to a streetcar loop, the culmination of a track scheduled to run south from Broadway along Curtiss Street.
But the street railway extension never came. As the Buffalo Courier Express editorialized on opening day, “Unhappily the completion of the Terminal finds facilities for transportation of travelers to and from the centre of the city as yet undeveloped. The city government has been sadly remiss in this matter. The authorities temporized while work on the terminal went steadily forward. Now that it is completed and open for service, there is a great show of activity on their part.”
Instead, public transportation was provided by 195 taxis – 125 from the Van Dyke Taxi Company and 70 from the Yellow Cab Company….both owned by John Montana
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Map of Curtiss Street/Track Level featuring the Streetcar lobby
First Mezzanine Level map
Photo by Musicgl123. Click picture to see more of her work
One of Central Terminal most Forgotten spaces - Streetcar/Trolley Lobby
Staircase leads to the main passenger concourse
Detail of the Trolley Lobby staircase
Photo by Musicgl123. See more of her work by clicking on image
photo by Musicgl123. See more photos by clicking on image
John Montana - The BOSS of Buffalo Central Terminal
The reason why the Trolley Lobby was never used
Van Dyke Cabs outside Buffalo Central Terminal. Montana’s taxis were given a sweetheart contract to be the sole cab operators at the new Central Terminal station on the East Side; 200 trains a day were said to go through Buffalo, and Montana’s taxis were the only ones allowed to pick up passengers that wanted a ride – Buffalo police even ticketed and towed other cab companies that sought fares from the train station.
John C. Montana (born Giovanni Montana) (July 1, 1893 - March 18, 1964) was a Buffalo, New York labor racketeer, political fixer, and elected politician who eventually became the underboss and/or consiglieri of the Buffalo crime family. Born in Montedoro, Sicily, Montana immigrated to the United States in 1907. By the 1920s, with the start of Prohibition, Montana allegedly became involved in bootlegging. His attendance at a national Mafia conference at Chicago in 1931 signaled the rise of his criminal career within organized crime, eventually becoming #3 of the Buffalo family. He had been elected to public office and held numerous prominent positions. Montana was able to walk in all circles of life in Buffalo - rich businessmen, powerful politicians, ruthless gangsters...John Montana was among them all! After being caught in 1957 as he attended a national Mafia meeting that was raided by State Police in Apalachin, New York, Montana's criminal ties became known and the popular public figure was reduced to a "former gang boss."
Born in Montedore, Italy on July 1 of 1893, Montana came to Buffalo at the age of 13 in 1907 and quickly began to show his entrepreneurial business talents. In grade school, Montana made his first dollars as a messenger for a West Side candy shop running errands and messages. With his brothers Salvatore, Angelo, Peter and Joseph, the 17 year old John Charles Montana first pushed a popcorn cart through Buffalo’s Little Italy at a time when Italians lived in a high density area on the West Side and downtown. Because the demand was so great, the Montana brothers had to fold their first business as they couldn’t supply the many people who wanted their goods.
In time, Don Stefano Magaddino would become the boss of the Mafia in Buffalo and organize an empire with John Montana at the top. Years down the road, Montana’s nephew Charles would marry the oldest daughter of Don Stefano; Don Stefano’s only son Peter also married Montana’s niece. Through family ties, John Montana merged with the most ruthless criminal leader this city has ever seen. Montana was a smart businessman though. He never fit the description of what a Mafioso was supposed to be.
In 1922, John Montana formed the Buffalo Taxi Company – his first stab at joining Buffalo’s booming transportation industry. A few years later, he bought and merged with the Yellow Cab Company in an effort to consolidate cars and call centers as well as delete the taxi competition.
Through political backing among leading Italians as well as prominent W.A.S.P. Buffalonians, Montana was given the Republican nod to run for the City’s Common Council; he was first elected a representative from the Niagara District in 1927 and then re-elected again in 1929. For four years Montana served the City of Buffalo on the Council and saw major advances in an already booming city. On the Council, he was the Chairman of the Housing and Slum Clearance Committee, which gave his Mafia associates a direct influence over where people lived and what reconstruction efforts would be made. He also served as Chairman of the Labor Relations and Compensation Committee, allegedly giving the Mafia some influence in different unions in the area.
While his role in the Magaddino Mafia was never made public during his time in office and he was applauded for his civic achievements, John Montana lived a double life as both a trusted advisor to the Mafia’s kingpin and a trusted advisor to the Mayor. In fact, when Mayor Schwab (former German Brewer-turned mayor, who was raided for booze during Prohibition and indicted while sitting as mayor) was fighting hard to create the first public buses in Buffalo, most leading businessmen in the transportation industry opposed the idea to public busing (which would take passengers away from taxis, trolleys and trains). John Montana, however, used his political influence to secure a sweetheart contract furnishing the first ever buses in Buffalo with seats, cushions, and everything else needed on board; he created the Montana Company which was awarded the first bus furnishing contract in the city’s controversial push for public transportation.
While a City Councilman, Montana saw the opening of the Buffalo airport (in Cheektowaga). He allegedly passed legislation regarding the Peace Bridge's opening, Buffalo’s international gateway to Canada. He was instrumental in overseeing the two-year long construction project of the New York Central Station, which was “a 17 floor combination office and terminal building” on the East Side. He passed legislation to build the new City Hall building, still a landmark among Buffalo’s downtown skyline. Many major changes came to the Queen City during his time as a political leader, and John Montana made sure that his hidden partnerships never came to light while still placing people in positions to reap the benefits of the construction and transportation boom. Montana’s taxis, for instance, were given a sweetheart contract to be the sole cab operators at the new Central Terminal station on the East Side; 200 trains a day were said to go through Buffalo, and Montana’s taxis were the only ones allowed to pick up passengers that wanted a ride – Buffalo police even ticketed and towed other cab companies that sought fares from the train station.
During a successful re-election season for Montana, the Councilman was involved in a major business deal that left him as the most powerful taxi tycoon in the area. In late June 1929, Montana, who had previously acquired the Yellow Taxi Cab Company, convinced Fred Van Dyke to give up his business – the largest cab competitors in Western New York. Eight years before, Fred Van Dyke had bought the Charles W. Miller Transportation Company of Buffalo that had been a family-owned business for two generations; it was Buffalo’s first permanent transportation company. In 1929, Montana merged his cabs with Van Dyke’s pulling together more than 200 cars with 60+ call stations. While Montana already owned a franchise at the Central Terminal, he was in a good position to grow more powerful in an increasingly mobile city. As a business-savvy communicator, John Montana informed city riders that while he now owned the second largest cab company in the state, he would keep fares the same as they were with the Yellow Cab Company – 50 cents for the 1st mile and 10 cents for the next three miles. (For years, taxi operators complained that Montana maintained a monopoly on taxis in Buffalo, and some claimed that the other smaller taxi companies in town were run by associates of Montana who kept businesses going solely to save Montana's companies from anti-monopoly legal proceedings).
While accusations were rare and unconfirmed, some opinions stated Montana’s cabs were corrupt. While working at a legit and successful business, Van Dyke drivers were said at times to transport gambling paraphernalia and booze. In the decades of prohibition on the Niagara Frontier, between 100 and 150 people were killed in Mafia-related slayings; another 125-150 people died from drinking poisoned alcohol. But while many of Montana’s associates were involved in bootlegging booze, the Councilman was never publicly linked to the alcohol trade until after the Noble Experiment of Prohibition was proven a failure and repealed. During the decade of illegal alcohol, Montana’s important role with Stefano Magaddino’s Mafia Family was never discovered
While his high level role within the Mafia wasn’t known publicly, his stature among Buffalo’s Italians was obvious. When 300 Italians representing 45 Italian organizations came to the glamorous Statler Hotel in downtown Buffalo to celebrate Columbus Day in the early 1930s, Councilman Montana was one of the honored guests noted by the local newspapers, along with the mayor, with Edward H. Butler who started the Buffalo News and the Buffalo State Library, with the police commissioner, with the general manager of the Chamber of Commerce, with a representative from the U.S. House, with a State Assemblyman, and with other politically-powerful Italians including, Charles Giambrone, Charles Martini, Vincent Tauriello, Msgr. Joseph Gambino, and Frank Gugino.
Montana wasn’t always in the press as an acclaimed Buffalonian and respected civic leaders though. In late 1932, Montana was in public view because he was facing new competition in the taxicab industry. The Gray Cab Company came to town as an independent business in 1932 and brought enough money to charge substantially less than the dominant cab companies, namely Van Dyke Taxi. Van Dyke temporarily lowered their prices to meet the new competition, but many of the smaller independent companies could not afford to lower their rates and began going out of business.
While most companies saw the lowered rates as a death blow, Montana saw it as an opportunity to freeze out the competition and eliminate some rivals. In September 1932, The Association of Taxicab Owners and Operators of Buffalo, NY, asked the Common Council to combat the new taxi companies and make fares standard across the board. Allegedly, Montana (who still held a seat on the Council) shelved the issue and the City didn’t act – officially because the Council didn’t want to meddle in the affairs of private businesses.
After the rival cab company came to town with a lowered wage system for several months, many smaller businesses had to shut their doors as they couldn't compete and turn a profit. After a few went out of business, there was a labor dispute and 200 employees of the Gray Cab Company went on strike. While Montana was never publicly linked to the strike, rumors were made back in 1932 that his associates instigated the Gray Cab employees to strike for more wages, ultimately causing the company to temporarily stop transporting passengers.
While Montana’s alleged role in the labor dispute was unknown, he faced his labor problems less than three years later when some of his own drivers went on strike. In January 1935, the local Teamsters union for taxi drivers was having what Montana later called a “civil war.” With over three hundred drivers in the union, Business Agent Joe Gerrity of Teamsters Local 153 had a meeting in the back of a saloon and his riders decided to go on strike with a vote of 184-9. At first, the newspapers reported 325 drivers were on strike, mostly from Van Dyke Taxi owned by Montana and the 50-50 Taxi Company owned by Montana’s good friend Charles Sedita.
In reality, the strike was doomed from the start. As Montana quickly pointed to the drivers, they officially needed 2/3 of their union ranks to agree to a strike; with only 184 voting for the strike, Montana claimed it was illegal; the taxi tycoon also said he never signed off on the union’s strike because he was never presented with a list of problems or demands. Through negotiations with the union’s secretary-treasurer Charles Strauss, the Teamsters’ taxicab drivers weren’t off work for more than a month. According to the influential Montana, “Gerrity called the strike out of spite. We have 223 drivers living up to President Roosevelt’s desire to spread out work. We kept them all working. Gerrity wanted me to discharge 40 workers so there could be more work for remaining operators. I refused.”
Through tricky political speech, Montana praised the popular president and alluded to the fact that employment should be spread out to many, not just saved for a few people. After Montana’s cabs were back and running in February, he wouldn’t allow many of the strike’s instigators to come back to work; some had to issue a formal apology before returning.
While this was a very prominent time for Montana’s taxi business, he was ironically the mover behind a controversial taxi-related issue consuming much of the time of Albany’s politicos. During the same time as these strikes in 1935, the State Senate was considering the Buchill-Canney Act. According to this, all cabs in cities with a large amount of taxis would be publicly run by the city’s service departments; in essence, only Buffalo and New York City were large enough to be affected by this bill.
On the front page of Taxi Age, the national trade weekly for the taxi industry, Montana figured importantly on a headline story about corrupt cab owners and their links to politics. In short, the publication accused Montana of bribing Anthony Canney (D-BFLO) and said the official was in “cahoots” with Van Dyke. While most taxi operators viewed the bill as a blatant disregard for private business, Montana (the second largest cab owner in the state) viewed it with open arms (and may have even helped write it). Montana’s ties to city services, City Streets Dept, and the entire Common Council meant that he could control even more in the taxi industry through a seat in city government, as opposed to the seat behind a desk at Van Dyke. In an era when public transportation was first becoming an idea, Montana wanted cabs run by the city – a city that the consiglieri of Buffalo’s Mafia had already infiltrated. While his Van Dyke cabs were forming a near monopoly over the taxi industry, Montana knew he could control a complete monopoly if the city were allowed to operate all the cabs as public transportation – this would be a legal monopoly.
In 1933, John Montana created the Empire State Brewery Corp. located in Olean, NY; on paper, his business partner were the Magaddino brothers from the Falls. Charles Dotterweich built the Olean brewery in 1854 and it remained a family business until Montana purchased it. While still catering to the German market that the Dotterwyck Beverage Company allegedly made illegal alcohol for during prohibition, Montana’s Empire State Brewery sold Old Dominion Ale and Old Munich Beer. With the illegal booze networks ending, Montana and Magaddino remained the controllers of the alcohol industry through their Power City Distributing Company that sold alcohol to local taverns and restaurants; Magaddino was the president of this company from 1933 to 1958 until the business went ‘bankrupt’ and they sold the assets. As secretary-treasurer of the company, Charles Montana, John’s nephew, signed the papers to fold the business and he held a powerful position within Magaddino's Mafia Family.
After the brewery in Olean changed ownership in 1940, John Montana, the taxi tycoon, remained an active entrepreneur in Western New York’s brewing industry. Montana became a director of the Frontier Liquor Corp. Years later, Montana would go into a business partnership with Stefano Magaddino’s only son Peter in the Buffalo Beverage Company – the company formerly owned by Mayor Frank Schwab before prohibition was enacted. This company oversaw the distribution of Budweiser across Western New York and employed several alleged Mafiosi as ‘business agents.’ U.S. Senators later remarked that one notable distributor was Jimmy LaDuca, who later married one of Magaddino’s daughters. LaDuca was a known union organizer, gambler, captain, and very powerful leader in Magaddino’s Family; these links to Montana would later be his downfall.
A year after he returned from the New York Constitutional Convention and three years after being a delegate at the Republican National Convention, John Montana attended another conference that brought in the heads of Mafia families from all over the nation. In 1939, John’s nephew Charles Montana married Magaddino’s oldest daughter (20 years) Josephine at a lavish celebration in downtown Buffalo. According to FBI notes, “Informant stated he feels sure that a number of hoodlums and racketeers from the Eastern part of the United States were guests at the wedding.” Unfortunately for the FBI, no names or information could be obtained about attendees through informants
John Montana’s national stature in the mafia complimented his national reputation among Republican Party leaders. Montana’s business success would bring tremendous legit revenue and resources into the Mafia’s sphere of influence, and they would also provide secure outlets to turn illegal cash into legal income through money laundering. Many of Montana’s business opportunities came because he had influence with several powerful people in Buffalo. In 1943, he served as Chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals in the city. Whenever there was a dispute in zoning, Montana’s decisions would carry a lot of weight – and his associates had a direct line into an important and overly managed sector of Buffalo’s city government.
His influence helped others turn a blind eye to his activities as well. In August 1944, independent taxicab owners organized and approached Mayor Joseph J. Kelly for help against the monopolizing Montana taxis. Van Dyke Taxicab Company had been turned into a huge network of companies dominating the area with subsidies Van Dyke Transfer Corp., Van Dyke Taxi and Transfer Co., and Van Dyke Baggage Corp. Van Dyke Airport Transportation Company was created when flights were becoming more popular in the area. Montana Motors also supplied the cars for the taxi empire. For a period, John Montana was even the President of the National Association of Taxicab Owners. His subsidiaries and taxi conglomerate created the profitable means to control the entire taxi industry in Buffalo and destroy smaller/independent companies.
With pleas to the mayor for help, the Independent Taxicab Association of Buffalo, NY claimed that Montana was given unfair contracts during World War II to operate exclusively across the city – violating the fair monopoly laws of the day. Van Dyke Taxi and Transfer was the only company allowed to move travelers to the Buffalo Central Terminal on the East Side and was able to drive all over and purchase gas when rations forces others out of business; police were even aggressively ticketing or impounding any other taxicabs nearby. The president of the independent cab association, Thomas Caverly, created a publicity battle against Montana through the newspapers: “I fail to see why the City of Buffalo should be paying the salaries of its police department to assist the New York Central and to protect their contract with the Van Dyke Taxi and Transfer Company.”
The Association went to the Common Council, who said it was out of their jurisdiction. Caverly pleaded to Mayor Kelly but was just referred back to John Montana – who snubbed the independent operators once again. “I called Mr. Montana,” Caverly said, “and was advised by him that he was able to handle the situation perfectly and if he needs my assistance at a future time, he would be glad to call on us.”
Montana’s businesses continued to thrive and his family ties to the Magaddino’s ensured his place in the Mafia as the consiglieri (or counselor); his political contacts were unlimited as well. Besides important roles within the community, Montana was alleged to be a powerful organizer within the Fort Erie Race Track (Ontario), where horse betting and gambling-related loans had become an important operation for Mafia earners. Opened in 1897, the Fort Erie Race track was taken over by the Fort Erie Jockey Club by 1920, and John Montana eventually became the most powerful mobster associated with the race track. For a time, Montana was even the Director of the Fort Erie (Ont.) Jockey Club.
Besides his public leadership positions within the city’s government, taxi industry, and racing clubs, Montana maintained a number of other civic roles as a Promoter of Golden Gloves boxing, Director of the Buffalo Baseball Club, member/president of the Erie Downs Golf Cars, Director of the SPCA, member of Buffalo’s elite Elks Club, and president of the Chamber of Commerce. Montana was said to be a civic leader that continuously gave back to the Italian community. While being the secret consiglieri of the Mafia (unknown to the public), he was also the President of the Federation of Italian-American Societies which was an umbrella organization that brought together several community groups in an effort to strengthen the Italian community in Buffalo.
Montana’s civic roles and community awards added to his influence and clout, which always had the thought of the Family in mind. On May 28 in 1954, Montana was honored at a huge celebration at the Statler Hotel downtown. Montana was leading a contingent of politicians trying to repeal the McCarron Immigration Act of 1924 that restricted Italian immigrants among others. Toastmaster Michael Catalano had good words to say about Montana as did Albert S. Scialfo, head of the Italian-American Societies that sponsored the event. Judge Juvenal Marchisio from New York even went so far as to say Montana had “immolated himself on the altar of civic duty so that Buffalo might be a greater city than ever before.”