The Legacy of Bus Terminals

By Liz Waytkus & Frampton Tolbert

On a recent trip to Albany, New York, I stumbled upon a gem of mid-century architecture: the former Adirondack Trailways Bus Station. Handsome and thoroughly functional in its form with bus bays nestled under a supported second floor waiting room, the building, even in its abandoned state, looks to be in surprisingly good condition and spirit. Built at the same time as the well-documented Empire State Plaza (Harrison & Abramovitz, 1959-1972), there seems to be very little information on the terminal’s opening date, design or architects. Wondering what other mid-century bus terminals might still be out there, I asked the writers of the Midcentury Mundane blog to help me find some of those remainders and look at the highlights of long-distance bus terminals.

The long-distance bus or motorcoach industry began to take shape closely alongside the development of the automobile industry in the late nineteen-teens and early nineteen-twenties. The most well-known and first national company, Greyhound, took its name because of the bus’ gray paint and sleek appearance. Other bus lines including National Trailways and regional operatives such as Peter Pan in New York and New England or Jefferson Lines in the Midwest, offered the ever-expanding public convenient and inexpensive options for intercity travel throughout the United States.
 
Many of the signature terminals themselves, such as Washington DC’s Greyhound Bus Terminal (1940) were built in the 30s and 40s, in the then popular art deco design. Long-distance bus travel doubled from 1941 to 1945, necessitating additional terminals to accommodate the demand in the 1950s and 60s. The delay in building new terminals was due to a number of factors including war-time restrictions of non-essential services and resources as well as significant increases in private automobile ownership. And if advertising agencies, much like those at the fictitious Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, had anything to say about it, new terminals would be stylish inside and out.
 
The bus industry had however already reached its peak and through the 1970s and 1980s continued to face challenges to keep prices down in the face of rising energy prices, the growth of the airline industry and the creation of Amtrak. In an effort for the bus industry as a whole to stay competitive, many terminals like Adirondack Trailways in Albany, consolidated with other bus companies to form one central bus terminal, closing a series of handsome yet modest buildings that had already fallen out of fashion. In the past decade, newer companies have further eroded Greyhound and Trailways historical dominance of long-distance bus transit. Many of these companies keep their fares low by not relying on passenger terminals for pick-up and drop-off, which while good for customers, creates even less use for stations.
 
Being purpose built, bus terminals are not easily adapted for other uses. Most of these buildings, such as the now-demolished Continental Trailways Bus Station in Houston (1960) were one- or two-story affairs, many times in places where more density became desirable. Some structures that incorporate other activities such as a retail component are sometimes large enough to attract a reuse component, such as Baltimore’s Trailways Bus Terminal on West Fayette Street (1961) and Atlanta’s Continental Trailways Terminal.
 
And some of these structures are undistinguished, relying mainly on bold signage and graphics to draw in the customer. Images of the Greyhound & RTD Terminal in Los Angeles and the Trailways Bus Station in Chicago illustrate this fact, proving to be mostly sheds with eye-catching visuals. Creativity was sometimes used as in the case of the fantastic Bonanza Bus Station in Providence (1963, demolished), which features a brick-clad cylindrical passenger wing.
 
Today, with Amtrak recently re-launching their website devoted to train stations, GreatAmericanStations.com, it seems increasingly unlikely that the same level of interest in bus terminals, especially those of the mid-century, will engender such a level of public interest. But, while attracting interest in preserving these unique buildings remains tough, it is possible. One major example is the recent listing of the Preston Bus Station in England. This striking Brutalist building designed by Building Design Partnership (1968-69), was given a Grade II listing just last month after having been denied several times before and over the objection of the local council that would like to see it demolished.
 
But Preston may be the exception in this case. In the US, even such a worthy example as the George Washington Bridge Bus Station, an engineering marvel that straddles Interstate 95 leading off the bridge, is unprotected. The terminal was designed by noted Italian engineer Pier Luigi Nervi and makes a definitive statement with more than a dozen trusses cantilevered like wings across the top of the building. Alterations are currently taking place to renovate the station to serve the next generation of passengers. Here is hoping the station is preserved as an significant example of an outstanding transportation terminal and that others, like in Albany, can be documented and recognized for their contributions to this country’s transportation history.
 
IMAGES

1. Unknown architect, likely 1963 or 1964
Adirondack Trailways, Albany, NY, Photo: Liz Waytkus

 

 

 

 

 

2. William S. Arrasmith (architect), 1940
Greyhound Bus Terminal, Washington, DC, Photo: John DeFerarri on Streets of Washington blog
 

 

 

 

 

3. Unknown architect, 1960. Demolished
Continental Trailways Bus Station, Houston, Texas, Houston Chronical photo posted on Bus Digest Magazine

 

 

 

 

4. Unknown architect, 1961. Still exists near West Fayette St in Baltimore.
Trailways Bus Terminal, Baltimore, Maryland, Baltimore Sun Archive Photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Unknown architect and date
Greyhound Terminal, Los Angeles, California, Posted by moefuzz on Jalopy Journal

 

 

 

 

 

6. Unknown architect and date
Greyhound Terminal, Los Angeles, California, Posted by moefuzz on Jalopy Journal

 

 

 
 

 

7. Unknown architect and date
Greyhound Terminal, Los Angeles, California, Photo: Flora Chou, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

8. Unknown architect and date. Demolished.
Trailways Bus Station, Chicago, Illinois, Photo: mbernero on Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Philemon E. Sturges (architect), 1963
Bonanza Bus Terminal, Providence, Rhode Island, Posted by  Midcentury Modern RI on Facebook

 

 

 

 

10. Preston Bus Station (1969) recently received designation.
Preston Bus Station, Lancashire, England, Photo: Dr Greg, Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

11. Pier Luigi Nervi’s 1963 bus terminal in Washington Heights is perhaps one of the most significant modern bus terminals in the US
George Washington Bridge Bus Station, New York, NY, Photo: Theodore Prudon

 

 

 

 

12. Unknown architect, 1959
Greyhound Bus Station, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Photo: Goll Studio

 

 

 

 

 

13. Unknown architect and date
Greyhound Bus Station, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

 

 

 

 

 

14. Unknown architect and date. Still exists on South Olive St and Gardenia St in Palm Beach.
Trailways station, West Palm Beach, Florida, Photo: May 12, 1967 (Palm Beach Post-Times staff photo)

DOCOMOMO US
P.O. Box 230977
New York, NY 10023
Terms of use | Contact | Privacy Policy | Credits
© 2014 DOCOMOMO US Google+