Farewell to an American Classic

There was much rejoicing in The Flower City last month as a ceremonial swipe took out a corner of the existing Rochester Amtrak station, colloquially known as an “Amshack”.

The circa-1978 Amshack facility is being replaced by a state-of-the-art, multi-modal station, boasting level-boarding platforms, space to service two trains simultaneously, and capacity to expand as necessary.

There’s really no debating that the new facility will be a wholesale improvement over what’s existed for over thirty years in The Flower City.

The Rochester "Amshack" awaits the wreckers

The Rochester “Amshack” awaits the wreckers in November 2015. Follow @CultofAmericana on Instagram and Twitter.

Yet I can’t help but wonder if the same talking points were used at the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Madison Square Garden?

As you might recall, Pennsylvania Station in New York City was considered archaic, and passenger trains were on the way out in the face of the jet and superhighway age. So the Beaux-Arts icon was torn down and replaced with a maze underneath the current Knicks/Rangers/Billy-Joel-final-tour (he means it this time) arena, with the idea being that this underground area could quickly be converted to other uses when passenger trains died for good. That death was imminent in 1963. But passenger trains hung in there, thanks to the creation and nurturing of Amtrak.

Demand for more passenger trains, at higher speeds and frequency, is now greater than at any point in the 45-year history of government-operated intercity passenger rail service.

No one anticipates that the destruction of the Rochester station will be a high-water mark in architectural preservation. So what is the connection between glorious, martyred, decimated, Penn Station and the Rochester Amshack, as it were?


‘It happened’ is the tie that binds these two disparate facilities. The style/model of the Amtrak station being replaced in Rochester ‘happened’, in something close to kit form, all over the country in the past four decades. Albany-Rensselaer, NY, St. Louis, MO, Bloomington-Normal, IL, Carbondale, IL, Huntington, WV; all have or had this style of station. And in that way, as these stations fall or are replaced with newer structures, we have to begin looking at these kit stations as a fabric of our history as a traveling nation.


These are, after all, facilities that weathered the past 30-plus years of political upheaval that has seen the passenger rail network in America contracted, then slightly expanded, and now waiting for the next great push from a generation that can’t stand the experience of flying and are less-likely to own their own automobile or rely on a car for medium-distance trips.


These Amshacks played a role in bringing passenger rail to a point where it’s not ‘do we even need trains?’ but rather ‘we need more trains’.

And without fail or exception, the stations that replace the Amshacks are BIGGER; because that’s what’s happened over the past 30-plus years. Demand for passenger trains has risen dramatically, thanks in no small part to the enclosed, functional, heated/cooled, safe and secure if not spartan accommodations afforded by the Amtrak kit stations of the late seventies and early eighties.


Having seen stations all across the American passenger rail network, I can assure you there are dozens of communities that would do anything to have the kind of station that is currently being demolished in my hometown. And for me, the Rochester Amshack has spanned my lifetime (proof below); it’s where I learned to love passenger trains, first from a ‘choo-choo’ fanaticism, and more recently from a practical perspective.
It’s where I got on the train to go to school, cured my homesick-ness at holiday time, and head off to a new adventure in the far-away city of Chicago.
It’s an American classic that did its job admirably for better than three decades. Things will be better for Rochester, like so many other communities, because this station and its brethren existed in the first place.


a young charlie monte verde is one of those cute kids that love trains

The author at the then-new Rochester Amtrak station (circa 1985). Follow @CultofAmericana on Instagram and Twitter.

All images are copyright Cult of Americana

Coney Island, Baby

The best way to sum up Coney Island (the amusement park aspect), is a line from the second Godfather movie in reference to the always-imminent death of the villainous Hyman Roth:

“He’s been dying of the same heart attack for the last 20 years.”

Coney Island is always just about to close. This summer, and next summer, and the summer of ’85, and the Summer of Sam, and decades of New York summers were/are always going to be the “last” summer of operation there. And as a result, thousands of mourners have made the June, July, or August pilgrimage to this lock-box of yesteryear America on the far eastern tip of Brooklyn, USA.

One last ride on the teacups before they become Trump-built luxury condos. Grab an authentico chip of paint off the Cyclone before it becomes termite food. So frommy own need to see this American icon before it bit the dust, we revisit Coney Island, in black and white, in the late summer of 2008.


The park, boardwalk, and overall neighborhood had a surprisingly local feel, however. It was evident that the remoteness of Coney had let is continue to exist as a neighborhood, which as folks that live in bigger cities know, if you live in a neighborhood, it’s much more likely to feel like home.P1030923

There are as many remnants of rides as there are functioning rides, and it certainly does feel like the entire amusement park will surrender itself to development one day. But on August 18, 2008, everyone that was *this* tall could still  shake, rattle and roller-coaster around on the Cyclone or pay too much for a flat soda in Astroland.

I was saddened to read that Shoot The Freak was demolished in 2010. After the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, an effort was made to revive many of the boardwalk attractions. This included a far more politically-correct game called “Shoot The Clown” bringing back the spirit of ‘Freak’.

I think generally-speaking folks are probably more comfortable shooting a ‘freak’ than an innocent clown, but on the other hand maybe we just shouldn’t shoot anyone for sport.P1030924

There is a touch of almost every 20th Century decade at Coney Island. The 1920s boardwalk, where women dared to show leg above the ankle. The original Coney Island hot dog stand looks much the same as it did in the 1930s, when a hot dog was all Depression-era New Yorkers could afford to eat. ‘Newer’ rides speak to World War II and glorious fifties-era America. And the American Century rounds out nicely in East New York with the ravages of our sad experiment with urban renewal (read still-undeveloped lots) and a smattering of public housing and hastily-built condo towers.

P1030919 Coney Island remains an essential visit, be you a local or a tourist tired of the maddening crowds of Manhattan. Make sure to visit soon, as this might be the last summer of Coney Island!

Or… maybe not.

To view the “Coney Island, Baby” gallery in its entirety, please visit the CultofAmericana photo galleries or click on any of the photos above.