By LINDA MOSS
The owner of Pig & Prince restaurant, housed in the former waiting room of the Lackawanna Plaza train station, offered an impromptu history of his restoration and preservation of the local landmark Thursday night.
Restaurateur and chef Mike Carrino talked about some of the original artifacts that he still has from the station, which opened in 1913, and how he had carefully handled unmasking its original terracotta floor, which for decades had been covered by carpeting and linoleum.
Carrino, who opened Pig & Prince in 2012, made his remarks following a lecture on the history and legacy of the Lackawanna Plaza train station that the Montclair History Center sponsored at the Crane House & Historic YWCA.
At the event Kathleen Bennett, chair of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, talked to more than 60 attendees about the historic train terminal, based in part on research she did at the Montclair Public Library and Cornell University. The promising architect who designed the station, William Hull Botsford, studied at Cornell and died in 1912 at age 28 on the ill-fated Titanic.
Lackawanna Plaza, site of the historic station, has been in the news because of the controversial proposal to redevelop the property, a plan that has drawn criticism from preservationists and residents alike. They claim that the proposed mixed-use redevelopment — 350 apartments, parking, retail and a supermarket — will dwarf the landmark’s historic buildings and result in some of their features, including former train sheds and a horse trough, being destroyed.
Carrino weighed in on the proposed redevelopment, saying that it may not be “purposeful” to preserve every single element of the station, that some of its features are just too old and bedraggled and beyond saving. He also told the standing-room-only crowd that no one has more at stake with Lackawanna Plaza’s redevelopment than he does, because of his restaurant.
“I have my life invested in it … It doesn’t mean more to anybody than me,” Carrino said.
He went through the station’s most recent history, while Bennett delved into its long-ago past.
The terminal’s former waiting room, now home to Pig & Prince, has a colorful history — literally, according to Carrino.
“Everything was purple when I took over,” he said, because the building had been a Hollywood Video until the chain went belly up in 2006.
In addition to Hollywood Video, over the years the waiting room was also home to a Pizza Hut, a Chinese restaurant and a steakhouse, according to Carrino. He said it was his mission to return the waiting room to some of its old glory.
“I felt it was extremely important to reintroduce the space because it had been through such a long life of terrible places,” Carrino said. “In the main dining room of Pig & Prince, we didn’t move anything.
He opted to just wash the building’s outside walls rather than sandblast them, so they wouldn’t lose their patina, he said. He restored the floors, and salvaged one of the buildings’ four original wooden benches.
“The reason why I got the bench I got was because it was in a pile of timber,” Carrino said. “It had been torn apart … We had a master woodsmith put it back together recently, piece by piece.”
That bench, made of tiger-eye oak, is in the front room of Pig & Prince, he said. The other three benches are in Phillipsburg, according to Carrino. He also has two of the waiting room’s original reading lamps in storage.
But the piece de resistance at the event was the elaborate framed scroll that Carrino brought with him. It is the original proclamation that Montclair Mayor Ernest Hinck presented to the president of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Co., William Truesdale, in 1913 at the opening of the Lackawanna train terminal. Bennett said that the document, with its gold leaf, was done by Ames & Rollinson, the oldest calligraphy studio in the nation.
The opening of the terminal was marked by a big celebration in Montclair, according to Bennett, and the station helped transform the township from an agricultural area to a suburban bedroom community.
She also talked about Botsford’s short-lived career as an architect, saying that he designed train stations in a number of North Jersey towns, including Bloomfield, Short Hills, Morristown, Blairstown and Basking Ridge. In his day Botsford was a pioneer in using concrete, poured into forms, to construct buildings, rather than more expensive and hard-to-transport brick, according to Bennett.