A town gets its hub back

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The long, strange trip from station to tavern

By Rusty Tagliareni

Upon its completion in 1904, the Boonton Station was hailed as a beacon of community achievement. It was designed by notable architect Frank J. Nies who, among many other things, is responsible for the Newark Street Station in Newark, and the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad station in Dover.

Though the station was designed by a renowned railway architect, Boonton Station would not have come into being without the residents of Boonton, NJ coming together in a remarkable way. The locals literally built the station themselves, offering building materials, tools and their own labor. So much effort was put in by the townsfolk that a 1902 edition of the New York Times ran a story about the hard working community of Boonton, and their prized station.

Fast forward a century. The station lingers on in a forlorn state, but still standing thanks to the forward thinking of a local named Joe Marcello. Marcello purchased the old station in the 1970s to keep it from being leveled for a parking lot, which was to serve the new ‘modern’ station that was being built just hundreds of feet down the line. Though his re-imagining of the station as a themed retail center based out of old train cars proved a failure (and arguably ahead of its time), it’s thanks to him that the old station survived its initial disuse. When speaking publicly about his unique endeavor in 1978, he said, leaning on the old fencing that surrounded the passenger platform, “It is better to have tried and failed, than to not have tried at all.”

After the retail space floundered, the old station existed on and off as a bar-slash-nightclub under various ownership. All the while the old train cars rusted away outside. It wasn’t until 2013 that Michael Andalaft came upon the old station and bought the building, taking its fate into his own hands.

Andalaft spent two years creating a restaurant and bar that honors the old building, and all that made it significant in the first place. When he opened the restaurant in 2015, he reinstated the original name, Boonton Station.

This is a proud building, and its updated aspect reflects that back upon its visitors. You can feel its age when you enter, but not in a way that makes it old, rather in a way that makes it worldly. The old passenger platform has been transformed into an outdoor dining area where you can listen to live music and watch trains chug by, surrounded by the original wrought iron fencing, repaired, and reinstalled with new supports.

The dining area features a gorgeous set of stained glass windows, the hallmark of the building. When the station came into Andalaft’s possession all but two of the original panes were intact. Carrying with him the shattered bits that remained, he eventually tracked down a glass smith who was able to create new panes to match.

On September 22, Boonton will be celebrating its 150th anniversary, and as it was over a century ago, Boonton Station will once again be serving as a major hub for the community.

People occasionally come up to Andalaft to say “thank you,” and often he’s not sure what they’re thanking him for. They tell him it’s for saving their station. Though he may own it today, Andalaft readily admits that the building has been, and always will be Boonton’s.

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