NAUGATUCK — The historic former train station downtown will once again be bustling with people coming and going regularly.
They won’t be buying tickets, though: they will be eating meals at a restaurant for casual dining. And from the looks of it, they will be doing it in style.
The old train station building at 195 Water St. is being renovated from its longtime use as a museum and office space into a restaurant called, appropriately, The Station.
Owners Carlos Santos, a partner in a law firm downtown, and Jim Perzhilla, owner and operator of Spartan II Pizza Restaurant & Lounge in Southington, are in the midst of pumping about $500,000 into restoring the more than 120-year-old iconic structure.
“We are getting there,” Santos said. “It’s not going as quickly as I’d like, but we’re still shooting for an October opening. Initially, our target was September, but like any project of this magnitude, there were some delays.”
Santos said he wants to complete the project the right way rather than rushing to get it open. For example, the owners have searched all over the country to find bricks that are an exact match to those used in the time period. Additionally, they searched for months for wrought iron gates that were used during that time, to put around the perimeter of a new outdoor patio in front and on a mezzanine level they have built. They finally found the gates at an estate sale in Fairfield County, Santos said.
A tour of the building last week showed the entrance received a complete makeover. It once had a porte-cochère, or a porch that is open on either side. That will serve as a vestibule, waiting area. There will also be an outdoor seating area and an outdoor bar near the indoor bar area, which is being set up on the far right side of the building, or to the left of someone looking straight at the entrance.
The ceiling has a light shade of gold — it could also be described as a cream color — with black and white patterns mixed in.
“There are ribs across the vaulted ceiling. I looked up at it and said we have to do something special with it, but I had no idea what to do,” Santos said. “So we hired a designer who came up with this plan, and everyone who has walked in here has been really wowed by it.”
The owners want to keep the rest of the building looking as much like the original as possible. They have taken down many walls that were put up over the years to suit owner’s needs, including those that blocked the outside windows, which give a view toward the train tracks and the Naugatuck River. They have also exposed the original bricks. And they have added old-fashioned looking light fixtures that are black and will match the wrought iron railings.
Developers tried to expose the original floor but it was chopped up years ago and could not be restored, despite many attempts, Santos said. They have now put in a hickory floor, which Santos said he’s learned was popular in the late 1800s.
The kitchen area is being installed where the main entrance was at the Naugatuck Historical Society museum. The museum operated out of the building for about 20 years following the departure of the now defunct Naugatuck Daily News, which operated there for many years and had a printing press in the basement.
A second kitchen will be built in the basement because the area is not large enough for the restaurant’s expected needs.
The restaurant’s main seating area will fit 150 people, with another 45 in the bar area, which will have a sports theme. The patio will seat another 65.
The restaurant plans to hire 30 people. The owners have already hired chefs, bartenders and servers, who are training at Perzhilla’s Southington restaurant.
Santos said he wants to do right by the community, where he grew up and now practices law, and by the historic building, which he respects.
The building was designed by Henry Bacon, an architect known for designing the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., according to the Naugatuck Historical Society. He worked for the firm McKim, Mead & White, which was well known in the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries for its iconic work. The building is designed in what is known as the Spanish Colonial Revival style, the historical society says.
Santos and Perhzilla bought the building for $300,000. Their contract calls for them to put more than $500,000 worth of improvements into the structure, which has never had a kitchen.
“We have been having fun with this project,” Santos said. “We are way over budget and that’s OK. I said in the beginning that ‘The Station’ would make Naugatuck proud, and I meant it. Jimmy (Perzhilla) and I remain extremely enthusiastic about our new venture. Not a day goes by that we are not approached by several people with words of encouragement.”