An old-time train station caught between tenants

Pizza? Haircuts? One time, it yielded riders

By Robert Preer
Globe Correspondent / January 4, 2004

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Some people still refer to the now vacant stone building on the edge of Mattapan Square as Papa Gino's. Others call it by the name of its most recent tenant, Nick's Pizza. A few remember it as a barbershop. But to old-timers, the distinctive classical-style stone building at 1163 Blue Hill Ave. is Mattapan station, a former southern terminal of the steam-powered Old Colony Railroad.

"It is really quite an important building," said Anthony Sammarco, a local historian and author. "It was that terminus that created that whole business area around it."

The building has been empty since March, when Nick's closed, and is available for lease. Owner Denise Fotopoulos said it probably will house another eating establishment.

"A few people are interested in it," said Fotopoulos, whose family owns another Mattapan landmark, Simco's takeout restaurant, a little farther north on Blue Hill Avenue. "I think it is going to remain a food business. That's what it's licensed for."

The train station opened in 1856 and closed in the late 1920s, after which it was sold and converted to commercial use. The building, with an expansive pitched roof, is perched on the banks of the Neponset River at the entrance to the MBTA's trolley yard and terminal.

"That building is a reminder of the old days," said George Sanborn, historian and chief librarian for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Edward Jay, owner of Mattapan Car Wash and vice president of the Mattapan Board of Trade, said the old building is a historical gem in a less-than-favorable commercial spot.

"There's no parking," he said. "It's hard to access. I've never seen it as a prime location. But that building is so bloody great."

For pedestrians, the building is hard to reach because it is cut off from the rest of Mattapan Square by fast-moving traffic on River Street and Blue Hill Avenue. For drivers, it has no parking.

Stuart Rosenberg, president of the Mattapan Board of Trade, said it might be more successful as professional offices.

"I think it would be a great place for an attorney's office or an accountant," he said.

The Papa Gino's chain operated a restaurant in the building before Nick's took it over. The Papa Gino's restaurant closed about 20 years ago, Rosenberg said.

Jay remembers the building in the 1950s when it was a barbershop.

"It was a big place, very active with lots of hustle and bustle," said Jay, who said he got his haircuts back then at a smaller neighborhood shop. "My recollection is that it was called the Terminal Barbershop."

The steam railroad carried commuters from Mattapan and surrounding areas to the Old Colony Railroad's Boston terminal on Kneeland Street. The Mattapan business district developed around the station, according to Sammarco. In the late 1920s, the New Haven Railroad sold the station and the rail line to the Boston Elevated Railway Co., which abandoned the steam-powered service in favor of electric trolleys. Boston Elevated, which no longer needed the station, sold it shortly after acquiring the rail line.

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