Old railway depot reborn in Ironhorse Court project

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The Ironhorse Court renovation will be recognized by the Lewiston Historic Preservation Review Board at 3 p.m. Thursday in the Royal Oak Room.

LEWISTON — Big band music pumps out of the old Motorola console radio, filling the hall at Bob Roy Jr.’s newly minted Ironhorse Court. It sounds just like it would have 60 years ago.

But a peek behind the cabinet reveals modern components — including a CD changer and an iPod dock — nestled among the radio’s original vacuum tubes.

The entire Ironhorse Court, at the dead end of Bates Street behind Central Maine Medical Center, is like that: polished, glowing and renovated to its 1916 glory on the front, with modern fixtures and touches in the back.

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It’s Roy’s dream that the complex, the former Maine Central Railroad passenger depot and surrounding warehouses, will become a business magnet and help kick off the rebirth of the hospital neighborhood.

“Who’s going to move in here?” Roy asked. “I don’ t know, but I hope someone will. It’s a beautiful building with tons of historical relevance to this area. People came here on train for the first time in this building. People left for war there.”

Roy has recently wrapped up renovations of the depot building, rechristened the Royal Oak Room, and the adjoining office space.

“I don’t know if this could be a restaurant, but I think it would work very well as an event space,” he said. There’s plenty of room between the Royal Oak Room and the offices for an industrial kitchen and a walk-in freezer.

The lot also has a large warehouse on either side of the main building. They could be converted into parking garages or renovated to make more office space — depending on what the tenants want.

“It’s very flexible, very sturdy; whatever people want,” Roy said. “I just want to see something happen here.”

The main building served as Lewiston’s passenger depot from 1916 to 1960, when it was purchased by the Steel Service Center. Roy’s father was part owner, and Roy worked in the warehouse and offices until he took over ownership.

He moved the Steel Service Center to the old Coca-Cola distribution plant on outer Lisbon Street in 2006, beginning renovations slowly. He replaced the building’s roof just before relocating, then the windows. Major renovations to the second-floor offices and old railway depot began last April and recently wrapped up. Crews are expected to be replacing the sidewalk in front of the building in the next few days, replacing asphalt with cobblestones.

“We didn’t have any federal or state money helping us do this; it was all private investment,” Roy said. “And, we did it during a down economy. So this is where I put my investment, instead of in the stock market. I think it was good idea, but we’ll see.”

He has reused as much of the building’s original fittings and materials as he could. Light fixtures, bathroom sinks and paneling on the depot’s wall are all original, with scratches buffed out and polished. Where original parts couldn’t be reused, Roy has done what he could to find suitable modern replacements.

For example, crews had to dig up part of the granite floor in the old depot to repair and replace underground pipes. The floor has been replaced with polished concrete made to look like granite.

The project and Roy’s efforts will be recognized by the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board at a ceremony at 3 p.m. Thursday in the Royal Oak Room.

Roy said it’s nice to have the project recognized.

“I didn’t do it to get awards or anything,” he said. “I just want to see someone use it.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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