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Businessman aims to restore Public Square landmark

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Businessman Brian H. Murray has acquired the Lincoln Building, one of Public Square's most important but long-neglected buildings.

On Wednesday, Mr. Murray, who owns a number of buildings in and around Watertown, closed on the five-story, 150-year-old landmark at 89-99 Public Square.

Mr. Murray, who owns the former Agricultural Insurance Co. building at 215 Washington St., purchased the dominant downtown gray structure for $500,000 from a Long Island corporation, 89-99 Public Square Properties LLC, whose principal partner was Allan Hillel.

“Unfortunately, it's been neglected for a long time,” he said Wednesday. “But it really has a lot of potential.”

Mr. Murray intends to restore the landmark to its once glorious past, although he does not have any specific plans for it. However, he does plan to talk to local organizations and agencies, such as possibly Neighbors of Watertown Inc., about getting involved in the project.

“I just think it's part of what I'm interested in doing because it's historic and needs to be restored,” he said.

Except for some storefronts and tenants on the upper floors, the 43,000-square-foot building is mostly vacant. It includes nine storefronts, 17 offices and 16 apartments on the upper floors. At one time, it housed a theater, of which its black-tile marquee and ticket booth remnants are still noticeable.

Kenneth A. Mix, the city's planning and community development coordinator, said it was good news to hear about the plans to restore it, noting that there “has not been a lot of investment in it.”

“We always kept an eye on it because it's need of restoration,” he said, noting it is an anchor building along Public Square.

Reginald J. Schweitzer Jr., deputy director of Neighbors of Watertown Inc., said that Mr. Murray could exactly be who's needed to transform the building back to its past.

“Brian has the track record,” he said. “He does a good job managing his properties.”

During the mid-1980s, a former owner painted the facade, added some awnings on storefronts and completed some minor interior work but not much has been done since then. The Long Island group purchased it in 2006 for $435,000. It is currently assessed at $386,600.

Built in 1871, the structure was originally three stories tall; its top two floors were added more than 100 years ago.

When first built, it was known as the Dolittle and Hall Block — which Mr. Murray used to name the building's corporation name — and later as the Charlebois building after brothers Albert O. and Edward C. Charlebois, who designed the expansion in 1908 after similar commercial structures in Chicago.

In the past year, Mr. Murray has acquired a number of properties, including Palmer Street Apartments on the city's west side, College Heights Apartments off Coffeen Street and a small strip plaza in the town of LeRay. Most recently, he acquired the storefronts on the bottom floor of the City Center Plaza building that houses the Stream Global Services call center on Arsenal Street.

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