By Bill Kirk
---- — Brickstone Square, an iconic, historic complex of three buildings near Shawsheen Square, is for sale.
The 1 million-square-foot office park, located on 53 acres of property just south of Interstate 495, went on the market last Wednesday and is expected to sell for around $75 million.
“Clearly, Brickstone Square is a very special property,” said Benjamin Sayles, director for HFF, the Boston real estate firm marketing the property. “A new owner is going to share that same vision for the property and seek to physically improve the asset as well as increase the occupancy and bring more businesses and jobs to Andover.”
The property is currently owned by Pearlmark Real Estate Partners of Chicago, a private-equity investment firm that bought the $78 million mortgage on the site in 2006.
For years before that, the property was owned by Martin Spagat, who was instrumental in turning the 90-year-old mill and warehouse buildings into modern-day offices, according to Don Robb, a local historian who lives at 36 York St., immediately across from Brickstone Square.
Robb said the original structures were owned by the American Woolen Co., which built the three buildings, along with a power plant and a dye shop, in the early 1920s. Two of the buildings, which are five stories each, were known as Shawsheen Mills One and Two. The third building, which is 10 stories, was a warehouse.
Raw wool was brought to the site on the rail line that runs through the property, and turned into horse blankets, uniforms and other products for the military, Robb said. The plant flourished during World War I and again during World War II, becoming one of the prime suppliers of wool products to the allies fighting overseas.
The complex, which can be seen from I-495 as it rises over the trees, was part of Shawsheen Village — a development of homes and businesses created by American Woolen Co. founder and leader William Wood.
Wood, who at one time was among the richest people in the world, not only used the railroad line to deliver wool, but also to bring workers from Lawrence. The small train station on the property brought employees of the mills to and from work, Robb said.
“Wood was amazing,” Robb said. “He thought of everything.”
The three main buildings were used as mills until the 1950s, when the textile industry moved south. After that, Robb said, it became a site for small and large manufacturing companies, including Raytheon, which occupied much of the property until moving to its current location in West Andover. The coal-fired power plant as well as the dye shop have long since been torn down.
For a time in the 1990s, the property was occupied by CMGI, an Internet company that was huge during the early heyday of the dotcom-era.
When it was owned by Spagat, Robb said, the buildings were completely restored, Spagat was also known for erecting an enormous Christmas tree that could be seen from miles around.
In more recent years, the property has been used for town recycling drives and other civic events like the Feaster Five road race.
Since it was purchased by Pearlmark, formerly known as Transwestern Investment Co., the property has been well-maintained, Robb said.
“They keep the property up and do a nice job with landscaping,” he said. The company even built a parking garage on the property, he said.
Sayles said the three buildings are currently about 65 percent occupied with about 50 tenants, focused on technology, software, telecommunications, investment, financial services and professional services.
Major tenants include Genesis Healthcare, Unicare Life, WellPoint, Grumman and Bright Horizons, which has a day-care facility on the property. Sayles said the day-care center is used by employees of the facility, as is a huge cafeteria, a health club and a small convenience store.
The occupancy rate is down from years past, he said. There is about 350,000 square feet of space that is vacant. The property has a capacity to handle up to 3,000 employees.
Sayles said it shouldn’t be hard to find a buyer for the property because the real estate market in the region is so strong.
“Boston is one of the top investment markets in the country for commercial real estate,” he said. “Within Boston, towns with great access and in great locations like Andover are of particular interest.”
According to the Boston Business Journal, the 495 North market contains 20 million square feet of office space, with an availability rate of 28 percent. Brokers say rents are rising and availability is shrinking as tenants, who are priced out of Boston, head to the suburbs.
The property also has an historical oddity — a military-style, World War II-era, single-lane bridge that crosses the Shawsheen River and enters the site from Kenilworth Street. In the morning, it is used for commuters entering the vast parking lot around the buildings and in the afternoon, the direction is switched for outbound commuters.
Robb said he wasn’t sure of the exact history of the bridge, but thinks it probably has something to do with the fact that the plant was a major military supplier during World War II.