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Another plan for long-vacant Atlantic Aquarium in Hull

A developer wants to put up a four-story, 21-unit residential building at the eastern edge of Nantasket Beach.

A rendering of the proposed 21-unit residence on the site of the old Atlantic Aquarium in Hull.Jonathan Leavitt

A Brookline developer wants to raze the old Atlantic Aquarium at the eastern edge of Nantasket Beach and put up a four-story, 21-unit residential building.

Jonathan Leavitt applied to the Hull Planning Board for a special permit on Nov. 2.

“The proposed project will result in redevelopment of an area that has been vacant for several years (resulting in) an enhancement to the established character of the neighborhood,” the application said.

Leavitt — who bought the iconic building in August for $1.45 million — said he has not decided whether the units will be condominiums or apartments. In the design, each floor is set back so all units have outdoor terraces and sunset views. There will be an outdoor pool, and parking at ground level.

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The half-acre site sits at the foot of Atlantic Hill, adjacent to the state parking lot. The property is elevated high enough that it is not in a flood zone, Leavitt said.

The site has a long history of uses.

Back in the 1920s, it was home to Hurley’s Bathhouse, which had lockers and showers, and rented umbrellas, beach chairs, towels, and bathing suits, according to local history. In the 1960s, there was a failed proposal to build a large apartment building.

The Atlantic Aquarium opened in the early 1970s, with seawater pumped into tanks and a large area for dolphin shows: Lucky, Lady, and Sprite performed five times a day year-round until Lucky died of cancer.

The aquarium closed only a few years after it opened — the owners blamed high gas prices and a subsequent sharp decrease in school field trips — and the town took the property for back taxes.

In 1979, a researcher leased the aquarium building for a project aimed at proving the existence of the Loch Ness Monster in the Scottish Highlands. He brought back the dolphins and their trainer, who worked with them on using underwater cameras and sonar equipment and on testing equipment designed to allow them to swim in freshwater. The project was called off when Sprite died in 1979.

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The building’s next incarnation was as the Atlantic Inn and Elaine’s Seaside Restaurant, which opened in the 1980s. Owners Albert and Elaine Nardo made news when they removed three of the Aquarium’s big fish tanks and trucked them to local homes for private swimming pools.

When that enterprise ended, the South Shore Charter School leased the space for high school classrooms in the mid-1990s until the school moved to Norwell in 2004. The next owner, Jay I. Hanflig of Cohasset, had plans for a performing arts center before selling to a company that wanted to operate a marijuana facility there. That plan was unveiled in 2019, and dropped two years later after significant opposition from neighbors.

Leavitt said he has previously worked mostly in Cambridge, Brookline, and Newton, but was hired to oversee renovations to condominiums located on Hull’s Atlantic Hill. He saw the “for sale” sign on the old aquarium and decided to give the town a try.

“I am extremely enthusiastic about this building,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place to live, on a fine beach in an excellent community. And the architecture itself looks like waves or fluttering flags in the wind.”

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.