Eye On Real Estate
By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Sweet little 16 Broadway is the coolest residential building in Williamsburg – and it belongs to one of the coolest families in Williamsburg, city records reveal.
It's a nicely preserved sliver of the 1880s, eye-catching and a little bit mysterious looking, with a pointy roof and curious symbols covering part of its German brownstone facade.
“It's one of the best things in my life,” said filmmaker Andrew Neel, 35, who bought the four-story building in 2002 with his sister Elizabeth, who is a painter.
“There are buildings that inherently have a good feeling about them,” he said. “This is one of them.”
They are the grandchildren of the late Alice Neel, a portraitist whom art critics call one of the great figurative painters of the 20th Century.
Among Andrew's films is a documentary, “Alice Neel,” about his grandmother's life that won the Audience Award at the 2007 Newport Beach Film Festival in California. Alice, who lived in poverty for much of her career, captured the inner life of her portrait subjects, who included Andy Warhol, Bella Abzug and her Spanish Harlem neighbors.
Andrew and Elizabeth purchased 16 Broadway when he was just 23. He didn't want to relocate to Los Angeles for his film career – and he did want a place to call home.
“There's such a transience to New York City. I'd been moving since I was 14 and in boarding school,” he recalled.
He spent lots of time looking at properties in Williamsburg, which was a favorite place to hang out.
“I knew so much about the buildings I was offered real estate jobs twice,” he said.
“I saw 16 Broadway early on – and thought, 'Wouldn't it be a perfect dream to own?'”
It wasn't on the market. Later, Williamsburg real estate broker Suzy Klein gave him the heads-up that owner Samuel Frankel had decided to sell the four-story building.
Of course, the most breathtaking of Williamsburg's buildings is the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank at nearby 175 Broadway, a landmark with two jaw-dropping domes that has just undergone a $20 million renovation.
But you can't live at 175 Broadway. Now that it's no longer a bank, you can't even see the inside of it anymore, unless you get an invite to a party at the new events venue now located there, Weylin B. Seymour's.
As you might expect, 16 Broadway has an intriguing past. The Queen Anne-style property opened in 1884 with a saloon on its ground floor – and a few years later, former Senator Frank Kiernan built offices upstairs where he ran a Western Union office, according to a Brownstoner report by Montrose Morris, aka historical expert Suzanne Spellen.
A Williamsburg brewer named Otto Huber built 16 Broadway; Andrew found a bottle from Huber's brewery in the building.
Back in those days, brewers often built bars to showcase their wares.
Next door, there's a vacant lot the siblings also own, which lets light into 16 Broadway from three sides, a rarity in New York City. And the views of boats and bridges are really something.
“You feel the water,” said Andrew, whose office for his production company SeeThink Films is located at 16 Broadway as well as his apartment.
Want a peek at the building interiors? Scenes were shot there for a new film called “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” with Jessica Chastain, James McEvoy, William Hurt and Isabelle Huppert.