With landscaping and exterior detail work still in progress, John Smallwood, below, moved his financial advisory firm into 199 Broad Street last week. (Photo above by Trish Russoniello; below by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
More than a year later, John Smallwood still shakes his head in disbelief when he thinks about the appraiser who advised him to tear down the century-old Red Bank mansion he was about to buy and rehabilitate for use as office space.
For one thing, the comment betrayed astonishing ignorance of zoning law, Smallwood said: with just 60 feet of frontage on Broad Street, a new structure would have to be sliver-thin to accommodate setbacks and access to the parking out back.
More than that, though, was the appraiser’s failure to appreciate both the real and intangible value of the structure, at 199 Broad.
“I was really offended” by the suggestion, Smallwood told redbankgreen. “He just didn’t get what we have here.”
A view of the main stairwell, which needed only light cosmetic work. A “before” photo, below, shows the house clad in aluminum siding, with the front porch enclosed. (Photo above by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
What Smallwood and his wife, Sharon, saw in the three-story building was the end of a long search for a place that Smallwood Capital Management could call home.
Smallwood and his father, John Sr., founded the wealth-management advisory in 1990, and for two decades, the firm was based in office parks in Shrewsbury. But the younger Smallwood grew increasingly uneasy, both as a tenant and as someone who longed to be embedded in the heart of a town where he and his half-dozen employees could walk to lunch or shopping.
After looking at 25 or 30 buildings over the years, the Smallwoods were smitten by 199 Broad.
“This house had it,” he told redbankgreen on a tour last week. “We didn’t have to manufacture it. All we had to do was peel away the layers.”
The house was built in 1903 by dry goods merchant George Sutton, whose father, John, had served as borough mayor for nine years starting in 1880. Sutton’s daughter, Margaret MacDonald, lived there until she sold it to an insurance agency, according to a 1953 Red Bank Register article announcing the transaction.
It’s been an office building ever since, changing hands a half-dozen times. For several years in the 1960s, it was owned by and used as a law office by the late Mayor Dan O’Hern, who later served on the state Supreme Court and, since last Friday, has his name on the borough train station.
Smallwood bought the building last November for $585,000 from the estate of attorney Bernie Hoffman, who acquired it in 1982 and died just days before a previously scheduled closing.
Despite its obvious nods to an era when business luminaries proclaimed their status through mansions built on the outskirts of the downtown, 199 Broad lost some of its cachet over the years. At some point, the open front porch was enclosed. Someone covered over much of the first floor in pine paneling. Smallwood said he just didn’t know what he’d find underneath, but when the paneling was torn out, “we were so excited because the original molding was still here.”
The refurbished building is full of original details and, in some places, exact replicas. Brian Kenny Builders of Asbury Park, the general contractor on the job, built bifold doors and a large double-hung window to replicate the originals, and repurposed a tin ceiling as a backsplash in a small office kitchen. A second-floor restroom still has the four-legged bathtub and white subway tiles. The doorknobs used throughout the building are originals found in the basement.
“It was a complete rebuild,” Smallwood said of the project. “I wanted to restore this back to its grandeur and use it as an office.”
Still, being a numbers guy, he said, the purchase and renovations had to make sense, and do. With 12 to 15 extra parking spaces out back that he can rent out, the property will cost him less per month in debt service than he was paying in rent in Shrewsbury, he said.
With that, his new office joins a handful of freshly renovated homes serving as Broad Street workspaces. As previously reported, they’ll all soon be joined by 211 Broad, the former First Church of Christ Scientist that’s being converted into offices just two doors away.
For before, during and after photos from Smallwood’s renovation project, check out 199Broad.com