By Rebecca Henely
As the current owner of the historic Steinway mansion prepared to turn over the keys, he opened the door to his home last Thursday, giving longtime residents of Astoria a peek inside the house for the first time.
“It’s a very exciting place to see, very exciting,” said Michael Halberian, the current owner of the mansion who inherited it from his father Jack.
The sentiment was echoed by visitors to the mansion, quite a few of whom were longtime residents but had never seen what it looks like inside.
“I’ve been here practically all my life,” said Amanda Gajeski, 40, who attended the open house. “I would never expect to be inside of the mansion.”
After a speech on the history of the house by Robert Singleton, president of the Greater Astoria Historical Society, about 100 people wandered the halls of the 25-room granite house on 41st Street overlooking Bowery Bay.
The mansion, built in 1856, still contains artifacts from all three families who have owned it, including optical instruments by Benjamin Pike, who built the property; a bust of the wife of Henry Steinway, the famous piano manufacturer for whom the mansion is named; and a library of books on the history of New York from Halberian.
“This house was truly the household of genius,” said Singleton.
Halberian, a retired restaurateur, said he is selling the house because he will be 83 in November and felt like it was time.
“I hope it becomes a historical spot,” Halberian said. “I hope it becomes a museum.”
Halberian was born in the mansion and lived there until he was married. He came back to take it over in 1977, when his father died. “It was my homestead,” Halberian said.
A lover of history and New York City history, in particular, Halberian said many of the artifacts in the mansion he bought himself, including a chandelier from the Whitney estate, a historic house on Long Island. He said these artifacts will be sold at auction after the Steinway house is sold, although not the history books.
“I want the books to stay here if I can help it,” he said.
Kim Parshley, real estate agent for the property, said the house is priced at $2.5 million without the acreage surrounding the property and $4.5 million with it.
Halberian wants the Steinway mansion to be a learning center, and elected officials such as City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) are advocating for such a concept.
“We’re hoping that it’ll get in the right hands,” Vallone said. “Someone who appreciates the history.”
Ernie Parada, 43, a resident of Astoria, said he wanted the house to be available to the public.
“It would be beautiful for this to be something,” Parada said.
But Gajeski said she believed the house would get too many visitors if it became a museum.
“I would like to see someone own it, to enjoy it,” she said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone 718-260-4564.