By Rebecca Henely
A diverse group of Astoria historians, elected officials, business leaders and artists have banded together to try to buy the Steinway Mansion and turn it into a museum.
“I think it’s about time the community really stepped up to the plate here,” said Bob Singleton, executive director of the Greater Astoria Historical Society.
The Steinway Mansion, a 25-room granite house at 41st Street overlooking Bowery Bay in Astoria, was originally built by optician Benjamin T. Pike in 1858 as a weekend home. But it got its name from its second resident, famous piano maker Henry Steinway, of Steinway & Sons.
Since the 1920s, the mansion has been owned by the Halberian family. Michael Halberian, the latest owner, had listed the mansion and the land surrounding it for sale before he died during the late 2010 snowstorm at age 83. The house never found a buyer and has remained unoccupied since then.
The Steinway Mansion once held many artifacts from its previous owners, but they were sold at auction shortly after Michael Halberian’s death. Nevertheless, Singleton said the mansion still has great potential as an educational resource and point of revitalization for the industrialized area where it sits. The Friends of Steinway Mansion was formed to try to buy the mansion for that purpose.
“It could become a catalyst for growth in that area,” said Rob MacKay, spokesman for the Queens Economic Development Council, which is part of the alliance. “There’s not much in that area.”
State Assemblywomen Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) and Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) are both members of the alliance as well. Simotas called the mansion a “hidden gem” that gives an interesting perspective into the community’s past and its past residents.
“Unless you have a reason to walk up that hill, you really don’t,” Simotas said. “But when you do, it’s a window to another world.”
The assemblywoman said to get possession of the mansion, the alliance would need public and private investment. She said Michael Halberian’s children recently gave her and Markey a tour and while they want to sell, they are also interested in seeing the mansion preserved.
The Artisans Guild of America and Steinway & Sons have also joined the alliance.
Anthony Gilroy, marketing director for Steinway, said in an e-mail the company does not have the resources to buy the house on its own, but is happy to lend support.
“This mansion is one of the few buildings in the area that actually predates our factory and so is an integral part of early Astoria history,” Gilroy said. “We’re hopeful that the history and accessibility of the mansion is preserved.”
To get involved, visit facebook.com/steinwaymansion.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.