Steinway Mansion’s Tangled History

BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Staff Writer

The iconic Steinway Mansion was constructed in Astoria in the mid-1800s.

The iconic Steinway Mansion was constructed in Astoria in the mid-1800s.

Astoria’s iconic Steinway Mansion sits in an unglamorous corner of Ditmars, up a shady hill from concrete warehouses and next to a small junkyard.

The mansion’s history, however, is much richer than its surroundings would suggest – and its recent purchase for $2.6 million dollars marks an important new chapter in its storied past.

Construction of the Steinway mansion was completed in the mid-1800s.

According to the 1967 Landmarks Preservation Commission report that designated the mansion a landmark, the two-story, 27-room granite building is “both rambling and asymmetrical,” constructed with an “imaginative combination of classical and medieval elements.”

The Steinway mansion’s first residents – a British family named the Pikes – did not hold on to the house for long.

By 1870, the German Steinway family, already running the successful piano business Steinway and Sons out of Manhattan, snagged the mansion as well as other space in Astoria for more factories.

According to Friends of Steinway Mansion, a program of the Greater Astoria Historical Society dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the house, the building remains largely unchanged to this day from its original state.

Photographs posted on the Friends of Steinway Mansion website show the Steinway family posing around the villa exterior, which looks just as it does today.

William Steinway went on to build the family’s legacy in the area, constructing public buildings and churches, and serving as head of the commission that planned the New York City subway, among many other feats.

The family held on to the mansion until 1926, when it was purchased by Jack Halberian, a tailor who arrived in New York from Turkey.

Halberian put his personal touch on the mansion, filling it with, among other eclectic decorations, a 1,000 pound motorized chandelier, according to published reports.

However, this era was also one of decline for the mansion, and upkeep became especially hard for the aging owner towards the early 2000s.

Halberian’s son Michael maintained the house until 2010, when it was put on the market.

The initial asking price was $5 million, which was eventually whittled down to the $2.6 million it sold for in early May.

At the time of the mansion’s sale earlier this year, Bob Singleton, executive director of the Greater Astoria Historical Society, told the Queens Tribune that he hopes it will remain “a place that can celebrate the traditions of our community and of Steinway and Sons.”

“We stand ready to work with [the buyers] on making the mansion accessible to the community and putting in place some programs,” Singleton added.

According to Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), who worked with the buyers at the time of the mansion’s sale, they are hoping to preserve the building and possibly to develop some of the grounds.

Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718)357-7400, Ext. 128, jstrawbridge@queenstribune.com or @JNStrawbridge.