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Queens Chronicle

Steinway Mansion back on the market

Landmarked home’s fate uncertain

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Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 1:13 pm, Thu Aug 4, 2011.

The house known as the Steinway Mansion is back on the market after a two-week hiatus, with a listing price of $3.495 million. Sotheby’s International Realty has taken over Prudential Douglas Elliman’s effort to sell the landmarked home, though historical experts in Queens and people associated with Steinway & Sons, the storied piano company, continue to hope the house might one day be available for public use.

“It’s a white elephant,” said Steinway descendant Miles Chapin of the house. “The family wishes it would be preserved, but the thing is, we just don’t have the money.” Chapin’s uncle, Henry Z. Steinway, was the last family member to run the Astoria-based piano company Steinway & Sons before selling it to CBS in 1972. Since then, the company has changed hands several times.

The house, located at 18-33 41st St. in Astoria, was built in the 1850s and bought by German immigrant William Steinway, the first president of Steinway & Sons, in the 1870s. After Steinway’s death, the house was eventually sold to the Halberian family, who have owned it since the early 20th century.

In 2010, owner Michael Halberian put the house up for sale with the hope that it might become a museum or community center. Halberian died last December at the age of 82, and his daughter, Michele Kazarian, is now the estate’s executor.

“I don’t remember it as this shining mansion. I remember it as my grandparents’ home,” Kazarian said. While Kazarian appreciates the house’s historical value, the Rhode Island resident said she felt the time had come to sell. “It’s somebody else’s turn now [to own the house],” she said.

Just whose turn it will be is exactly what Queens historians are worried about. Because the building is landmarked it can’t be torn down, but various historical societies have lobbied the city to buy the house so it can become something more than a privately owned anachronism.

“The Steinway Mansion is without a doubt one of the most significant buildings in all of New York City, if not this country,” said Bob Singleton, the Greater Astoria Historical Society’s executive director. “It’s inexcusable that a city that styles itself as the cultural capital of the world does not have the resources to save this building.”

Singleton cited William Steinway’s significant contributions to the city as reasons for preserving the mansion. Steinway oversaw the construction of Steinway Hall, a mecca for classical music decades before Carnegie Hall was built; he created the neighborhood that would become Astoria out of what was then wilderness; and he even submitted blueprints for the first New York City subway in 1891.

The house is within walking distance of Steinway & Sons, the site where what many consider to be the world’s finest pianos have been made in much the same way since the 1870s. But financial concerns — the company’s gross profits in 2010 were a fraction of the house’s listing price — have prevented the company from buying the property.

“We fully support efforts to turn the mansion into a historic venue that would be accessible to the public,” Anthony Gilroy, a representative for the company, wrote in an email. “However, with the budgetary realities that we face, our commitment must remain that of ‘supporter’ rather than ‘financier.’”

“I’m really disappointed with the government,” said Mike Wood, the publisher of queensbuzz.com and an outspoken advocate for preserving the house. If it’s sold to a private owner, “it would be a huge missed opportunity,” he said.

Welcome to the discussion.