When visitors step off the elevator onto the fourth floor of the Quinn building for the Greater Astoria Historical Society, the exhibits begin before they even enter the showroom. The photos that line the walls in the hallway are large and inviting, encouraging passersby to stop to take a closer look.
One exhibit that deserves such attention is “The Steinway Mansion: Victorian Virtuosity,” an exhibition by Gary Vollo, a Long Island photographer born and raised in Astoria.
Vollo’s photographs show what the 1850s Steinway Mansion looks like inside, from its opulent chandeliers and detailed wood carvings, to its large second-floor library, ornate wallpaper treatments and spiral staircase.
“It’s a celebration of the architecture,” said Bob Singleton, executive director of GAHS, a nonprofit cultural organization, adding, “a lot of American history passed through its doors.”
According to Singleton, the Steinways, the family behind the Steinway & Sons piano company, used the summer home over the hilltop on 41st Street in Astoria for 50 years until 1919. WilliamSteinway, the familypatriarch, wasa civic leader whose respect was sought by many, including aspiring pianists who auditionedin the mansion’s entrance hall. His grandson Henry helped compile an account of WilliamSteinway’sday-to-day life for an exhibit at the SmithsonianInstitutein Washington, DC in 2011.
With help from the society, this exhibit, which was part of Queens Art Express 2012 last June, is trying to garner interest to save the endangered residence, which has been on the market recently, with no public officials able to secure the funds necessary to buy and preserve it.
Once inside the society’s main gallery space, another fascinating exhibit is “Long Island City (Then & Now),” also shot by Vollo. Residents familiar with his works on display at Michael’s Restaurant on Broadway, which show historic photos of Astoria and Greater Long Island City paired with recent shots in the same locations, will see an entirely new selection.
Many photos were shot 100 years after their original counterparts, and according to Singleton, what’s on display is only a fraction of the total collection; GAHS has more than 200 historic photos paired with their modern equivalents.
“On so many different levels this is an incredible project and has remained one of our most popular exhibits,” Singleton said, mentioning that it has interest for people of all ages, including children who can relate to the familiar images around them.
“It’s very exciting to see what has changed and what hasn’t changed,” he said.
Vollo went to extraordinary lengths to make sure the recreated images were just right — and if that meant he had to wait for traffic to clear in a particular area because no cars were present in the historical photo, he’d wait.
“Historians define what a generation should remember; it’s this exhibit,” Singleton added.
Interested residents can also visit the Greater Astoria Historical Society’s website to check out thousands of historical images available for purchase of Astoria and Greater Long Island City, whether for personal use or a business’ decor, like that of Micheal’s Restaurant.
“We sell unique photos to anyone who wants to be connected on a deep level with the community,” Singleton said.
Also on display as the GAHS is an exhibit called “A Tale of Two Stadiums,” documents the demolition ofShea Stadium and the old Yankee Stadium through the eyes of threeseparatephotographers.
The Steinway Mansion exhibit will come down later this year to make room for a new display on the War of 1812. The LIC Then and Now exhibit will be up for the rest of 2012.
When: Mon. and Wed., 2 to 5 p.m.; and Sat., noon to 5 p.m.
Where: Greater Astoria Historical Society, 35-20 Broadway, 4th floor, LIC
Tickets: Free, astorialic.org, (718) 278-0700