Steinway Mansion, located at 18-33 41st Street (between 19th Avenue and Berrian Boulevard), stands on a mountain overlooking the East River, Rikers Island and the Bronx.
The mansion is a large Italianate Villa style dwelling. The architect is unknown. It was constructed of granite and bluestone with cast iron ornamentation and has a two-story, T-shaped central section, with a slate–covered gable roof.
There are five Italian marble fireplaces and pocket doors that hold original cut glass depicting 19th-century scientific instruments. The centrally-located main hall contains elaborately carved walnut balustrades, a two-story domed rotunda topped with a central stained glass skylight and 12-foot ceilings throughout. There are three large underground cisterns designed to collect rainwater from the roof for grounds irrigation and a 1000-gallon copper tank in the attic to furnish the house with a pressurized water system for bath and kitchen use.
Initially built in 1858 on the 440-acre territory for the manufacturer of scientific instruments Benjamin Pike, Jr., the mansion exchanged hands in 1870 when it was bought by William Steinway of Steinway & Sons.
William Steinway was the son of the piano manufacturer Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, who changed his name to Henry Steinway after moving to the US from Germany. William became the president of the company and led it to fruition, massively expanding the business. When Steinway & Sons outgrew Manhattan, he found an empty lot in the deserted part of Long Island City. The area had no name back in the day and is now called Steinway, after William and his input into the land’s development.
After the death of Benjamin Pike, Jr. and his son, William bought the nearby house from Pike’s widow, along with the large parcel of land on which it stood. This proved to be a decisive event in the story of this part of Astoria.
The piano making company from Germany brought an influx of prosperity to this part of Queens. Within 20 years after Steinway moved his business and his family from Manhattan to Astoria, there were more than 7,000 people living in what was known as the Steinway Settlement. “He wanted to develop that area, not just as a company town in the sense of Pullman, but he wanted to develop it,” Henry Z. Steinway, William’s grandson, told the documentary filmmaker Jim Sabastian. “So, he attracted other industries.”
You can see Sabastian’s film about the mansion here:
William Steinway was in all aspects a crucial part of the business and social life of New York City. After meeting Gottlieb Daimler and striking a partnership with him, he brought the production of German gas and petroleum engines for stationary and marine applications to Astoria. The partnership did not last long, however, this resulted in a brief period of production of the “American Daimler” on the premises of the Steinway Astoria plant. These were exact copies of the German Daimlers, and the production period lasted from 1892 until ca. 1896/97.
Also in the 1890s William Steinway began a project to extend his company town’s horse-drawn trolley line under the East River and into midtown Manhattan. This project would eventually lead to the creation of the IRT Flushing Line. Despite not living long enough to witness the full realization of the project, Steinway was definitely the main driving force behind it. In the modern era, the tunnels that were dug under the East River were named the Steinway Tunnels after him.
Steinway also served as head of the New York Subway Commission, the group that planned the New York City Subway network. He dreamed of a rail link to North Beach, where LaGuardia Airport sits today: a dream still unrealized. Steinway was also one of the early backers of what would be today’s Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.
William Steinway died in 1896, and his family continued living in the mansion after his death. In 1926 Jack Halberian, an Armenian immigrant who had fled Turkey as a teenager after the Turkish–Armenian war, bought the mansion.
Halberian’s son had said that before the purchase, his father and his friends would make their way out to the North Beach amusement park that Steinway had built. Halberian Sr. would look up from the trolley, see the Steinway Mansion, and say that one day he would buy that house.
However, when Jack Halberian acquired the building, the deal did not include the grounds on which the Steinway & Sons factory stood, and stands up to this day. So when the Halberians moved in, all the utilities that were originally hooked to the factory were cut, and the family had to reinstall water, heat, and electricity lines.
Michael Halberian maintained the mansion for decades after his father Jack’s death, adding enhancements, such as a motorized central chandelier—just like the one that raises up before performances at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.
The mansion was declared a landmark in 1967 and was actually one of the first sites thus designated in the wake of the tragic demolition of the old Penn Station. Here is the original description of the building from the Landmark commission meeting back in 1966.
Eventually, the mansion’s upkeep became too much for Michael and, in 2010, he put the house on the market. He died later that year and since then, his children sold it in 2014 for $2.65 million.
Right now the mansion is in good condition, at least judging from the outside, but the land on which it stands is actively shrinking. When Halberian’s heirs sold the building, the deal included land to go with it. However, according to QueensBuzz.com since then a couple two-story manufacturing facilities had been built in the adjoining grounds.
Bonus: A tour of the Steinway & Sons factory, and the process of making a piano.