One interested buyer of the historic Steinway Mansion is backing up its plan of savior with support of residents, artists, and local businesses in Astoria, Queens. The Friends of Steinway Mansion (FoSM) is sponsoring a music festival that will run through November as they try to not only raise awareness about the mansion but the funds to buy it.
“Let me tell you the beautiful idea that I have for the mansion,” said Bob Singleton, the Executive Director of Greater Astoria Historical Society (GAHS), who founded FoSM earlier this year to lead a fundraising effort to save the mansion. “It is a place where we will teach the future how to build and to sail great ships. Ships are yourself, your ideas, your dream, and what you can do. It is a place where many people from different backgrounds can take something from the Steinway epic that they understand and can use it to inspire themselves to go forward in their lives.”
The mansion has been on the market for several years now ever since Michael Halberian, the former owner, passed away in 2010. The entire property, consisting of seven lots, is listed for sale as one piece of land for $3.2 million, a price its current realtor has set for six consecutive months. Paul Halvatzis, the property’s broker, has seen price reductions though of the property over the years with different realtors. Interested buyers have come to him with various plans for the mansion, many of which envisioned the property not just as a private home but also as a public space.
“The exterior is landmarked. The interior is not. It was built in 1858 and maintained. But someone will probably have to spend several hundred thousand for renovation,” said Halvatzis.
FoSM is dedicated to purchasing the property as a whole, renovating it, and preserving its rich history. Located at 18-33 41st St. in Astoria, the mansion is famous for being the former home of the Steinways from 1870 to 1926. The now very busy and commercial Steinway Street was named after William Steinway, who bought the house, created a neighborhood for his workers and relocated his now internally respected piano factory.
“Nationally, people know Steinway pianos, but living in Queens, people are like ‘we have a mansion?’ Because it was a private home for so long. So our fear is, if this house falls into the wrong hands, they can destroy the inside,”said DeeAnne Gorman, a vocalist, poet, performer and a member of FoSM who performed for the Music Fest.
Members of FoSM and the GAHS see the mansion as a treasure not only for musicians but also for Americans overall.
“The Steinways represent the American story because they are immigrants. They came to America to make their fortune and they built the best pianos right here in New York City. That’s like the American dream,” said Rosalie Kenny, fundraiser of FoSM. “And they are still here to this day, 143 years later, still making pianos here in Astoria. That’s the story we are telling.”
By having local musicians, such as Gorman, and their live performances at Astoria restaurants and bars, the Music Fest works as just one part of the whole plan to raise awareness and funds for the mansion. The FoSM set up raffle ticket sales with donated gift certificates by local businesses and held a petition signing during the events.
“I like the idea where businesses participate in their communities and being hands-on supporters in making it a great neighborhood.” said Tina Stipanovic, the owner of Rest-au-Rant, a venue of the music fest as well as a gift certificate contributor. “Because if it’s a great neighborhood, it’s frankly great for the business too.”
FoSM aims to get community support on board and urges people to write to their politicians, according to Elisabeth McAleer, GAHS volunteer who manages the FoSM website and PR. McAleer and other members of FoSM share the belief that donations and governmental support are key to saving the mansion.
“We are waiting for election season to end. Then we will find out who’s actually going to help us,” said Kenny. “Once we buy it, I’m really excited to start working on foundation grants because there’s a lot of money for restoring historic houses, reserve historic landmark buildings like this one is.”
The Artisans Guild of America, a partnering organization, has proposed using the mansion’s as a workshop teaching fellow artists historical woodworking and restoration. FoSM also envisions the mansion to be a stage for musicians and Steinway piano artists to performance, said McAleer.
“We like the idea. It is also a beautiful architectural piece,” said Cee Fate, lyricist and lead vocals with One Hot Second band, who will be performing at a FoSM Music Fest event on Oct. 31. “Also, with the city losing many of its historic music performance spaces such as CBGB’s, Roseland Ballroom and arts spaces such as 5 Pointz, it is important to preserve something as culturally significant as the Steinway Mansion.”
While Astoria artists hope their support of the Steinway Mansion with the Music Fest will help immediately boost the neighborhood’s growing art scene and music night life, the dream would be to turn the mansion into a a possible music museum.
“I mean what’s not to love about that possibility. Astoria has becoming very hot with the arts. More and more artists are moving here. I really think it’s the next Dumbo,” said Gorman. “Real estate is so packed in New York City and the fact that we have a mansion on a hill that you can walk to from the subway. This is a treasure for New York.”
The founder of FoSM sees himself leading far more than a fundraiser event or a renovation project.
“The Steinway Mansion represents another dimension of New York,” said Singleton. “It represents a place where we sleep in the cradle of creativity. It represents that we live at the addresses of ideas. It is a place that represents the spirit of the New York City epic. I want the public to look at it and to listen. That’s it.”