Steinway Mansion, Astoria, NY

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Much of the Diary from 1875 onward was written from and discussed events in the "Astoria mansion" or "farm," as William Steinway often called it. William's family life was centered at the 27-room mansion, located "on a prominent wooded hilltop overlooking the East River"(5) during the spring, summer, and early fall months. It was the gathering spot for the extended Steinway family. This summer home became the anchor of one of the nation's earliest model communities in Long Island City (now part of the Borough of Queens in New York City), creating model housing, a commercial district, a library, church, an amusement park, as well as the Steinway piano factory. The mansion was known as a show place of its day, with a porte-cochere at the end of the circular brick driveway to welcome the carriages of society, according to the "WPA Guide of New York City."(7)(4)

By 1870, Steinway & Sons' success provided the opportunity for William to acquire property outside of Manhattan, where he created an area now referred to as Steinway Village.(2)(Diary, 1870-09-06) The cornerstone of this area, now part of Queens known as Astoria, was the mansion built in 1857-8 by Benjamin Pike, Jr., a prominent dealer in optical instruments, as a country or summer residence. William writes in June of 1870, "At 11 A.M. Mr. Winants Albert and I drive via Hunters Point along the Shore Road past Ravenswood, Astoria to Bowery Bay, view the property of late B. Pike jr. now Tracey. about 70 Acres with 4.000 feet Waterfront, and a magnificent Stone Mansion which cost some $80.000 to build."(Diary, 1870-06-22) Some specifics of the purchase agreement were spelled out in the diary: "In afternoon, make Agreement with John Tracy jr. & Sheridan Shook for purchase of country seat of the late B. Pike jr. for $127.500. It is situated on Bowery Bay in the rear of Astoria, splendid Chateau on the Ground & about 80 Acres of Ground together with over 14 Acres of Waterfront."(Diary, 1870-07-11)

256: Steinway Mansion                                             
Steinway Mansion, Astoria, New York                                                          
photographer and date unknown
Courtesy of Henry Z. Steinway Archive 

59: An image 
William Steinway and family at Steinway Mansion,
Astoria, New York , 1881                                                         
photographer unknown
Courtesy of Henry Z. Steinway Archive 
Richard Ranft, Sr., William Steinway, Paula Steinway von Bernuth,
as a girl, Elizabeth Ranft Steinway, and unknown                                              

According to the National Register of Historic Places, the mansion is "...architecturally significant as a distinctive example of a suburban residence in the Italian Villa is especially distinguished by the unusual use of cast iron for all exterior decorative details. While cast iron was a popular building material for commercial structures during this period, its use on a residential structure was rare."(5) The exterior of the home is constructed of rough faced granite block. The center section of the home is two stories, while the western wing of the home features a four-story tower with a balustrade and an octagonal cupola.(5)

At the entrance, there is a two-story hall surrounded by a second-floor oval balcony. There are two parlors on the east wing, and the library and kitchen on the west wing of the home, with a dining room adjacent to the parlor at the end of the great hall. Interior features of the house include doors with etched glass depicting optical instruments, a "monumental staircase to the second level," and exquisite wood work.(5) The second level of the home contains five bedrooms off the oval balcony looking down on the great hall. The basement level contains a lounge, pub, billiards room, grotto, and cabana with sauna.(1)

The library was where William presumably wrote a great many of his diary entries. It also served as his home office and was where a considerable amount of his work was accomplished when he stayed in Astoria. He wrote, "Cool weather, remain at Mansion all day, have Visitors and mendicants..." (Diary, 1896-05-06) He frequently mentioned working at the Mansion, especially in the evenings.(Diary 1887-01-18, 1888-10-23, 1893-06-13, 1894-08-29) However, family fun took place there as well, such as the July 4 fireworks in 1891 that delighted the children.(Diary, 1891-07-04)

80: An image

Steinway Mansion, from Illustrated Pamphlet
on the Founding and Development of Steinway, N. Y. (Long Island City),
published by Steinway & Sons, date unknown
Courtesy of Henry Z. Steinway Archive

Regrettably, little, if anything, is known of the architect or construction plans of the home. We know that Benjamin Pike had it built in 1858 for $85,000, and his mark remains to this day in the home. "Retaining almost complete exterior and interior integrity, the Steinway House recalls an important period of prosperity and industrialization in Long Island City."(5) Pike's decorative touch, such as the etched glass depicting optical instruments in the significant interior and exterior doorways, are apparent today.(1)(5) During its first 164 years of existence there have been only three families occupying the house: the Pikes from the 1850's until 1870 (Pike died suddenly in 1864 at the age of 53)(6); the Steinways from 1870 to 1925, and the Jack Halberian family from 1926 to 2014, when the family sold the mansion following the death in 2010 of Jack's son Michael, who was born there in 1927.(3)(8) As a result of having so few owners, the mansion remains architecturally and decoratively unchanged.(5)

There are approximately 400 diary entries mentioning the mansion, some of which share some insights into William's personal life. The one time William discussed brandishing his revolver is at the mansion when on a " day and immense crowds throng bathing pavillion & B. B. Beach Some young men attempt to force their way from Rikers over our Beach but I drive them off with my revolver."(Diary, 1886-07-05) One of the more intimate diary entries took place at the mansion, "...wife goes to Union Square Theatre with Dachauers before going she comes to me while sitting at the library table suddenly kissing me I take a bath warm, with cold shower which very much refreshes me".(Diary, 1876-05-08) A frequent mention in the diary is William's pastime of playing skat with various friends and family.(Diary, 1875-07-30) One notable event was an earthquake the shook the Mansion "to its foundations."(Diary, 1895-09-01) His route to the mansion often varied; in his diary, he mentions going via ferries from different Manhattan streets across the East River, usually in his carriage. William last mentioned visiting the Mansion just two months before his death.(Diary, 1896-09-26)

The mansion remains in Astoria in the hands of private investors who plan on maintaining the mansion building.(8) Even with this new purchase, there continues to be an effort to preserve the home as an historical landmark, in conjunction with the Friends of Steinway Mansion, a program of the Greater Astoria Historical Society, which hopes to make it open to the public.(2)

1. Daily Mail, Mail Online, "Inside Astoria's historic Steinway mansion that nobody want to buy as price drops in second time in three years to $1.9m",
2. Friends of Steinway Mansion, (Bob Singleton)
3. "Michael Halberian: 1927-2010," at Queens
4. Ratcliffe, Ronald V. Steinway. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, pp 31,33.
5. United States Department of the Interior, Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service, National Register of Historic Places Inventory, Steinway House,
6. "Who Was Benjamin Pike?" at Queens
7. "The WPA Guide to New York City," 1939, Federal Writers Publications. Reprinted 1982 by Random House, Inc. p. 566.
8. New York Daily News Online Edition, "Exclusive: Mystery duo purchases historic Steinway Mansion for $2.6 million", May 6, 2014,