Queens Next Great Museum?
Friends of Steinway Mansion Begin Their Journey
October 8, 2013 / Astoria Neighborhood / Queens History / Queens Buzz. They reminded me a bit of George Washington's rag tag band, scurrying from pitched battle to pitched battle, never really winning ... until the end ... because of their unyielding will and their relentless pursuit of the greater good. This is a story about the Friends of the Steinway Mansion.
In 2010 Michael Halberian, the longest living inhabitant of the Steinway Mansion, put it on the market, likely knowing at the age of 83, that his time here on the planet was limited. After a flurry of publicity and verbal support for preserving the Steinway Mansion by Queens government officials, interest in it died down shortly after Michael's death in December of 2010.
But not everyone lost interst ... click here to read our report on an effort to preserve the Steinway Mansion by its Friends and transform it into a world class museum.
Queens Next Great Museum?
October 8, 2013 / Astoria Neighborhood / Queens History / Queens Buzz. Continued. I headed up Steinway Street toward the Steinway Mansion in Astoria. After passing Ditmars the neighborhood becomes a mix of residential alongside a semi-industrial area that includes, among other light industry, the Steinway Piano Factory - a business that has been operating continuously in Astoria for about 150 years.
The Friends of the Steinway Mansion
As I turned onto the road that leads up the hill to the mansion, I noticed a group of people standing with signs in front of the Steinway Mansion driveway. The President of the Greater Astoria Historical Society [GAHS], Bob Singleton, was standing there among the group, surrounded by other GAHS staff and volunteers including Richard Melnick, Al Ronzoni and Debbie Van Cura. There were also some local businesspeople supporting the effort including Amanda Allensworth and Sean Cleary of Astoria Park Wine & Spirits.
Historic Mission: Preserve A Great English / German-American NYC Legacy
The Friends of the Steinway Mansion want to raise $5 million and possibly more to transform one of the oldest, best-preserved and most historic mansions in NYC, NYS and quite possibly the United States, for posterity. William Steinway spent many of the best years of his life in this mansion, starting in the middle of the 19th century until his death near the dawn of the 20th century.
William Steinway was a visionary New Yorker who helped transform New York City from a colonial / frontier town into one of the great cultural capitals of the world by inviting the greatest piano performers from all over Europe to do shows at Steinway Hall [precursor to Carnegie Hall] in NYC.
In the photo to your right is a photographed performance at Steinway Hall in NYC [I believe from the 19th century].
History - Steinway Real Estate Development In 19th Century Queens
William Steinway was also a real estate developer who envisioned a tunnel underneath the East River, enabling his street cars to sally to and from Manhattan. As the Steinways owned a lot of what is currently Astoria, a tunnel would have greatly increased the value of his land holdings.
William & others began digging the first tunnel in the late 1800's when an accident put the tunnel on hiatus until the early 20th century [after his death] when the tunnel was transformed into the #7 subway tunnel. In 1917 the #7 subway line first stopped in Long Island City before heading east into open farmland that would soon become the Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights, Corona & Flushing neighborhoods of Queens.
Modern Men Of Science - Astoria & Queens History
William Pike was the first owner / builder of the mansion. He was also a technologist and innovative marketer. Pike sold scientific instruments in a store in Manhattan and did a great business by creating a catalogue that he sent across the nation to a targeted list of educator / inventors who would buy the instruments via mail order [remember this was in the mid 1800's]. The mansion he built includes a watch tower where he would use his telescopes to gaze at the universe as well as Manhattan. Many scientific instruments of the time included lens for microscopes, surveying equipment and telescopes. The award shown in the photo to your right was commending Benjamin Pike & Sons for the best mountain barometer. Benjamin was William Pike's father.
Historic Mission - Preserve One Of America's Most Notable, Privately Owned, 19th Century Homes
The Greater Astoria Historical Society [GAHS] has long had an interest in preserving the Steinway Mansion. The Greater Astoria Historical Society has been working diligently in its creation of the Friends of the Steinway Mansion, and it is the beginning of a real start to preserve the mansion.
Bob Singleton, the current GAHS President, has been a passionate advocate for Steinway Mansion preservation ever since Michael Halberian first put the mansion up for sale. The Greater Astoria Historical Society has long held an interest in the Steinway family legacy and, in fact, helped the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. with an exhibit on William Steinway's Diaries in 2010 - 2011 as shown in the photo above.
The Friends of the Steinway Mansion
The Greater Astoria Historical Society developed a 'program' called the Friends of the Steinway Mansion. They set up an independent non-profit designed to raise funds to purchase the Steinway Mansion and convert it into a world class museum & cultural center.
The Friends of the Steinway Mansion have begun to recruit local businesspeople in the effort to preserve the mansion. The Steinway Mansion has the potential to enhance both the Steinway Street corridor and the Ditmars locale as tourist destinations, as the Steinway name is known around the world. For property owners and local businesspeople this could be a rare opportunity to begin a transformation of northern Astoria, in a fashion not dissimilar to what has happened in Long Island City. Long Island City is now locale to about a couple of dozen hotels, as well as numerous high rise buildings and restaurants.
Iconic Symbol: Officials Support Steinway Mansion Preservation but ..
To date the Friends of the Steinway Mansion count NYS Assemblywomen Aravella Simotas and Marge Markey as their supporters. Back in 2010 City Councilmembers Peter Vallone of Astoria, and Jimmy Van Bramer who is the Chair of the NYC City Council Cultural Affairs Committee, expressed support for preserving the Steinway Mansion. They asked Mayor Bloomberg to do something about it, but nothing came of the effort. Outgoing Queens Borough President Helen Marshall also expressed support verbally, but to date no money has been allocated to the effort. And until the GAHS organized the Friends of the Steinway Mansion, no tangible action had been taken.
Neither of the two Queens Borough President candidates has made any statement to date as to whether they would try to preserve the Steinway Mansion. They both appear to recognize that historic preservation is an important issue for Queens, but it's unclear if either would do more than Helen Marshall has done these past three plus years.
They talk about Queens becoming a technology center, but don't seem to value preserving some of Queens technological past. Thankfully the ancient Greeks didn't plow down the Parthenon, which is now one of the great iconic symbols of western culture.
A World Class Steinway Mansion Museum
Could Make ASTORIA - GATEWAY TO NYC
One of our clients, Halvatzis Realty [an Astoria realtor] has already posted this sort of vision on their website, as you can see from the licensed photo above.
It seems to me that anyone who owns real estate or a business with long term prospects in Astoria or LIC could benefit from the creation of a world class museum / cultural center at the Astoria Mansion. Like the LIC of yore, there are a lot of light manufacturing buildings that could be replaced with new hotels, only blocks away from the subway. Like in LIC these could be erected in a matter of a few years. Getting an active cornerstone cultural destination going in the Astoria / Ditmars / Steinway Street area could enhance the commercial activity in the area like Kaufman Astoria Studios and the Museum of the Moving Image did at the other end of Steinway Street.
Furthermore, the Steinway Mansion, Steinway Street, Ditmars and Astoria are only a stone's throw from LaGuardia Airport. With the Steinway Mansion as a world class museum, Astoria has a 'first dibs' opportunity to get a piece of the tourist trade on its way into Manhattan, or on its way out of Manhattan. And given the proximity of the Ditmars N and Q subway lines, Astoria could possibly get an even bigger slice of the tourist trade during visting tourists' entire stay. Tourist trade is money in shopping and restaurants and other services. But I digress.
The Friends of the Steinway Mansion & You
At the outset of the article I compared the Friends of the Steinway Mansion to George Washington and his army. In the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, the Continential Army was comprised of a ragtag bunch of farmers and frontiersmen. They didn't look like they had much of a chance against Great Britain, the strongest economic and military power in the western world. And right now, raising $5 million to acquire the Steinway Mansion looks nearly as improbable for the Friends of the Steinway Mansion. But stranger things have happened.
You can help by signing an online petition to preserve the mansion, emailing local officials about your interest, donating money via their website, or by attending a series of fundraising concerts planned over the next couple of months [we'll post in the Queens Buzz Monthly Events Calendar].
And here's a link to the Friends of the Steinway Mansion website - The Friends of the Steinway Mansion so you can get started.
Thanks to you and also thanks to the Greater Astoria Historical Society for initiating this effort and to all of the Friends of the Steinway Mansion who showed up for the rally and concert at Single Cut Beer at 19-33 37th Street in Astoria, not far from the mansion.
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