The Steinway Mansion was first built by Benjamin Pike in 1858. Benjamin Pike, Sr. was a transplanted Englishman who was a leading dealer of glasses, telescopes, and other optical instruments. The interior doors have frosted glass etched with images of the scientific glassware and instruments found in his catalogues. He only enjoyed the house for a few years before his death in 1863. Pike’s widow sold the mansion to the Steinways in 1870 for the princely sum of $127,000, worth more than $2 million today.
William Steinway bought the mansion and relocated his factory and family to what was then “the country.” The Steinways took great pride in the home, its appointments, its grounds, and the private dock on the East River. William, in his diary, called it his “county seat” and “his magnificent stone Mansion.” The Steinways lived here for 50 years. In 1926, the mansion was sold to Jack Halberian. The Halberian family has owned & maintained the mansion since then, largely under the stewardship of Michael Halberian who lived there between 1976-2010.
William Steinway could wear the title ‘Renaissance Man’ as easily as anyone. He was the point person for a family enterprise that achieved major accomplishments in such far flung efforts as music, manufacturing, real estate, and transportation. Through his diary we have an extraordinarily intimate glimpse of life at the mansion. Spanning decades, this detailed calendar of his daily activities is a gold mine of information about the man and his world. The diary, donated to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. by grandson Henry Z. Steinway, formed the genesis for a major William Steinway exhibit at the Institute in 2011.
Although the mansion was not the family’s primary residence (it was a summer home), dozens of people walked through its doors each day – businessmen soliciting proposals, politicians seeking advice, relatives, servants, concert artists, and of course, employees from the factory and showrooms. It may have been a retreat from the heat and cares of the city, but the lamps were routinely lit well into the night.
All historic images are from the Henry Z Steinway Collection, courtesy of the Greater Astoria Historical Society. Modern photographs of the mansion are courtesy Gary Vollo.