2011-01-05 / Front Page

Mansion Owner Dies At 82

BY JASON D. ANTOS


Michael Halberian, circa 1936, behind the Steinway Mansion where he would live for his lifetime. 
Insert photo Courtesy of the Halberian Family Michael Halberian, circa 1936, behind the Steinway Mansion where he would live for his lifetime. Insert photo Courtesy of the Halberian Family Michael Halberian, owner of the Steinway Mansion, died on Monday evening, December 27 of heart failure.

He died in his home.

The native Astorian, who turned 82 in November was born, raised and lived in the mansion once owned by famed piano manufacturer, William Steinway, for his entire life.

The death of Halberian comes just a few months after he announced plans to sell the property located at the foot of 41st Street in Astoria.

“This was shocking news,” Councilmember Peter F. Vallone Jr. said. “It is truly the end of an era.”

Since the late summer of 2010, Vallone and Halberian had been trying to find a suitable owner for the mansion that is more than one and a half centuries old.

“My father’s number one priority was that this house should fall into appropriate hands,” Halberian’s son, John Halberian said.

“We still hope that this historic home can be used by the community and possibly one day become a museum or owned by a family that will share its history with the neighborhood the way my father did.”

Halberian was born in 1928, the same year his father Jack, an immigrant from Turkey, purchased the home from the Steinway family for $45,000 at an auction. During the Depression, the family took in borders to help pay with expenses.

Tall trees now surround the home, located on a small 1.5-acre hill that was originally in the middle of an open meadow of several hundred acres, and the view of Bowery Bay is now completely blocked by the huge Con Ed power plant and numerous factories and warehouses. The pre-Civil War home is a virtual time capsule of the Victorian Age. Built in 1858 by Benjamin T. Pike Jr., an optician and scientific instrument inventor, who died in the house in 1864, the 2,285-square-foot mansion features the original ornate moldings and coffered ceilings, six original wood-burning fireplaces, one coal burning fireplace, original plank hardwood floors, four full bathrooms, a half bathroom and five bedrooms. Sliding parlor doors feature the original etched glass displaying images of the scientific instruments that Pike created. The home also includes a formal dining room, a kitchen large enough for a full catering staff, and a master library and study featuring floor to ceiling carved bookshelves.

During his lifetime, Halberian, a restaurant owner, amassed a collection of antiques that includes the telescope used aboard J.P. Morgan’s yacht, the Corsair, a massive Whitney chandelier weighing 1,000 pounds suspended from center hall’s 30-foot ceiling, an actual British pub the he had imported from England, paintings and sculptures.

It was the library, once used as William Steinway’s study, that was the center of Halberian’s pride and joy and the home of his most prized collection, several hundred antique volumes about the history of New York City. Most of the titles include books covering the history of Queens, a topic of which Halberian was an expert. “The loss of Michael Halberian is tragic in that we have lost a key figure of Queens history and knowledge of New York City,” former Greater Astoria Historical Society President Richard Melnick said.

“After living in the borough for more than 80 years, Michael knew so much about the history of Queens especially Astoria and Long Island City,” former Community Board 1 District Manager George Delis said. “His mind was a vast well of knowledge. He will be sorely missed.”

Halberian and Delis were instrumental in helping to establish the Greater Astoria Historical Society in the late 1970s.

“He was so generous with his knowledge of history,” Delis said. “One way of showing this was allowing people to enter the house where they could get a real sense of historic Queens. His heart was as big as his house.”

Halberian lived alone. A pet rooster named Kaka patrolled the property.

He is survived by two children, Michele Kazarian, and John Halberian, his sister, Rosemary and five grandchildren including Jackie and Katie Kazarian and Christopher, Meg and Jack Halberian and nieces and nephews.

The Halberian family still hopes that the home will be used as a community-gathering place that will enrich people’s lives.

“I will miss this place,” Halberian said in a final interview with the Gazette in November. “But I want it to go to people who will use it for the right reasons.”

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