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Astoria Characters: The Man To The Mansion Born

Stone Island Water Soluble Screening Print Sweatshirt Dark BurgundyShrill as a scream, the cry pierces the air. There is a squirrel climbing the tree, however no squirrel ever emitted such a sound. Behind the high emerald-green gate, two bear-cub-like canines are howling their heads off.

This is not the nation, that is 41st Street, the place the raw-edge warehouses reside. The cry comes again; it’s a good-morning crow from a pink-headed rooster!

Michael Halberian, a genial fellow with over-the-ears silver hair and a lad’s spring in his step, pops his head out of the house to see what all the commotion’s about. “Come on in, Gina and Blackie will not harm you.”

Picture by Nancy A. Ruhling
Michael leads the best way into the magnificent mansion.
House isn’t the fitting phrase. This is the fabled Steinway Mansion that was inbuilt 1856 high on a hill dealing with the East River for a millionaire named Pike, and it is where Michael has spent most of his life.

There are two gates; they tell the tale of the mansion. The fancy wrought-iron one that hasn’t been utilized in many years seems to be as though it came from the Solar King’s Versailles. The green-painted chain-link one, where the canines and rooster are singing their serenade, isn’t locked and is where visitors enter.

Across the courtyard, there’s a line of laundry hanging out, right by the colonnade of arches that result in the entrance yard, which seems to be like a desert meadow.

Picture by Nancy A. Ruhling
A gently growling palace guard mans the chain-hyperlink gate.
The 27-room granite and solid iron Italianate mansion, a city, state and federal landmark complete with ivy-lined tower, has seen better days. The entrance is framed by what’s left of a pair of magnificent columns that used to help a porte-cochere. So much paint has peeled from the double front doorways that there’s none left. There’s a gap within the roof of the facet porch, and there are a half-dozen vintage cars in numerous levels of decay parked on the aspect lot. (More images.)

In the middle of a grove of maples, H.A. MacNeil’s bigger-than-life bronze Indian stares on the rich ruins, chalk-like streaks of white operating down his cheeks like tears.

Picture by Nancy A. Ruhling
The 27-room mansion is an Astoria icon.
Michael heads back to the kitchen, which appears as though it hasn’t been updated in a century. Michael’s a collector. Along with the brilliant white circa 1925 industrial refrigeration unit, there are three slot machines, a vintage airplane propeller and a 1935 photograph of Babe Ruth.

The rooster, who goes by the name of Kaka, crows again. He’s a bantam and like Michaels’ chickens, he wandered onto the property from the chicken market at twentieth Avenue and thirty first Road by ConEd.

“He’s the best little guy,” Michael says. “He comes after i beep a horn. I’ve been trying to find him some girlfriends.”

Photograph by Nancy A. Ruhling
Kaka, the mansion’s resident rooster, struts his stuff.
Michael’s spent a whole lot of money and time on this mansion, and now it is time to let it go. He and his sister inherited it from their mom after her demise in 1994. He has lived here since and pumped $5 million into it. “I by no means realized how a lot I spent!” he says.

He not too long ago purchased his sister out — with cash he didn’t have. The estate is on the marketplace for $four.5 million — $2.5 million for the mansion, plus $2 million for the adjacent lot, take one or all, purchaser’s selection.

The mansion, which has five marble fireplaces and parlor doorways whose glass is etched with photos of antique scientific devices, holds a whole lot of memories for Michael, who’s going to show 83 in November.

It will take a while; so kick off your footwear and get comfortable. “Let me give you the story,” Michael begins.

Photograph by Nancy A. Ruhling
Michael, in a vintage picture, exterior the mansion.
Jack, his father, an Armenian immigrant from Turkey, came to America in 1914. The mansion, which then was owned by the piano-making Steinway household, was one in every of the primary things the teen saw. It attracted his consideration as a result of he had been a stone mason in his dwelling country. He advised his mates that one day he can be the grasp of the mansion.

A dozen years later and two years after marrying, Sharmie, another Armenian immigrant from Turkey, he did just that. In 1927, Michael was born whereas they have been residing there. During the nice Depression, they practically misplaced the house.

“My father had an $18,000 ‘on-demand’ mortgage, which meant the lender may demand the total quantity at any time,” Michael says. “When the inventory market crashed, he did. My mother’s aunt bought all her kin collectively, and they raised the $18,000. We transformed the home to a few apartments, and we essentially grew to become like caretakers and janitors. My mom kept the place spotless from attic to basement. Sundays had been a day of labor, not rest; we did things like painting and repairs. My mother and sister slept within the library; my father and that i slept in one of the parlors.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
To Michael, the mansion is heaven on earth.
When he was 10, Michael was pressed into service at his father’s tailor shop. Each Saturday, he walked to Ditmars Boulevard and took the El to Manhattan. He brought his father’s home-cooked lunch in a jar.

His job was to take the males’s jackets and vests to the fabric house to get swatches so matching pants could be made. His father did the hems and alterations. The mansion had a coal furnace, and Michael was paid 20 cents to haul out the ashes, which crammed 20 to 25 baskets per week. Those few Saturdays he didn’t work, he spent 10 cents on the movies. He had a choice of treats — Spanish peanuts had been 5 cents; so were Kraft caramels and cigarettes.

“I had wonderful dad and mom,” he says. “I lived a fantastic child’s life.”
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The chandelier is the focal level of the central corridor.

After serving a bit more than a 12 months in the Army Air Corps during World Struggle II, Michael enrolled at New York College. He was studying accounting and hoping for a profession as a businessman when he fell in love.

“In those days, you could not get engaged until you gave the girl a diamond ring,” he says. “So I give up college after three years to work as a presser in my father’s tailor shop so I may save for it. It was 1 1/2-carats and value $1,500.”

He bought married the identical month the Korean War started and moved his bride into one of many apartments on the Steinway Mansion.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
One among Michael’s favorite rooms is the library.
“I do not know what I used to be thinking,” he says. “My spouse and my mom had a big fight, so we moved out.”

Eventually, Jack’s Pants Shop grew and by 1961, it became Jacques-Michael, which sold males’s clothing. In 1970, Michael opened a restaurant. Knickers was a couple of doors away from Jacques-Michael on Second Avenue, so it was easy for Michael to work the bar when he bought off from his day job. “I took in a ton of money,” he says. “I only slept four hours a day.”

In 1976, Michael’s father died, and his mother inherited the home. She moved to an condominium in Bayside, and Michael, who was getting a divorce, moved back into the mansion the following year. When she died in 1994, the house handed to Michael and his sister, and Michael, when he retired at 58, started restoring it to its former glory.

If Michael is sorry that the Steinway Mansion won’t be handed down to the next era that features his two children and five grandchildren, he by no means says so.

Picture by Nancy A. Ruhling
A marble bust and an etched-glass door convey beauty and science together.

He wanders through the central hall and flips the switch that turns on the 1,000-pound crystal chandelier, large and round because the sun. It’s motorized; he pushes a button and it rises majestically toward the skylight. He remembers getting married in this room, which, like the remainder of the house, is full of what he calls his “artifacts.”

There’s a full suit of armor, an antique brass telescope that J.P. Morgan had on his yacht and a pair of stuffed gorillas, the kind of prize won at carnivals, sitting on the metallic and glass table.

Within the dining room, in addition to the circa 1890 dining set, there is a backgammon desk decorated with micro-mosaics, a brass samovar, a bronze bust of Beethoven and a 19th-century Japanesque fireplace display screen.

The library, Michael’s favorite room, homes his collection of 20,000 books about New York City, classical statues, a wine-crimson wingback chair and even an previous parking meter painted pumpkin orange. The chess board is all the time arrange in case anyone wants to play.

Did Michael mention that he began light blue stone island t shirt gathering books when he was a boy Let him inform you the story.
“My father had rented one room to a retired kindergarten teacher,” he says. “She called me Master Michael, and every night I sat at her ft while she learn a chapter from books like Treasure Island. These magical books grew to become very important in my life. I was studying and understanding at faculty level when I was in sixth grade.”

The basement, oh, you have to see the basement. Michael spent $1 million to show it into a private club that features a pool table, a billiards desk, a sauna, a whirlpool guarded by two marble lions, a wet bar, a home theater and antique pub booths imported from England.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
A pool table turns the basement into a non-public club.
“I had lots of parties right here,” he says. “Hundreds of people came. I stopped them 4 or five years in the past.”

Michael isn’t so nice at walking up stairs nowadays, but feel free to show your self round. In the master bedroom, there is a mammoth Renaissance Revival bedroom set. There’s additionally a room filled with scientific instruments, some once owned by Pike, and there’s a spiral staircase that leads to the tower.

“That is the greatest house on the Eastern seacoast — it rivals Newport as a result of it’s a livable house,” he says as he heads again to the kitchen. “I am an island in a sea of warehouses in an ideal mansion.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Michael and H.A. MacNeil’s bronze Indian look over the property.
He stops in front of the glittering chandelier and looks skyward. Pike, the primary proprietor of the mansion, was a Mason, and he put the eye of God into the center of the skylight.

The great New England Hurricane of ’38 poked out God’s eye, so he’s not watching over Michael any extra.

“The time has come for me to make my exit,” Michael says.
Outdoors, Kaka crows.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at

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