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Astoria Characters: The Man To The Mansion Born

Shrill as a scream, the cry pierces the air. There’s a squirrel climbing the tree, but no squirrel ever emitted such a sound. Behind the excessive emerald-green gate, two bear-cub-like canine are howling their heads off.

Stone Island New Fashion Men's Coats Shiny BlackThis isn’t the nation, that is 41st Avenue, the place the uncooked-edge warehouses reside. The cry comes once more; it is a very good-morning crow from a crimson-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.
Home isn’t the correct word. Stone Island Clothes This is the fabled Steinway Mansion that was inbuilt 1856 excessive on a hill dealing with the East River for a millionaire named Pike, and it is the place Michael has spent most of his life.

There are two gates; they inform the tale of the mansion. The fancy wrought-iron one that hasn’t been used in a long time appears as though it came from the Sun King’s Versailles. The green-painted chain-hyperlink one, where the canine and rooster are singing their serenade, is rarely locked and is the place guests enter.

Throughout the courtyard, there’s a line of laundry hanging out, right by the colonnade of arches that lead to the front yard, which appears like a desert meadow.

Photograph by Nancy A. Ruhling
A gently growling palace guard mans the chain-link gate.
The 27-room granite and forged iron Italianate mansion, a metropolis, state and federal landmark full with ivy-covered tower, has seen better days. The entrance is framed by what’s left of a pair of magnificent columns that used to support a porte-cochere. So much paint has peeled from the double front doorways that there is none left. There’s a gap in the roof of the aspect porch, and there are a half-dozen vintage automobiles in numerous levels of decay parked on the aspect lot. (More photos.)

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

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

The rooster, who goes by the identify of Kaka, crows once more. He’s a bantam and like Michaels’ chickens, he wandered onto the property from the chicken market at 20th Avenue and 31st Street by ConEd.

“He’s the greatest little guy,” Michael says. “He comes when i beep a horn. I’ve been looking for him some girlfriends.”

Photograph by Nancy A. Ruhling
Kaka, the mansion’s resident rooster, struts his stuff.
Michael’s spent a whole lot of time and money on this mansion, and now it’s time to let it go. He and his sister inherited it from their mother after her demise in 1994. He has lived here since and pumped $5 million into it. “I never realized how much I spent!” he says.

He just lately bought his sister out — with money he didn’t have. The estate is on the market for $4.5 million — $2.5 million for the mansion, plus $2 million for the adjacent lot, take one or all, buyer’s alternative.

The mansion, which has 5 marble fireplaces and parlor doors whose glass is etched with footage of antique scientific instruments, holds lots of memories for Michael, who’s going to turn 83 in November.

It will take a while; so kick off your shoes and get comfy. “Let me provde the story,” Michael begins.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Michael, in a vintage photograph, 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 family, was certainly one of the primary things the teen noticed. It attracted his consideration because he had been a stone mason in his house nation. He advised his associates that at some point he would be the master 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 were dwelling there. Throughout the great Depression, they nearly lost the house.

“My father had an $18,000 ‘on-demand’ mortgage, which meant the lender could demand the full amount at any time,” Michael says. “When the stock market crashed, he did. My mom’s aunt bought all her kin together, and they raised the $18,000. We transformed the house to three apartments, and we essentially became like caretakers and janitors. My mother kept the place spotless from attic to basement. Sundays were a day of work, not relaxation; we did issues like painting and repairs. My mother and sister slept in 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. Every Saturday, he walked to Ditmars Boulevard and took the El to Manhattan. He brought his father’s dwelling-cooked lunch in a jar.

His job was to take the men’s jackets and vests to the fabric house to get swatches so matching pants could possibly 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 filled 20 to 25 baskets per week. Those few Saturdays he didn’t work, he spent 10 cents on the films. He had a alternative of treats — Spanish peanuts had been 5 cents; so had been Kraft caramels and cigarettes.

“I had fantastic parents,” he says. “I lived a fantastic kid’s life.”
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The chandelier is the focal point of the central corridor.

After serving a little bit more than a 12 months in the Military Air Corps during World Battle II, Michael enrolled at New York University. He was studying accounting and hoping for a career as a businessman when he fell in love.

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

He acquired married the same month the Korean War started and moved his bride into one of the apartments at the Steinway Mansion.

Picture by Nancy A. Ruhling
One in every of Michael’s favorite rooms is the library.
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” he says. “My wife and my mother had a giant battle, so we moved out.”

Eventually, Jack’s Pants Shop grew and by 1961, it became Jacques-Michael, which offered men’s clothes. In 1970, Michael opened a restaurant. Knickers was a couple of doors away from Jacques-Michael on Second Avenue, so it was simple 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 mom inherited the house. She moved to an apartment in Bayside, and Michael, who was getting a divorce, moved back into the mansion the following 12 months. When she died in 1994, the house passed to Michael and his sister, and Michael, when he retired at 58, began restoring it to its former glory.

If Michael is sorry that the Steinway Mansion will not be passed down to the subsequent generation that includes his two youngsters and five grandchildren, he never says so.

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

He wanders through the central hall and flips the switch that turns on the 1,000-pound crystal chandelier, massive and round as the solar. It is motorized; he pushes a button and it rises majestically toward the skylight. He remembers getting married in this room, which, like the rest of the house, is crammed with 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 type of prize won at carnivals, sitting on the metallic and glass table.

In the dining room, in addition to the circa 1890 dining set, there’s a backgammon table decorated with micro-mosaics, a brass samovar, a bronze bust of Beethoven and a nineteenth-century Japanesque fireplace display screen.

The library, Michael’s favorite room, houses his collection of 20,000 books about New York Metropolis, classical statues, a wine-red wingback chair and even an old parking meter painted pumpkin orange. The chess board is always set up in case anyone wants to play.

Did Michael point out that he started gathering books when he was a boy Let him tell you the story.
“My father had rented one room to a retired kindergarten instructor,” he says. “She known as me Grasp Michael, and every evening I sat at her ft while she read a chapter from books like Treasure Island. These magical books became very important in my life. I was reading and understanding at college level when I was in sixth grade.”

The basement, oh, you have to see the basement. Michael spent $1 million to turn it into a non-public membership that features a pool table, a billiards table, 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 a lot of parties here,” he says. “A whole bunch of individuals came. I stopped them four or five stone island badge meaning years ago.”

Michael isn’t so great at walking up stairs as of late, but feel free to indicate yourself around. In the grasp bedroom, there’s a mammoth Renaissance Revival bedroom set. There’s additionally a room crammed with scientific instruments, some once owned by Pike, and there’s a spiral staircase that leads to the tower.

“This is the greatest house on the Eastern seacoast — it rivals Newport because it’s a livable house,” he says as he heads back to the kitchen. “I’m an island in a sea of warehouses in an awesome 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 first owner of the mansion, was a Mason, and he put the eye of God into the center of the skylight.

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

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

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com.

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