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Astoria Characters: The Man To The Mansion Born

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

Mens Fashionable Stone Island Zip Cardigan Dark BlueThis isn’t the country, this is 41st Street, where the raw-edge warehouses dwell. The cry comes again; it’s an excellent-morning crow from a purple-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 won’t hurt you.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Michael leads the way into the magnificent mansion.
Home isn’t the right word. Stone Island Clothes This is the fabled Steinway Mansion that was built in 1856 high on a hill facing the East River for a millionaire named Pike, and it’s where 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 utilized in decades looks as if it came from the Sun King’s Versailles. The green-painted chain-link one, where the dogs and rooster are singing their serenade, is never locked and is the place visitors enter.

Across the courtyard, there is a line of laundry hanging out, right by the colonnade of arches that lead to the front yard, which seems to be like a desert meadow.

Photograph by Nancy A. Ruhling
A gently growling palace guard mans the chain-link gate.
The 27-room granite and cast iron Italianate mansion, a city, state and federal landmark complete 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 doors that there’s none left. There’s a hole in the roof of the aspect porch, and there are a half-dozen vintage cars in various phases of decay parked on the side lot. (Extra photos.)

In the center of a grove of maples, H.A. MacNeil’s bigger-than-life bronze Indian stares at the rich ruins, how to spot fake stone island jeans chalk-like streaks of white running down his cheeks like tears.

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

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

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

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

He recently purchased his sister out — with cash he did not have. The property is on the marketplace for $four.5 million — $2.5 million for the mansion, plus $2 million for the adjoining lot, take one or all, buyer’s choice.

The mansion, which has five marble fireplaces and parlor doors whose glass is etched with pictures of antique scientific instruments, holds numerous reminiscences for Michael, who’s going to show 83 in November.

This may take a while; so kick off your shoes and get comfortable. “Let me give you the story,” Michael begins.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Michael, in a vintage photo, outdoors the mansion.
Jack, his father, an Armenian immigrant from Turkey, got here to America in 1914. The mansion, which then was owned by the piano-making Steinway household, was one in every of the first things the teen saw. It attracted his attention because he had been a stone mason in his home nation. He instructed his pals that sooner or later he could 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 while they were living there. During the great Depression, they practically misplaced the home.

“My father had an $18,000 ‘on-demand’ mortgage, which meant the lender might demand the total quantity at any time,” Michael says. “When the stock market crashed, he did. My mother’s aunt acquired all her family together, and they raised the $18,000. We transformed the home to a few apartments, and we primarily turned like caretakers and janitors. My mom stored the place spotless from attic to basement. Sundays were a day of work, not rest; we did things like painting and repairs. My mother and sister slept in the library; my father and i slept in one of the parlors.”

Picture 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 store. 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 men’s jackets and vests to the fabric house to get swatches so matching pants might 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 stuffed 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 were 5 cents; so were Kraft caramels and cigarettes.

“I had wonderful mother and father,” he says. “I lived a great kid’s life.”
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The chandelier is the focal point of the central hall.

After serving a bit of more than a year within the Military Air Corps throughout World Warfare II, Michael enrolled at New York College. He was learning accounting and hoping for a profession as a businessman when he fell in love.

“In those days, you couldn’t get engaged unless you gave the girl a diamond ring,” he says. “So I quit 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 value $1,500.”

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

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Certainly one of Michael’s favourite rooms is the library.
“I don’t know what I was pondering,” he says. “My spouse and my mother had a big battle, so we moved out.”

Eventually, Jack’s Pants Shop grew and by 1961, it became Jacques-Michael, which sold men’s clothing. In 1970, Michael opened a restaurant. Knickers was a few doors away from Jacques-Michael on Second Avenue, so it was easy for Michael to work the bar when he got 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 house. She moved to an condo 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, began restoring it to its former glory.

If Michael is sorry that the Steinway Mansion won’t be passed down to the next generation that includes his two children and five grandchildren, he never says so.

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

He wanders through the central hall and flips the switch that turns on the 1,000-pound crystal chandelier, big and round as 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 rest of the house, is filled 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 kind of prize gained 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 19th-century Japanesque fireplace screen.

The library, Michael’s favourite room, houses his collection of 20,000 books about New York City, classical statues, a wine-crimson 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 mention that he began collecting books when he was a boy Let him let you know the story.
“My father had rented one room to a retired kindergarten teacher,” he says. “She known as me Master 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 could see the basement. Michael spent $1 million to turn it into a non-public club 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 private club.
“I had a number of parties here,” he says. “A whole bunch of people came. I stopped them four or five years ago.”

Michael isn’t so great at walking how to spot fake stone island jeans up stairs these days, but be at liberty to show yourself around. In the master bedroom, there’s a mammoth Renaissance Revival bedroom set. There’s also a room filled 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 Jap 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 a terrific 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 middle 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 [email protected]

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