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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, however no squirrel ever emitted such a sound. Behind the high emerald-inexperienced gate, two bear-cub-like canines are howling their heads off.

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This is not the country, this is 41st Road, the place the uncooked-edge warehouses reside. The cry comes once more; it is a superb-morning crow from a red-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 home to see stone island hooded down royal blue jacket what all the commotion’s about. “Come on in, Gina and Blackie won’t harm you.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Michael leads the best way into the magnificent mansion.
Home isn’t the fitting phrase. This is the fabled Steinway Mansion that was inbuilt 1856 high on a hill going through the East River for a millionaire named Pike, and it’s 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 which hasn’t been used in decades seems as if it got here 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 where visitors enter.

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

Photograph by Nancy A. Ruhling
A gently growling palace guard mans the chain-hyperlink gate.
The 27-room granite and forged 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 support a porte-cochere. A lot paint has peeled from the double front doorways that there is none left. There is a gap within the roof of the facet porch, and there are a half-dozen vintage cars in varied phases of decay parked on the facet lot. (Extra images.)

In the middle of a grove of maples, H.A. MacNeil’s bigger-than-life bronze Indian stares on the wealthy 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 again to the kitchen, which looks as if it hasn’t been updated in a century. Michael’s a collector. In addition to the vivid white circa 1925 industrial refrigeration unit, there are three slot machines, a vintage airplane propeller and a 1935 picture of Babe Ruth.

The rooster, who goes by the identify of Kaka, crows again. 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 greatest little man,” Michael says. “He comes once i beep a horn. I’ve been trying to find him some girlfriends.”

Picture by Nancy A. Ruhling
Kaka, the mansion’s resident rooster, struts his stuff.
Michael’s spent lots of money and time on this mansion, and now it’s 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 never realized how a lot 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 adjacent lot, take one or all, purchaser’s selection.

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

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

Picture by Nancy A. Ruhling
Michael, in a vintage photograph, exterior 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 family, was one in every of the first things the teen noticed. It attracted his consideration as a result of he had been a stone mason in his home country. He informed his friends that in the future he would be the grasp of the mansion.

A dozen years later and two years after marrying, Sharmie, one other Armenian immigrant from Turkey, he did just that. In 1927, Michael was born while they have been residing there. During the great Depression, they almost misplaced the house.

“My father had an $18,000 ‘on-demand’ mortgage, which meant the lender could demand the complete amount at any time,” Michael says. “When the stock market crashed, he did. My mom’s aunt obtained all her kinfolk collectively, and so they raised the $18,000. We converted the home to 3 apartments, and we basically grew to become 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 many 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 store. Every Saturday, he walked to Ditmars Boulevard and took the El to Manhattan. He introduced his father’s residence-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 may very well 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. These few Saturdays he didn’t work, he spent 10 cents on the movies. He had a selection of treats — Spanish peanuts have been 5 cents; so were Kraft caramels and cigarettes.

“I had fantastic dad and mom,” he says. “I lived an awesome kid’s life.”
Picture by Fleecewear Nancy A. Ruhling
The chandelier is the focal level of the central hall.

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

“In these days, you could not get engaged except 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 price $1,500.”

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

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

Ultimately, Jack’s Pants Store grew and by 1961, it became Jacques-Michael, which sold men’s clothing. In 1970, Michael opened a restaurant. Knickers was a few doorways away from Jacques-Michael on Second Avenue, so it was easy for Michael to work the bar when he received off from his day job. “I took in a ton of money,” he says. “I solely slept 4 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 again into the mansion the following year. When she died in 1994, the home passed to Michael and his sister, and Michael, when he retired at fifty eight, started restoring it to its former glory.

If Michael is sorry that the Steinway Mansion won’t be passed down to the following era that features his two kids and 5 grandchildren, he by no means says so.

Photograph by Nancy A. Ruhling
A marble bust and an etched-glass door carry magnificence and science collectively.

He wanders by means of the central corridor and flips the swap that turns on the 1,000-pound crystal chandelier, big and spherical because the sun. 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 home, is crammed with what he calls his “artifacts.”

There’s a full go well with 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 steel 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 Metropolis, classical statues, a wine-red wingback chair and even an previous parking meter painted pumpkin orange. The chess board is all the time arrange in case anyone needs to play.

Did Michael point out that he started amassing 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 known as me Grasp Michael, and each evening I sat at her ft whereas she learn a chapter from books like Treasure Island. These magical books turned crucial in my life. I used to be reading and understanding at college degree when I used to be in sixth grade.”

The basement, oh, it’s essential to see the basement. Michael spent $1 million to turn it into a non-public club that options a pool desk, 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 stone island hooded down royal blue jacket non-public membership.
“I had plenty of events here,” he says. “A whole lot of individuals came. I stopped them four or five years in the past.”

Michael isn’t so great at walking up stairs these days, however be at liberty to show your self around. Within the grasp bedroom, there is a mammoth Renaissance Revival bedroom set. There’s additionally a room filled with scientific devices, some as soon as owned by Pike, and there is a spiral staircase that leads to the tower.

“That is the best home on the Japanese seacoast — it rivals Newport because it is a livable home,” 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 entrance of the glittering chandelier and appears 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 great New England Hurricane of ’38 poked out God’s eye, so he is 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 [email protected]

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