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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 excessive emerald-green gate, two bear-cub-like dogs are howling their heads off.

This is not the nation, that is 41st Avenue, the place the uncooked-edge warehouses reside. The cry comes once more; 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 of the commotion’s about. “Come on in, Gina and Blackie won’t hurt you.”

Picture by Nancy A. Ruhling
Michael leads the best way into the magnificent mansion.
Home is not the appropriate word. This is the fabled Steinway Mansion that was inbuilt 1856 excessive on a hill facing the East River for a millionaire named Pike, and it is 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 a long time looks as though it came from the Sun King’s Versailles. The inexperienced-painted chain-link one, the place the dogs and rooster are singing their serenade, isn’t locked and is where guests enter.

Across the courtyard, there is a line of laundry hanging out, right by the colonnade of arches that result in the front yard, which appears like a desert meadow.

Photo 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-coated tower, has seen higher days. The entrance is framed by what’s left of a pair of magnificent columns that used to assist a porte-cochere. A lot paint has peeled from the double front doors that there’s none left. There’s a hole within the roof of the aspect porch, and there are a half-dozen vintage automobiles in various levels of decay parked on the facet lot. (Extra photographs.)

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

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The stone island falsi 27-room mansion is an Astoria icon.
Michael heads again to the kitchen, which appears to be like as if it hasn’t been updated in a century. Michael’s a collector. In addition to the vibrant 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 hen market at twentieth Avenue and thirty first Avenue by ConEd.

“He is the best little guy,” Michael says. “He comes after 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 number of money and time on this mansion, and now it’s time to let it go. He and his sister inherited it from their mother after her death in 1994. He has lived right here since and pumped $5 million into it. “I by no means realized how much I spent!” he says.

He recently purchased his sister out — with cash he didn’t 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 choice.

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

This may take some time; so kick off your shoes and get comfortable. “Let me provde the story,” Michael begins.

Photograph by Nancy A. Ruhling
Michael, in a vintage picture, 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 of the primary things the teen saw. It attracted his attention because he had been a stone mason in his residence nation. He instructed his associates that in the future he can 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. Stone Island Online In 1927, Michael was born whereas they have been living there. During the nice Depression, they nearly lost the home.

“My father had an $18,000 ‘on-demand’ mortgage, which meant the lender might demand the full quantity at any time,” Michael says. “When the stock market crashed, he did. My mom’s aunt received all her family collectively, and so they raised the $18,000. We converted the house to three apartments, and we essentially turned like caretakers and janitors. My mother kept 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.”

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 stone island falsi to Manhattan. He introduced his father’s residence-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 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 stuffed 20 to 25 baskets per week. Those few Saturdays he didn’t work, he spent 10 cents on the movies. He had a selection of treats — Spanish peanuts were 5 cents; so were Kraft caramels and cigarettes.

“I had wonderful parents,” he says. “I lived an awesome child’s life.”
Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The chandelier is the focal point of the central corridor.

After serving a bit of more than a yr in the Army Air Corps during World Conflict II, Michael enrolled at New York University. He was learning accounting and hoping for a career as a businessman when he fell in love.

“In these days, you couldn’t get engaged until you gave the lady 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 might save for it. It was 1 1/2-carats and value $1,500.”

He acquired married the identical month the Korean Struggle began and moved his bride into one of many apartments on the Steinway Mansion.

Picture by Nancy A. Ruhling
One in all Michael’s favorite rooms is the library.
“I don’t know what I was pondering,” he says. “My wife and my mother had an enormous struggle, so we moved out.”

Eventually, Jack’s Pants Shop grew and by 1961, it became Jacques-Michael, which offered men’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 cash,” he says. “I solely slept 4 hours a day.”

In 1976, Michael’s father died, and his mother inherited the house. She moved to an apartment in Bayside, and Michael, who was getting a divorce, moved back into the mansion the following yr. When she died in 1994, the house passed 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 following era that features his two youngsters and five grandchildren, he never says so.

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

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

There is 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 received at carnivals, sitting on the metallic and glass table.

In the dining room, along with the circa 1890 dining set, there is a backgammon table 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 set up in case anybody desires to play.

Did Michael point out that he began gathering 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 referred to as me Grasp Michael, and each evening I sat at her ft while she learn a chapter from books like Treasure Island. These magical books turned essential in my life. I used to be reading and understanding at faculty level when I was in sixth grade.”

The basement, oh, you will need to see the basement. Michael spent $1 million to turn it into a non-public 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.

Picture by Nancy A. Ruhling
A pool desk turns the basement into a personal club.
“I had lots of events here,” he says. “Tons of of people got here. I stopped them four or 5 years in the past.”

Michael is not so great at walking up stairs as of late, however feel free to show your self round. 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.

“That is the greatest home on the Jap seacoast — it rivals Newport because 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 important 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 owner of the mansion, was a Mason, and he put the eye of God into the middle of the skylight.

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

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

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at