The Steinway mansion in Astoria, Queen

Uncertain Coda for Mansion With a Musical Heritage


Up the hill, past where the garbage trucks go when they need a little work, the for-sale signs are on the wrought-iron fence. The mansion — yes, on a forlorn block like this is a mansion, an Italianate villa from when this stretch of Astoria, Queens, was weekend-getaway country — is on the market.

On the block, that is old news. The body-shop guys saw the real estate agents putting up signs last summer. They wondered about the $2.5 million asking price ($4.5 million if you want the adjoining lots). They figured the old man in the mansion would not sell to just anybody.

He didn’t. He died.

Imagine, right now, a minor-key soundtrack: the third movement of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2, the famous funeral march. In nine paragraphs, you will understand why a column about one of those inevitable New York real estate moments also had an inevitable musical moment.

The old man in the mansion was Michael Halberian, a retired restaurateur who, by his own back-of-the-envelope calculation a couple of years ago, had spent $4 million to $5 million on repairs and maintenance since the late 1970s. He had also filled the floor-to-ceiling bookcases — he had an affinity for New York City history — and had collected things as varied as a stuffed eagle and a huge chandelier that went up and down like the ones at the Metropolitan Opera House.

As Christmas approached, Mr. Halberian, 83, said he did not feel well enough to visit his daughter, Michele H. Kazarian, in Rhode Island. Nor could he manage an upstate trip to see his son, John. On the day after Christmas, he felt worse.

“The doctor said, ‘You have to get to the hospital — I can’t help you from home,’ ” Ms. Kazarian said.

If only he had called for an ambulance immediately.

By the next morning, the city had been buried in the after-Christmas snowstorm. It took nearly half an hour for an ambulance to crawl through the unplowed streets — and even then, it could not make it up the hill on 41st Street. The tenants who shared the mansion walked Mr. Halberian out the side door, toward the gate. He collapsed.

The paramedics, who had to abandon the ambulance and walk to the mansion, carried him into the front hall. He died under the chandelier, Ms. Kazarian and her brother said.

The ornate plasterwork, the etched-glass doors, the turretlike tower — all of it was their grandfather’s pride and joy before it was their father’s. The grandfather, Jack Halberian, was a tailor with famous customers like Katharine Hepburn and an employee who once told Paul Newman, “We don’t take personal checks.”  TO BE CONTINUED


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