Steinway Mansion: Uncovering History & Connecting Astoria
Perched on a hill, invoking the feeling of an old country town, sits the historic Steinway Mansion of Astoria, Queens. Originally founded as a recreational and resort destination for Manhattan’s wealthy, Astoria has experienced significant change in subsequent years, but the Steinway Mansion remains as a relic of a forgotten age. The Steinway family, German immigrants who originally started manufacturing pianos in Manhattan, later moved operations out to a 400-acre site in northern Astoria where they built not only the spacious Steinway Piano Factory, but an entire factory town with a library, church, kindergarten, worker housing, and a public trolley line.
In an attempt to preserve the legacy of the Steinway family Christina in Ridgewood, Queens wants to see, “The Steinway Mansion become a museum and community center,” an idea echoed by Astoria resident Michael Woo. Adaptive re-use of the structure could allow local residents opportunities for recreation and engagement, and could also serve to reconnect the neighborhood to an important piece of its history. The family contributed greatly to the development of Astoria, but their mansion is now hidden away from daily life in the area, as its surroundings have been developed with industrial warehouses.
And that daily life is rich! Astoria has become a diverse and dynamic neighborhood, exemplary of contemporary Queens. This change has come about as interest in the area has risen sharply is the last few years due to Astoria’s convenient commute times to Manhattan, affordable housing (82% is rental), as well as the area’s mix of a distinct urban feel with spacious, green amenities. Dinning and nightlife options are picking up in the area as more and more new residents continue to flood the neighborhood. Once known as a hub of Greek life, Astoria is now home to immigrants from around the world.
The challenge for designers is to capitalize on an isolated but historic Italianate Villa, restoring and preserving the building while also reconnecting and restoring it as an important cultural site within its neighborhood. Unfortunately, this opportunity could be lost, as the fate of the mansion hangs in the balance after the death of its long-time owner earlier this year. Now, contenders such as the Greater Astoria Historical Society as well as the city government are looking into acquiring the property, but due to long standing financial hardships many are having a hard time coming up with the $2.5 million dollar asking price. While the economic crisis took its toll, development is still booming in Astoria. Hopefully, these high times for the neighborhood can ensure that the Steinway Mansion is preserved as an important link to the neighborhood’s past, while utilizing it more effectively in the future.
Got a great idea for how to re-use the old Steinway Mansion? Click here to register for the By the City / For the City design competition today! Entries are due by midnight (EST) on Sunday, July 31st, 2011. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!