Astoria has been long synonymous with everything Greek. While this isn’t baseless (in the ’90s, the Greek community in Astoria was said to be the largest Hellenic city in the world outside of Athens), in recent years Astoria has become a multicultural hub that transcends the reputation (now misnomer) of being New York City’s Greektown.
Just a few decades ago, the two major ethnic groups were Greeks and Italians but today, Astoria is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Queens, the most diverse of New York City’s boroughs. According to recent Census data people from nearly 100 countries live in Astoria, ranging from Greeks and Italians to Mexicans, Ecuadorians, to Moroccans and Egyptians–and everything in between. “No one group dominates,” reports NPR’s Codeswitch. There is even a section of Steinway Street dubbed “Little Egypt,” but we’ll get to that.
All this diversity makes Astoria a really cool place to hang out, with lots of interesting restaurants and some great parks and museums too. We’ve made a guide of some of our favorite places in Astoria, and we hope that you’ll love them as much as we do.
Architecture: Steinway Mansion & Modern Art Foundry
The Steinway Mansion is a historic home on a hill in northern Astoria. The mansion was originally built by Benjamin Pike, Jr., a renowned manufacturer of scientific instruments around the time of the Civil War. Originally from England, Pike wanted a new house for his family. The two-story mansion was built on what was once a 400 acre parcel of land, and consists of 27 rooms. The house was not enjoyed for long though, with Pike’s early demise.
During this time Steinway & Sons was in need of space to expand their company from the confines of West Village. And so, the Italianate Villa style mansion was sold by Pike’s widow to William Steinway, son of the founder of Steinway & Sons in 1870 for $127,000.
The mansion stayed in the Steinway family for over fifty years before being sold to Jack Halberian, an Armenian who worked as a tailor. The mansion caught Halberian’s eye when he was a teenager and he purchased it from the Steinway family in 1926. Michael, Jack Halberian’s son maintained the mansion after his father until his death in December of 2010; after which mansion went on sale. Today efforts are being made to open the mansion to the public. In 2013 the organization The Friends of Steinway Mansion was formed to spur efforts to renovate and preserve the mansion. However, the organization is yet to have raised sufficient funds, nor have they found a buyer.
While the name Steinway resonates with the Steinway and Sons piano company for obvious reasons, unknown to many, the estate is also home to a major foundry site by the name of the Modern Art Foundry, located in the carriage house of the property. Many of the most distinguished sculptures in and around New York City, from Alice in Wonderland in Central Park to the Fiorello LaGuardia statue in LaGuardia Place, were all made in Astoria, in the former carriage house of the Steinway Mansion. While usually populated with artists supervising their works and the foundry staff, students also work in the foundry as part of their curriculum.
While the Modern Art Foundry runs tours typically just for clients of auction houses and art dealers such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s, Untapped Cities will be hosting a special behind the scenes tour of the facility where you can see a live bronze pouring. The first available date will be on February 24th: