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By Bill Parry

Passions are running high among Astoria preservationists since the city Department of Buildings made public the owners’ plans for construction at the Steinway Mansion. While the historic 27-room home, built by the legendary piano-making Steinway family in 1858, is landmarked and cannot be touched, the acre of land it sits on is not.

Philip Loria, an attorney at the Astoria-based law firm Loria and Associates, and his partner, who purchased the Steinway Mansion for $2.65 million last year, plan to excavate the sloping hill that dominates the property to within feet of the home and level the land for development.

DOB files show that the owners plan to build a retaining wall around the structures and build 11 two-story manufacturing buildings surrounding the mansion on three sides. The buildings are to be warehouses, according to sources, but the purpose is not known and Philip Loria was not available for comment.

“By cutting the mansion off to the public, you’re cutting it off from the community’s love and affection,” Bob Singleton of the Friends of Steinway Mansion said. “When a crown jewel is not in its proper setting, it’s in danger. While the mansion is landmarked, it is over 150 years old and didn’t have the best maintenance. Now it will be subjected to the rigors of a construction site.”

Singleton claims to have had “tremendous support” for preserving the mansion back when the Friends of Steinway Mansion had hoped to raise $5 million to buy the home and restore it for the use of the community.

“We wanted to make it the centerpiece of an arts district that would draw tourism, transportation and capital investment to the area,” Singleton said. “An arts district would teach the next generation of artists and artisans, with restaurants, housing, galleries and art spaces. It deserves to be restored and it deserves to be loved and it deserves to be the crown jewel of the community.”

As a businessman, Singleton believes he can convince the owners that there is a better and more lucrative alternative to building warehouses on the site. On the group’s Facebook page, blame for the current situation is placed on Astoria’s elected officials.

“We would love to get the Steinway Mansion in someone else’s hands,” City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said. “Since I was elected we’ve been looking for a real partner to work with and protect the mansion as a substantial part of the community. I just don’t have that partner that would be able to help balance the cost. Right now that entity just doesn’t exist.”

He added that city agencies such as the Parks Department, the Historic House Trust and the Department of Cultural Affairs had studied purchasing the mansion when it was for sale but passed. “There is no city entity interested in it,” Constantinides said. “We’re dealing with the real world here. It would be a monumental undertaking, with costs of $1.5 million to purchase and another $3 million to renovate to make it a community space. You can’t do that with City Council budget dollars.”

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