By LIZ GOFF
John Lennon imagined on one. Simon and Garfunkel traveled
a bridge over troubled waters on another. And Billy Joel, the quintessential
piano man, wouldn’t think of getting into a New York state of mind on
anything but a Steinway.
Steinway and Sons turned 150 years old on March 5. And by all indications, the Astoria-based icon of the ivories is settling in for another 150 years of turning out the world’s finest baby grands.
A 2002 industry survey of 86 North American symphony
orchestras revealed that in 437 of their piano concerts, Steinway pianos
were the choice of musicians 435 times. Pianists chose to perform on
Steinways in 99.5 percent of the concerts, the survey states.
The great Steinway Piano factory sits on 11 acres at the
northern tip of Astoria, employing 600 people – craftsmen, office staff
and management. Steinway is, today, the largest employer in Queens County.
There is something magical about the Steinway family and its accomplishments. Few families in the history of America have had the opportunity to found a community – and remain there for more than five generations as both neighbor and employer-as Steinway has.
The company is currently focusing on a business
relationship in China – an expansion of its sales and service. Steinway is
also increasing sales to “large institutions,” and expanding the sale of
its new line of less-expensive pianos (manufactured to the same quality and
craftsmanship as its highest priced models), and the company is finalizing
plans to increase its restoration services.
Yet, while making plans for the company’s business
future, Steinway never forgets its neighbors – or its place in the history
of Astoria. The Steinway plant is still one of the centerpieces of the
economic and social life in the area.
Local community organizations praise Steinway for its continued interest in the well-being of the neighborhoods. The firm is a constant contributor to community causes – and can always be counted on when the chips are down, area activists said.
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall praised Steinway
for its history of excellence – in both product and community concern.
“Steinway is a manufacturer with a worldwide reputation
for a product they so eloquently produce,” said Marshall.
“They have been an asset to the community for 150 years
and they continue to play an enduring role in the family of Queens.
“They are to be congratulated on this momentous
occasion” she said.
Henry Eaglehardt Steinway came to America from Germany in 1850 – at 53 yeas old. He and his family opened the first Steinway piano factory in March 1853, with a small amount of cash – and a devotion to fine craftsmanship and an intense devotion to family. When Steinway expanded his first piano “store” in Manhattan in1866, the only building bigger than Steinway was the U.S. Capitol.
Steinway expanded to Astoria in 1870 to 400 acres on
Bowery Bay and proceeded to build “Steinway Village,” as it was called
– complete with a post office, library, kindergarten and streetcar. One of
the greatest monuments to the Steinway name and contribution to Astoria is
the bustling commercial strip that bears the family name. Steinway Street
cements the community of mostly middle-class, blue collar workers.
Today, Steinway provides pianos for performances and
filmmakers at the Kaufman Astoria and Silvercup Studios.
John Lennon’s upright Steinway – on which he composed
“Imagine” – was obtained by the family and sold at auction in 2001 to
George Michael. Michael paid $2.1 million for the piano, and has never taken
possession of it for himself said Steinway spokesman Daniel Miceli. Michael
shipped the piano to the United Kingdom and donated it for use by
instructors. Yoko Ono held on to a white Grand Piano Lennon used in his
compositions, Miceli said.
Billy Joel has a number of Steinways. Joel was expected to
stop by the Astoria site last week, to purchase a seven-foot, six-inch
concert Grand Piano.
“Billy Joel is the epitome of people who know about
pianos,” Miceli said. “It is a tribute and very gratifying to us that he
continues to insist on performing on Steinway pianos.”
The firm is planning a year-long series of celebrations to
mark their 150th anniversary, including a concert at the Steinway factory in
June, with performances by several well-known artists. Employees and
management met at a grand celebration at Carnegie Hall last week, where the
firm will celebrate its past and toast the future.
“Steinway was innovative, and had foresight,” said
Community Board 1 District Manager George Delis.
“He was the first to build an amusement park in the area
– North Beach, now the site of LaGuardia Airport.
“He built a village within Queens inventing this
Delis said Steinway was also responsible for the city’s
decision to develop the Astoria Industrial area, between 41st and 45th
Streets and 20th Avenue to Berian Boulevard in the 1980s.
“Steinway pushed for that development,” Delis said.
“The City was afraid they would move out if the area wasn’t renovated
– and because of Steinway’s lobby and concern, the City invested in the
area and developed the industrial park where people are currently
employed,” Delis said.
“The Steinway family keeps giving back.”