Steinway to Sell its Landmark Hall for $195 Million

Thursday, November 15, 2012 - 11:38 AM

The music could be over soon at Steinway Hall, the elegant, 87-year-old piano showroom near Carnegie Hall.

Steinway Musical Instruments, the maker of the famous piano brand, has signed a letter of intent to sell its flagship building at 109 W. 57th Street for $195 million. The company has been losing about $5 million annually on the beaux arts building, and it expects to either vacate it or stay as a tenant and occupy a smaller space within the building.

In a conference call with investors on Monday, Michael Sweeney, Steinway’s president and CEO, identified the building's buyer only as a real estate developer.

The transaction is to be a three-way deal in which Steinway, which owns the building, will receive $56 million and the owner of the land will get $140 million. A completed deal is anticipated by the end of the year. Julie Theriault, a Steinway spokesperson, said a decision about a potential move is not expected immediately. “We’re not going anywhere for at least 12 months,” she said.

The sale was first reported by Bloomberg News on Wednesday.

Steinway Hall was built by the Steinway & Sons piano company in 1925 as a showroom for its instruments. With its marble columns, wood paneling and ornate ceilings, the space contains three floors of concert grands, baby grands and uprights. The building is presently home to the company’s sales, marketing and service departments and it hosts concerts in its two-story rotunda.

The building was registered as a historic and cultural landmark in 2001, meaning the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission must approve any new uses or changes. With its proximity to Carnegie Hall and other arts institutions, the hall has been a gathering spot for generations of pianists. Vladimir Horowitz and Serge Rachmaninoff met there in 1928, their first time playing together. They worked on Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, which became one of Horowitz's signature pieces.

Steinway has been actively looking to sell Steinway Hall for several years now, and was close to a deal before the real estate market collapsed in 2008, according to Theriault. The company began letting its leases with the building’s office tenants expire, including The Economist magazine. The lack of rental income put new urgency on closing a deal. Recently, the showroom was closed for two weeks in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, although Sweeney said the storm's larger impact on the company was negligible.

Steinway reports its income for the third quarter of 2012 was essentially flat. But the growth market for pianos has shifted to Asia, with sales in China up 31 percent and in Japan up 50 percent over the same quarter last year. By contrast, sales in the Americas were down 14 percent. Steinway has major showrooms in London, Berlin and Vienna, as well as smaller sales offices around the world.

Jeffrey Biegel, a concert pianist and Steinway artist, remembers rehearsing in the cavernous basement as a student at Juilliard in the late 1970s, when Ravel's Scarbo became a duet with a noisy heating system. He returned over the decades for numerous recitals, master classes and the dedication of a portrait of Horowitz. "The ghosts of all the great artists are there," he said. "I’m hopeful that if the sale does go through they’ll be allowed to stay as long as possible."

Below: Leif Ove Andsnes rehearses at Steinway Hall in February 2012 (Photo: Eileen Delahunty).

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Comments [22]

Mary Elizabeth Nordstrom from Kennebunk, Maine

Someone with more clout than most of us who care about this icon of classical music must be led to support an historic preservation effort to benefit posterity. I hope the earlier comment that sweetheart deals to rent space back to original owners often happen, may be the case here. If not, those close to the situation must lead a non-profit preservation effort to preserve Steinway Hall. A leader will be inspired to emerge!

Dec. 13 2012 07:41 AM
judy from Princeton, NJ

Re: Beethoven Awareness Month: I found it offensive for Jeff Spurgeon
to say on 3 broadcasts "Did you know that Beethoven was a SLOB?" It's something the press would put on the front page of a newspaper to grab the attention of readers. Most genius's were slovenly and did not care about their appearance, ie. Einstein, Steve Jobs, but that's not what they are
remembered for...

Nov. 29 2012 08:09 PM
Kevin Brown from Manhattan

All those saddened by this turn of events should address their dismay to Steinway directly. It's Steinway & Sons who care more about commercial opportunities than their own patrimony. They let leases expire and have purposefully NOT taken new ones just so they could make this deal. And those of your worried about the old building, don't worry - the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission have designated the building and the space protected, so it's not going anywhere. But if Steinway & Sons close their showroom there, it's because they WANT to.

Nov. 18 2012 07:24 PM
David from Flushing

The rotunda of Steinway Hall recalls many of the great banking rooms built in the 1920s. A number of these have been converted to restaurants/catering halls and I foresee a similar possible future here. I do find it sad to see some of these spaces in the Wall Street area being used for low end retailers.

Nov. 18 2012 04:24 PM
Michael Meltzer

For any purchaser of 109-111 West 57th Street as a rental property, Steinway's continued presence as a ground-floor tenant would add lustre and pizzazz to the property's aura, and would probably enable the new landlord to charge much higher rents to new upper-floor tenants. Also, "sweetheart" long-term leases for former owners are common in these sales. I wouldn't worry about Steinway going anywhere just yet.

Nov. 18 2012 09:29 AM
Michael Meltzer

A couple of notes: The building was completed and opened for business in 1925, but the land was purchased by the Steinway family in 1915, and construction was completed over a ten-year period.
This will be the second sale of the building by Steinway. It had been sold in the 1960's by the Steinways to the Manhattan Life Insurance Company. They were my landlord when I was a 12th-floor tenant in the 1970's. Manhattan Life later turned the building over to Mendik Realty for management, and finally sold it to The Economist magazine. Steinway bought it back in recent years, really not very long ago.
In 1925, Fifth Avenue was still the prime business street, and the Steinway company really was not thinking about the real estate business. If they were, they would never have sold the Park Avenue 2-block stretch occupied by their factory until 1910, where the Seagram Building now stands. Steinway should not be criticized now for sticking to the business they know best.

Nov. 18 2012 09:11 AM
AF from Long Island

Very sad indeed!

Nov. 18 2012 03:56 AM
Joseph Starr from Queens, N.Y.

I remember quietly sneaking down to the practice rooms floor in Steinway Hall, standing for hours in the exterior narrow passage area , listening to the great Sergei Rachmaninoff practice for his upcoming concert at Carnagie Hall.
The selling of this fine and prestigeous hall is very sad!! Unfortunately
the beauty of classical music has deteriarated as has all society!!!

Nov. 17 2012 01:16 AM
Harry from Brooklyn

I am appalled by all this gloom and doom. Why does everyone assume that classical music is dying?

It is regrettable, of course, that the Steinway company will no longer own the building, but this does not mean that the spectacular hall will be lost to the music world. As the article points out, the building is a designated New York City Landmark, including the interior of the hall. In other words, any changes in the building must maintain its key features, as determined by the Landmarks Commission. And Steinway has expressed interest in leasing the Hall and related rehearsal/storage spaces, meaning that the building might well carry on as before. Even the losses reported for last year have more to do with Steinway's desire to sell the property (a vacant building sells better than one with long-term leases) than with the building's economic viability.

All these facts suggest that the changes at Steinway Hall will be more financial than artistic. To be sure, there is always the chance that unforeseen circumstances will de-rail this positive scenario. But if Steinway can find a way to make money by spending a year to build each hand-crafted grand piano, they can find a way to showcase their products in Manhattan.

Nov. 16 2012 10:55 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

STEINWAY'S CLOSING, WHATEVER ITS FATE, IS A MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENT to those of us who have sung there, auditioned for agents in one of their offices there, and also, as in my case, picked pianos in the basement with my accompanists for my four solo concerts in the Isaac stern auditorium of Carnegie Hall. Although I am an opera composer and Wagnerian heldentenor, I regret not being also talented as a concert pianist. Steinway's showroom is spectacular in its beauty, its glamour and its evocations of the wonders of MUSIC !

Nov. 16 2012 08:33 PM
Jacob Ruppert from Many, LA

I attended a Steinway Family reunion here back in 2004. I shall miss it terribly if it sells as I learned every square inch of it when Henry was still around. When he and I would go to lunch, we would exit the back shadowed loading-dock d...oor onto West 58th Street. I would always have the sense that I was witnessing something special when seeing Henry Z. Steinway, then patriarch of the family and of the concern, lock the door with the key off his keychain like every generation of Steinways has been doing since 1853. I was so flattered and honored that he proudly displayed a Ruppert Beer bottle (perched upon a Kreischer brick!) in his office chocked full of 100+ years of Steinway memorabilia. I miss him and Polly dearly.

Nov. 16 2012 04:58 PM
Vince from Houston

So sad. Many fond memories of visits whenever in the city. Always found the staff to be gracious to pros, students and enthusiasts alike. Don't know anything about preservation standards up that way, but it sure seems like both a building and and experience that can't be duplicated elsewhere.

Nov. 16 2012 01:19 PM
jr

cultural vandalism?

Nov. 16 2012 12:52 PM
Ceci from NYCA

If it is a true landmark it should be cleaned, continue to be used for musical purposes, more concerts, classes, art events to raise money for more students who care to study music, etc. Don't allow any of those hidious glass design architectures to be constructed on the top of the building. Soooo tacky. People, don't cry but speak up.It is defined as a landmark, save it as a landmark.

Nov. 16 2012 11:14 AM
margaret evans from raleigh, nc

If memory serves correctly, Carnegie was going to be demolished and Isaac Stern led a campaign to preserve it -- if only the same could be done to save Steinway Hall!

Nov. 16 2012 10:40 AM
Paul Shaw from Minneapolis, MN

As Steinway Artists, can't we all do something about this?

Nov. 16 2012 08:24 AM
Irene Gregson from San Francisco, CA

This _is_ so sad, the way the neighborhood is going, but I guess business is business. I hope they can retain some of the space for performances. In November 2009, we saw the Salome Chamber Orchestra one evening...great performance.

Nov. 15 2012 10:00 PM
Gail Starr

I, too, have fond memories of my Juilliard piano class using the space for our end-of-semester recitals. My Dad used to tell me stories of playing different pianos in the basement, as well. So sad.

Nov. 15 2012 09:23 PM
Leslie from Belfast, Maine

This is so sad. The end of an era.

57th Street is not the wonderful Street I used to wander.

Nov. 15 2012 07:33 PM
JonellaRose from The Lonely, Iggorant Boondox of Sullivan County, NY

Oh, this is sad! We had a Steinway piano in our house, growing up during the '50's in Newton, Massachusetts. All the relatives had Steinways, too. That side of the family was very musical, very musically educated. That does not include me, unfortunately - though I am an appreciator!
This is sad. It's a piece of history slipping away.
Let us hope that the buyer is a sensitive entity (?!), with an appropriately respectful regard for the place of Steinway in New York, American and world musical history.
God bless you, Steinway Brothers!!

Nov. 15 2012 06:26 PM
Philip Elliott from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Sounds much like what is happening up here in Toronto, Ontario. We have been condoized to death up here. Can not that building be designated a historic building?? Surely there must be someone in NYC who could save such a gorgeous building. I am ultimately tired of seeing history destroyed for completely UGLY IMPRACTICAL architetchure. Note that you have a Canadian friend who values great history

Nov. 15 2012 02:44 PM
Holliday from Purchase, NY

This is truly heartbreaking. I get the business end of things but this is just sad. A beautiful building and Steinway! Steinway pianos! Across from Carnegie Hall.....that whole neighborhood is going the way of modern, cookie cutter gentrification. The near miss of that massive crane next to Carnegie Hall.......Patelson's closing. Some of those great, little local and affordable restaurants gone......UGH. Growing up in Manahattan and taking piano lessons as a child, going to Steinway -- even if just looking in the window from the street -- was all about beauty, aspirations, history. To this day, I get that special feeling walking by it. Hearing the stories of all the greats, hoping to catch one trying out pianos.........I apologize for sounding overly sappy but this truly saddens me.

Nov. 15 2012 02:36 PM

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