Little Syria, Manhattan

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Coordinates: 40°42′29″N 74°00′50″W / 40.70806°N 74.01389°W / 40.70806; -74.01389

Syrian baklava maker in Litttle Syria in 1916
Syrian immigrant children on Washington Street in Lower Manhattan in 1916

Little Syria was a largely Arab-American but widely diverse neighborhood that existed in the New York City borough of Manhattan from the late 1880s[1] until the 1940s. Also called the Syrian Quarter, it encompassed Washington Street from Battery Park to above Rector Street.[1] The enclave, in its greatest reach, overlapped with the future site of the World Trade Center – the cornerstone of St. Joseph's Maronite Church was found in the rubble after the September 11 attacks.[2] It declined as a neighborhood as the inhabitants became successful and moved to other areas, especially Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn,[3] and disappeared almost entirely when a great deal of lower Washington Street was demolished to make way for entrance ramps to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.[2][4]

Description and history[edit]

The overwhelming majority of the residents were Arabic-speaking Christians, Melkite and Maronite immigrants from present-day Syria and Lebanon who settled in the area in the late 19th century, escaping religious persecution and poverty in their homelands – which were then under control of the Ottoman Empire – and answering the call of American missionaries to escape their difficulties by traveling to New York City. The New York Times estimated that as many as 5% of the area's Arab residents were Muslims, who mostly came from the area of Palestine.[2] The Christians lived on Washington Street to the south of the site of the World Trade Center, where they established three churches, including St. George Chapel of the Melkite Rite, which as of 2010 survives as Moran's Ale House and Grill,[2] and which was designated a New York City landmark in 2009.[5] In addition to Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, many other ethnic groups lived in this diverse neighborhood, including Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Slovaks, Poles, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Czechs, and Irish.

An 1899 article about the Syrian Quarter and its 3,000 residents described how the immigrants arriving there didn't "leave all their quaint customs, garments, ways of thinking at home," nor did they become "ordinary American citizens," but instead "just enough of their traits, dress, ideas remain, no matter how long they have been here, to give the colonies they form spice and a touch of novelty." Noting "a number of amazingly pretty girls," the reporter described Little Syria near the turn of the 20th century as a mix of social classes.[6]

In his 2006 book The Arab Americans, Gregory Orfalea described Little Syria as "an enclave in the New World where Arabs first peddled goods, worked in sweatshops, lived in tenements and hung their own signs on stores." Naoum and Salloum Mokarzel created the publication Al-Hoda, adapting the Linotype machine to produce text in the Arabic alphabet, which "made possible and immeasurably stimulated the growth of Arabic journalism in the Middle East." By August 1946, residents and business owners on the stretch of Washington Street from Rector Street to Battery Place in what was then the "heart of New York's Arab world" had received condemnation notices, just years before the neighborhood was razed to create entrance ramps needed for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which opened in 1950.[2][4]

In 2011, a collection of historic preservationists and Arab-American activists, under the "Save Washington Street" campaign, lobbied the Landmarks Preservation Commission and its chairman, Robert Tierney, to designate the Downtown Community House and the tenement at 109 Washington Street in Little Syria as city landmarks.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Federal Writers' Project. (1939) New York City Guide. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-403-02921-X (Reprinted by Scholarly Press, 1976; often referred to as WPA Guide to New York City), pp.76-77; Two other sections of New York were singled out as particularly Syrian in 1939, "the Syrian shops and coffee houses with their Arabic signs, on Atlantic Avenue" in South Brooklyn (p.463) and "a small Arabian and Syrian quarter" on Thatford Avenue near Belmont in Brownsville, Brooklyn (p.498).
  2. ^ a b c d e Dunlap, David W. "When an Arab Enclave Thrived Downtown", The New York Times, August 24, 2010. Accessed August 25, 2010.
  3. ^ O'Brien, Jane and Botti, David. "Altered States: Preserving New York City's 'Little Syria'" BBC News Magazine (7 February 2012)
  4. ^ a b Karpf, Ruth. "Street of the Arabs", The New York Times, August 11, 1946. Accessed August 25, 2010.
  5. ^ Caratzas, Michael D. "{Former} St. George's Syrian Church Designation Report" New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (July 14, 2009)
  6. ^ Childe, Cromwell. "New York's Syrian Quarter", The New York Times, August 20, 1899. Accessed August 25, 2010.
  7. ^ Dunlap, David. "An Effort to Save the Remnants of a Dwindling Little Syria" The New York Times. (January 2, 2012) p. A18. Retrieved 24 September 2012

See also[edit]

External links[edit]