A man wearing a fez selling drinks in Little Syria in the early 1900s, via Wiki Commons
Three structures on Lower Manhattan’s Washington Street–St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church at 103 Washington Street, The Downtown Community House at 105-107 Washington Street, and the block’s sole surviving tenement at 109 Washington Street--are the last standing architectural vestiges of the once-thriving community of Little Syria. The area served as home to immigrants from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Moravia, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Ukraine, Germany and Ireland that flourished on the Lower West Side in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries. Before that surviving history is lost, local preservationists are calling for the structures to become part of a mini historic district, citing a “landmarks emergency.”
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59-81-Washington-Street ca. 1935, via NYPL
This post is part of a series by the Historic Districts Council, exploring the groups selected for their Six to Celebrate program, New York’s only targeted citywide list of preservation priorities.
The Lower West Side may not be a neighborhood name used by brokers, but for those involved with preservation efforts in the area, it’s a neighborhood very much unique from the surrounding Financial District. Encompassing the area west of Broadway from Liberty Street to Battery Place, it was originally home to Irish and German immigrants, followed by Little Syria, the nation’s first and largest Arabic settlement, from roughly the 1880s to 1940s. But the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and World Trade Center “nearly wiped the neighborhood off the map.” There are still several buildings remaining that serve as a connection to the past, however, and Friends of the Lower West Side is working diligently to make sure this history is not lost, expanding its oral history program, offering walking tours of the area, and appealing to the Landmarks Commission to designate a small historic district.
Find out six little-known facts about this amazing district
In the light of Donald Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees, 6sqft decided to take a look back at Little Syria. From the late 1880s to the 1940s, the area directly south of the World Trade Center centered along Washington Street held the nation’s first and largest Arabic settlement. The bustling community was full of Turkish coffee houses, pastry shops, smoking parlors, dry goods merchants, and silk stores, but the Immigration Act of 1924 (which put limits on the number of immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. from a given country and altogether banned Asians and Arabs) followed by the start of construction on the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel in 1940, caused this rich enclave to disappear. And though few vestiges remain today, there’s currently an exhibit on Little Syria at the Metropolitan College of New York, and the Department of Parks and Recreation is building a new park to commemorate the literary figures associated with the historic immigrant community.
The full history and details on the new developments
Neither did we. But the New York Times sheds some light on Raphael Hawaweeny, a Syrian (not Catholic or European) who helped bring the Eastern Orthodox Church to America, and who is being celebrated tonight and tomorrow to mark the 100th anniversary of his death.
In 1904, Saint Raphael of Brooklyn became the first Orthodox Christian bishop consecrated in North America, leading him to found the present-day Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. The first of its 29 parishes was and is located in Boerum Hill–the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Brooklyn–not far from what was then Little Syria. The Archdiocese describes him as “neither a wonder-worker nor a clairvoyant elder, St. Raphael embraced a life of total abandonment of self for the service of God and his fellow man: a life of true spiritual asceticism.”
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