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Little Syria, Manhattan

Completed by 1797 the area of Greenwich Street in lower Manhattan is planned, constructed, and land-filled.  By 1817 Washington Street becomes the westernmost avenue lined with piers, maritime stores, and basins and remaining waterfront property until the completion and opening of lower West Street in the early 1840s.

In the 1850s with the conversion of Castle Clinton into the Castle Garden immigration station nearby, the wealthy began to desert the neighborhood and by the 1880s immigrants of Eastern Europe and the Syrian province began moving in.

Little Syria is the former name of a neighborhood that once stretched from Battery Place up to Cedar Street and from Trinity Place to West Street, with Washington Street serving as the Main Street of Syrian America.

Selling cool drinks in Syrian Quarter
Library Of Congress
From the late 1800s until the 1940s construction of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, presently known as the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, the area was also known as the "Syrian Quarter,"  featuring a large population of immigrants from the former Ottoman province of Syria.

At the turn of the twentieth century Syria was not yet a country but an enormous territory encompassing present-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Jordan.  Arriving primarily from the 1880s to 1920s nearly 60,000 entered the country by 1910, some remaining in the Little Syria area while other moving to textile cities such as Paterson, New Jersey which was a major silk production center.

Relics of old New York. At Battery Place. Homes of Greeks and Syrians ca. 1930
Museum of the City of New York

Several Arabic-language newspapers published from Manhattan's Syrian Quarter including "Al-Hoda" founded in 1898 and "Syrian World" an English-language journal headquartered on lower Greenwich Street.

The Lebanon Restaurant, 88 Washington Street (1936)
New York Public Library

In 1889 America's first Maronite or Melkite parish is formed in the neighborhood and by 1925 moves into 103 Washington Street as St. George's Syrian Catholic Church.  Melkites or Maronites are Catholics whose churches are in full communion with Rome but follow Eastern liturgical traditions and customs.  In 1929 Harvey F. Cassab, a young Lebanese-American designs a facade for the building.  His design was a neo-Gothic composition of bright white terracotta.  St. Joseph's Maronite Church, first located at 57 Washington Street, was another prominent church in the neighborhood which later moved to 157 Cedar Street.

A study conducted in 1904 by Lucius Hopkins Miller found 1,661 Syrians living in the area of Cedar Street to the north, Battery Place to the south, West street to the west and Greenwich Street and Trinity Place to the east.

The survey notes two other smaller Syrian communities in Brooklyn, one scattered through Sunset Park, Bay Ridge, and Sheepshead Bay and the other in the Atlantic Avenue area between Cobble Hill and Brooklyn Heights.  About three quarters of the Melkites in the 1904 survey were from present-day Lebanon, approximately 20% were from the area of present-day Syria and approximately 2% were Palestinian.

Demolition on Greenwich Street April 18, 1947
Museum of the City of New York
By the 1920s the center of New York City's Syrian-American community begins to shift to the Atlantic Avenue area of Brooklyn due to the building boom of the nearby Financial District in the 1920s.  For example, Sahadi's Shop, presently on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights, was formerly located on Rector Street & Washington Street.  The neighborhood further declines in Middle Eastern population after World War II.  By 1946 two Middle Eastern restaurants remained on Washington Street but impending construction by the Robert Moses led Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel approach and Battery Parking Garage leads to the condemnation of property and drives out the remaining residents and stores.

The final blow is dealt by the construction of the World Trade Center in the 1960s, and by 1975 the only remaining evidence of downtown Manhattan's Syrian Quarter were two Syrian churches.  Today only one of these still stand, the former St. George''s Syrian Catholic Church at 103 Washington Street.

St. George's Church closed for good in 1982 and sold to Chapel Moran, Inc. which operates a restaurant and bar and maintains the historic Washington Street facade.

In October 2002 the cornerstone of St. Joseph's Maronite Church was discovered during the clearing of rubble and ruins of the September 11 attacks near Cedar Street.  The cornerstone is now on display at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral in Brooklyn Heights.


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