Posted by on November 01, 2012 in Blog

By Jennine Vari

2012 Fall Intern

Since Hurricane Sandy hit earlier this week, we’ve been barraged with footage of the extensive flooding in New York City. However, one neighborhood that has received relatively little coverage is the remains of Little Syria in Lower Manhattan. The neighborhood that was once the epicenter of Arab culture in New York has been whittled down to three buildings: St. George’s Catholic Syrian Church, the Downtown Community House, and a tenement building at 109 Washington St, and this week’s hurricane caused damage to all three historical structures.

According to Todd Fine, the co-founder of the Save Washington Street campaign and Director of Project Khalid, despite the waist-deep water in the street, the damage sustained to the buildings was mostly basement flooding. He said that unless the water is pumped from the basements, it could be problematic. According to residents, the church basement has been cleaned up, but the two others remain untouched as people work to clean up their homes and businesses. Fine remains optimistic about the buildings as long as the water is removed, recalling that incidents like this are not anomalies in the area since it has flooded many times in the past.

History of ‘Little Syria’

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the neighborhood was comprised mostly of immigrants from the Ottoman Empire who established small businesses in pursuit of the American Dream. Little Syria was also a cultural hub, home to writers like Khalil Gibran and Ameen Rihani. Unfortunately, by the 1940’s the neighborhood fell victim to major projects like the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, eventually leaving only three surviving buildings. Save Washington Street now advocates for the preservation of the remaining three buildings and a piece of Arab American history in New York.

Ultimately, Fine hopes that this will prompt the Arab American community to get involved in a volunteer effort to clean up Battery Park and that the damage will be a “greater impetus for the Arab American Community to protect its history.”

Photos of the damage can be found on Save Washington Street’s Facebook Page.

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