A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from October 03, 2004
Little Syria
"Little Syria" was located on Washington Street in lower Manhattan. That neighborhood was destroyed in the 1960s to build the World Trade Center.

There was also a "Little Syria" in Brooklyn.

20 August 1899, New York (NY) Times, pg. 1MS4:
Certainly not in lower Washington Street - though he claimed this is the locality - the place of New York's real Syrian quarter.
"Little Syria" is curious in that it is made up of Orientals of many stations in life.
These cafes, the shops, the wholesale emporiums, and the group of dirty tenements down toward Battery Place tell the story of "Little SYria" precisely.

22 January 1902, Springfield (MA) Republican, pg. 11:
[From January Everywhere.]\Way down near the end of Manhattan island, where the North and East rivers meet, far from the other foreign villages -- as if loth to mingle with its brother aliens -- is the Syrian village. They are merchants -- and well they may be, for they come from the old Phoenician coast, where the spirit of commerce was born -- but the things of trade do not extrude from the doors, and windows, and fire-escapes, and the swarthy features of the men and women do not reek with desire for gain.

29 March 1903, New York (NY) Times, pg. 32:
WASHINGTON STREET has long been known as "Little Syria," and those who are interested in different phases of Oriental life find much that is fascinating in this quaint section of the town.

26 December 1905, Baltimore (MD) Sun, pg. 10:
Queer Things To Eat Found In
New York's Syrian Quarter.

Most Of The Syrian Meat And Vegetable Dishes Are Too Heavy And Greasy To Suit American Palates.
Down on the lower West Side, in the Syrian quarter of New York, where troops of black haired, olive skinned children play in the streets, and lithe, slender and generally pretty mothers gossip in the doorways, the fruit stalls, bakeries and groceries are stocked with many things unfamiliar to the American eye and palate.

Chronicling America
11 April 1909, Los Angeles (CA) Herald, Feature Section:
"Little Syria"
YOU leave the elevated at Rector on your way to Little Syria and Washington is upon you ere you know it -- Washington, which stretches, unkempt and froway, to the Battery and bares the heart of Little Syria before your unenraptured eyes. For it is unlucky; it has the misfortune of dirt and unromance -- and dirt may never be accepted but with the mystery of the Orient upon it, when, of course, it may be sensibly hailed as delight.

22 January 1939, New York (NY) Times, pg. 20:
Thirty per cent of Brooklyn's population is foreign-born, which means that there is a Little Italy, a Little Syria, a Little Spain, a Little Sweden, as well as a farktown far more devout and fervently "swing" than Harlem.

9 November 1941, New York (NY) Times, "The Tip End of the City" by Nathaniel Nitkin, pg. XX3:
The next phase of the walk is to leave the churchyards at the Church Street exit and go west toward Washington Street. Here the route turns south, and by the time the explorer has passed Rector Street he has entered Little Syria. Right and left are Middle East restaurants with such names as Little Egypt, the Nile, the Lebanon. Provision for a stop in one of these places should be made, at least, for some Turkish coffee.

Variety in the Shops
Food shops are not the only attractions of Little Syria. There are stores selling imported cigarettes and hookahs. others display chinaware and metalware with the arabesque ornaments. Finally, there is the newspaper plant that prints its sheets in graceful Arabic characters.

Most interesting in Little Syria, however, are the inhabitants. Friendly, they readily enter into conversation with the visitor, to talk about their native lands and customs. Father south on Washington Street is the Greek section, the smaller of the two "Little Athens" of the city, the larger being uptown along Eighth Avenue. At this picturesque part of New York it is well to take a look now, for part of Little Syria will disappear when the approaches to the Battery Tunnel are started.

25 August 1953, New York (NY) Times, pg. 16:
Once known as "Little Syrua," an area around Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights is still the shopping center for delicacies of that Near Eastern country.

New York (NY) Times
Published: February 20, 2000
Searching for Syria
Q. I understand that there was once a ''Little Syria'' in Lower Manhattan. What became of it?
A. Little Syria, an immigrant community concentrated along Washington Street between Battery Place and Rector Street, was all but erased by the construction of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel in 1940. Beginning in the 1870's, thousands of citizens of Greater Syria, along with a small number of Turks, Greeks and Arabs, established homes and family businesses in the retail district, selling furniture, textiles, dry goods, ceramics and rugs. Others settled along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

Little Syria was also known for the sweets, pastries, and exotic foods available among its smoky parlors and storefronts. In 1939, the W.P.A. Guide to New York City observed: ''Although the fez has given way to the snap-brim and the narghile has been abandoned for cigarettes, the coffeehouses and the tobacco and confectionery shops of the Levantines still remain.'' Work on the tunnel began a year later.

Downtown Express
Volume 19 Issue 50 | April 27 - May 3, 2007
Tour guide looks to save remnants of ‘Little Syria’
By Skye H. McFarlane
Wedged in between the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and the World Trade Center site, filled with a hodgepodge of rambling old buildings and high-rise parking garages, the area now known as “Greenwich St. south” can often feel like a lost neighborhood.

But when tour guide Joseph Svehlak glances at 103-109 Washington St., he sees a living architectural reminder of a once-vibrant immigrant community — a reminder he’d like to see preserved for future generations.

The Lower West Side, west of Broadway from the Battery up to Chambers St., has been known by many names over the years. During the Progressive Era it was “Bowling Green Village” and “Wall St.’s back yard.” Before the World Trade Center demolished its upper reaches in the late 1960s, it was the “Electronics District” or “Radio Row.”

Svehlak prefers “Little Syria.” In one of the city’s many ethnic ironies, the neighborhood that was devastated most recently by the destruction of the Twin Towers was the first predominantly Arab enclave in New York City. Starting in the 1870s, new arrivals from what was called Greater Syria began to fill the streets, converting the area’s once-fashionable row houses into multi-family tenements.

New York (NY) Times
When an Arab Enclave Thrived Downtown
Published: August 24, 2010
All but lost to living memory and forgotten in the current controversy, Washington Street was the “heart of New York’s Arab world,” as The New York Times described it in 1946, shortly before that Arab-American community was almost entirely displaced by construction of entrance ramps to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

To be clear: this neighborhood, called Little Syria, was south of what would become the trade center site, while the Islamic center would be to the north. And Muslims, chiefly from Palestine, made up perhaps 5 percent of its population. The Syrians and Lebanese in the neighborhood were mostly Christian.
Historical accounts describe no mosques on Washington Street, but there were three churches that served the Lebanese and Syrian Christians.

St. George Chapel of the Melkite Rite still stands, at 103 Washington Street. It may be the last recognizable remnant of Little Syria. It is now Moran’s Ale House and Grill.
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityNeighborhoods • Sunday, October 03, 2004 • Permalink

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