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Save the Downtown Community House in "Little Syria"
  • Petitioning Meenakshi Srinivasan

This petition will be delivered to:

Landmarks Preservation Commission (NYC)
Meenakshi Srinivasan

Save the Downtown Community House in "Little Syria"

    1. Todd Fine
    2. Petition by

      Todd Fine

      Washington, DC

Dear Chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan,

We offer congratulations and wish you great success in your tenure as Landmarks Preservation Commissioner under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Although several other Manhattan neighborhoods have received new or expanded historic districts in recent years, the “Lower West Side” or “Little Syria” area of Downtown Manhattan remains under substantial threat with no district protection. Compounding past large-scale eminent domain actions and demolitions, this area – between West Street and Broadway, north of Battery Park and south of the World Trade Center site – has lost several structures in the last decade, with massive additional construction continuing to occur. Acknowledging that the development impulses in this historically significant part of the city are extremely strong, preservationists have largely focused on a modest request to designate three contiguous structures on lower Washington Street. Community Board 1, Council Member Margaret Chin, and a strong coalition of preservation groups and ethnic organizations have requested a hearing, and we earnestly urge you to explore this matter.

The neighborhood of the Lower West Side along Washington Street in Lower Manhattan, also known as “Bowling Green Village,” “Little Syria,” the “Syrian Quarter,” or the “Mother Colony,” is crucial to the heritage of a vast array of American ethnic groups, and in 1925 Governor Al Smith laid the cornerstone of a handsome Colonial Revival-style community house at 105-107 Washington Street that would serve its collection of many nationalities, including Lebanese, Syrians, Greeks, Armenians, Slovaks, Poles, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Czechs, and Irish. Today, including the previously designated St. George’s Melkite Church, the complex of three buildings at 103-109 Washington Street – church, community house, and tenement – is the last trace of the large and vibrant multi-ethnic community that was dramatically changed by the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. As American ethnic groups rediscover their heritage in this area, preservation of the last signs of community life in the Lower West Side becomes an important consideration for posterity.

Because of this perceived historical value, on June 9, 2011, the Landmarks Committee of Community Board 1 voted unanimously to request that the Commission designate the Downtown Community House. The structure, with its considerable architectural merit and importance in ethnic memory, indeed deserves landmark designation. Its architect, John F. Jackson, was a noted designer of more than seventy YMCA buildings in the United States and Canada. 105-107 Washington Street, with its characteristic red brick façade, limestone base and trim, inset plaques with swag ornament, window lintels with projecting keystones, and mansard roof with dormers over a modillioned cornice, embodies the Colonial Revival style that intentionally linked these immigrants to the nation's earliest foundations.

At the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone, New York Governor Al Smith stated “there are few people in the City of New York today that realize really the number of people who live in this section of the city. The west side to most people appears principally as a place of business… and to say that there are so many tenement dwellings in the very shade and the very shadow of the great tall buildings that make New York’s famous skyline is only to those familiar with it very apparent.” The history of Little Syria is still largely unknown, and as the downtown area has transformed so completely unlike any other part of the city, it is critical for the memory of America’s diverse ethnic heritage to preserve the building which best symbolized the community and friendship between nationalities, particularly the Arab immigrant groups whose American story in connection with this area especially deserves to be told. With the wide-scale attention, in the United States and in the Middle East and Europe that this preservation need is receiving, many young Americans are highly motivated to communicate the story of “Little Syria” and to preserve its last traces of ethnic heritage.

It is a miracle that this trinity of buildings remains. This legacy of perhaps the most culturally diverse location in the entire nation – the first stop as an immigrant would leave the Hudson docks in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty – offers the most important and compelling preservation case in Downtown Manhattan. In addition to exploring a hearing on the designation of the community house at 105-107 Washington Street, we request that the Commission explore the creation of some kind of small historical district, or another creative solution, to ensure that the last remaining tenement on lower Washington Street is preserved.

Recent signatures

    News

    1. Reached 1,500 signatures
    2. The media attention toward this campaign and petition is growing rapidly.

      Todd Fine
      Petition Organizer

      In recent weeks, in addition to the previous New York Times article and Al-Arabiya documentary, Al-Jazeera, Televisa, BBC, NPR/PRI's The World, and al-Hurra have all done stories about this effort. Here are some of these links:

      BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16936966
      Al-Jazeera English: http://www.aljazeera.com/video/americas/2012/02/2012212104511556147.html
      Al-Jazeera Arabic: http://www.aljazeera.net/news/pages/9aad5683-9b71-4479-8bf7-ed21a3b035a7
      NPR/PRI's The World: http://www.theworld.org/2012/01/new-york-little-syria
      Al-Hurra: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ig8IUGeSDM

    3. New York Times: "Little Syria (Now Tiny Syria) Finds New Advocates"

      Todd Fine
      Petition Organizer

      Great New York Times story about this petition and the effort to protect the remaining three buildings of Little Syria.

    4. Reached 1,000 signatures
    5. Over 500 Individuals Have Signed the Petition to Save Washington Street!

      Todd Fine
      Petition Organizer

      The same week we passed 500 signatures, we also delivered our group letter to the Landmarks Commission for the first time. Signers included national Arab-American organizations, Lebanese religious groups, and historic preservation specialists. Read the letter in the attached link, and please let us know at carlantoun@savewashingtonstreet.org if you are connected to any organizations that might be able to sign.

    6. Reached 500 signatures
    7. New York group fights to preserve The First Arab American Neighborhood (18)

      Todd Fine
      Petition Organizer

      This is the first article about the Save Washington Street petition and campaign!

    8. Reached 250 signatures
    9. Over 150 Individuals Have Signed the Petition for "Little Syria"

      Todd Fine
      Petition Organizer

      When Carl Antoun and I began this petition a few weeks ago, there was little sign that Americans -- and Arab-Americans especially -- were concerned about the continued threats to Little Syria and Washington Street. The neighborhood has been forgotten for so long that even its final demolitions seemed unlikely to raise a whimper. Yet, now, in only a few weeks, 150 people have signed this petition, and individuals representing twenty groups including ADC, ACCESS, AAI, and the Arab American National Museum have endorsed a letter to Chairman Robert Tierney, along with prominent people like John Zogby and Rima Fakih.

      We need your immediate help in sharing this petition with your friends and family (forward the link in emails! post it on twitter and facebook!). Our first goal is to reach 1,000 signatures. Carl’s 93-year-old grandmother can still tell you the importance of the community house, but will future generations have any basis to reconstruct her memories and imagine Little Syria?

    10. Reached 100 signatures

    Supporters

    Reasons for signing

    • Claudius Partisch WIEN, AUSTRIA
      • 7 months ago

      If you save your history you will save a part of your own. Good luck USA.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Deena Faruki WASHINGTON, DC
      • 7 months ago

      If the American dream, sought by so many immigrants, should come true, it should be that this country will gracefully recognize those communities' historic sites, which tell of hundreds of stories and experiences of immigration, struggles, and achievements. This is what makes America, and it is the least we can do to honor their legacy and contributions to the great American story.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Scott Walker TUCSON, AZ
      • 7 months ago

      Arabic history is just as important to the New York cultural melting pot as every other culture.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Ken Gildner DüSSELDORF, GERMANY
      • 12 months ago

      Landmark status doesn't always need to imply architectural uniqueness. These buildings are important reminders of the city's multi-ethnic history as well as of the damage that urban renewal did to this system in the mid-20th century.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:
    • Kamal Kobeissi LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM
      • 12 months ago

      Washington street, little Syria, is part of immigration History to America and it should be preserved for future American generations.

      REPORT THIS COMMENT:

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