Throughout its long, illustrious history, New York City has seen waves of immigrants from all corners of the globe, who have all left a mark. The Jewish people have the Lower East Side, the Italians have Little Italy and the Chinese have Chinatown. Many other ethnic groups have numerous protected historical buildings and districts in New York, but what do Arab Americans have? Let us stand up for our roots, culture and foundations in this country. Arab Americans have been coming to the United States for well over one hundred years and to Washington Street since 1870! Let us secure a concrete feeling of "place" for our substantial part of the American story. We as Arab Americans deserve this recognition and respect just as every other nationality and ethnic group in the United States, and the Landmarks Commission should designate all three remaining buildings into a historical district.
Please read our official statement below and pass this on to family, friends and everyone else you can think of via email, facebook, twitter, and word-of-mouth. The future of our legacy and history in the United States depends on it; as a result, nearly all of the major Arab-American groups, as well as preservation organizations, have signed this linked group letter. Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera have discussed the cavalier attitude of some Americans toward the Arab heritage in Manhattan, but we refuse to close our eyes while Little Syria is demolished.
-Carl Antoun, Todd Fine, and Norah Arafeh, savewashingtonstreet.org
Most Americans, and even many Lebanese-Americans and Arab-Americans, are unaware that Lower Manhattan -- along Washington Street from Battery Park through the 9/11 Memorial to Chambers Street -- was once the center of Arab-American life in the United States, from the 1870s to the 1940s called "Little Syria" or the "Mother Colony." Obscured from history as the result of the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and the World Trade Center, its physical destruction was compounded by vanishing memory within the Arab-American community, reinforced by an atmosphere unprepared to acknowledge that the Arab-American story of hard-work and community -- both Christian and Muslim -- began at the very location the violent tragedy occurred. Fortunately, by a kind of miracle, three buildings remain and are physically connected: 103 Washington Street, an Arab church that served as a Irish bar for many years; 105-107 Washington Street, a community house inaugurated by the governor of New York Al Smith to serve the Little Syria neighborhood; and 109 Washington Street, a tenement building still containing apartments. Tens of millions of tourists will walk every year from Battery Park and the Statue of Liberty to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum -- all through historical Arab New York! -- and these three buildings deserve to be preserved as landmarks to leave some general trace of an ethnic neighborhood that has been devastated like no other in the city.
On June 9, 2011, Community Board 1 of Lower Manhattan in New York City passed a resolution requesting that the Preservation Commission designate the Little Syria community center at 105-107 Washington Street because of its combined "Colonial Revival" architectural value and social-historical importance, highly valued by the ethnic groups that lived there -- Arabs and Lebanese, along with Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Slovaks, Poles, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Czechs, and Irish.
However, at this moment, it looks like they do not measure the perceived social and historical importance to meet their landmarking criteria, perhaps because the Arab-American community -- and the American public itself -- has shown little interest in visibly asserting the value of the preservation of this heritage in Lower Manhattan!
Please sign this petition and, if possible, send written letters to:
Chairman Robert Tierney
Landmarks Preservation Commission
1 Centre Street, 9th Floor North
New York, NY 10007