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Voices on “Little Syria” for Meenakshi Srinivasan and the Landmarks Preservation Commission

By Posted in - Uncategorized on August 7th, 2014 0 Comments

With Mayor Bill de Blasio appointing Meenakshi Srinivasan as the new Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairperson, there is widespread hope among preservationists and historians that her commission will offer a more transparent, predictable, and publically-responsive process for the consideration of historic districts and protected landmarks.

In the case of the Downtown Community House on Washington Street, for the last 11 years a coalition of architectural historians, preservationists, local residents, and ethnic organizations and prominent individuals have pleaded for a basic hearing where they can make the case for protection. Here is a link to the most recent letter to the new chair. This request has been supported by the local City Councilperson and Community Board 1.

However, it is important to note also that thousands of people from New York City and from around the world have signed several petitions demanding a basic hearing on the Downtown Community House and the tenement at 109 Washington Street. We think it important that the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan hear these voices. Here are some of their statements:

Beshara Kehdi, Eugene, OR

Arab-American communities have been part of the social fabric of America for over a century, and their contributions and physical existence in this nation demand that our legacy be recognized. Allowing this area to dissolve into historical obscurity effaces Arab-Americans from the pages of American history, denying their place and forcing invisibility. This country is defined by the concrete steps it takes to preserve the historical memory and cultural importance of places like this.

Matthew Cummings, Forest Hills, NY

This tenement building, together with the former community house and the former Syrian church are the last remnants of a once thriving community in lower Manhattan.

Patricia Ann Abraham, Charleston, SC

Long time resident of NYC, and American of Arab descent who is tired of our omission or worse our distorted image in the US.

Ann Mullen, Belfast, ME

For many years, I lived at 713 Washington, and admired the downtown part of the street for its attractive buildings and historical importance. This area should be preserved.

Dorothy Tuohy, Staten Island, NY

I don’t want us to lose any piece of New York’s incredible history, so with a nod to our beloved Danny Thomas and family, to Steve Jobs, and to all who have passed this way, I ask that this area PLEASE be preserved. Thank You!

Diane Nahas, Port Washington, NY

The memory of the Syrian community’s presence in New York should not be obliterated.

Lydia M. Gordon, Brooklyn, NY

I was born and raised at 46 Washington Street in the heart of “Little Syria.” My family was forced to move from there when the area was condemned for the anticipated construction of the Brooklyn/Battery Tunnel. My family settled in downtown Brooklyn when most of the Lebanese/Syrian community in the lower Manhattan area resettled.

Emira Habiby Browne, Astoria, NY

It is very important that we preserve our Arab heritage in New York City and the many contributions that Arab-Americans have made to the US.

Barbara Knecht, New York City, NY

What an extraordinary opportunity to heal the wounds that 9/11 has created and celebrate the ideals of the U.S. Buildings are representations of cultures; they are not icons apart from their historic context. Architectural significance is embodied in human intentions behind the creation of the built environment.

Carl Antoun, Belle Harbor, NY

The history of Washington Street is far too rich to be ignored. Let us as Arab Americans stand together and join the legacies of the Jews, Italians, and Chinese of New York City! Send this petition to everyone you may know and direct them to our website.

Juan Kadah, San Jose, CA

Arab Americans have had a positive influence on America and are an integral part of its fabric–despite those who work diligently to deny this right.

This is one step in the right direction of asserting Arab American heritage in America and merits the appreciation and support of those involved.

Dave Hall, Brooklyn, NY

I’m a proud Arab-American and want to preserve “Little Syria” in Lower Manhattan.

Norah Arafeh, Aliso Viejo, CA

This landmark is a testament to the history of Arab Americans coming to this country, and stands as a tribute to the Syrian narrative that has largely been overlooked in the modern era. If we forget where we came from, then our future as a community will continue to be both marginalized and disregarded as unimportant.

Mary Arafeh, Aliso Viejo, CA

I am signing because I feel it is important to remember ALL of the unique and diverse groups that contributed to our neighborhoods, our New York and our United States. I also think it is equally important for American Arabs to show an interest in the preservation of their heritage in Lower Manhattan–in these three buildings.

Michael Oghia, Bangalore

As a first-generation Arab-American, I believe wholeheartedly in the need to support our heritage!

Omar Tewfik, New York, NY

Because every culture has made contributions to this create country and we should constantly recognize that.

Ramandeep Kaur, Los Angeles, CA

The history of every ethnic group is as important as the other.

Hayley Baker, Berkeley, CA

Our country should always be proud of and protect the many cultures that add to our rich American society.

Paula Haddad, Beverly, MA

I am signing this petition on behalf of my father’s family, as they came to the USA via Ellis Island in 1913. Lebanese/Syrian Immigrants are a foundation in the USA and although my family ended up living in Salem, MA, preserving that area to those that came here via Ellis Island is very important!

Leonard Massab, Brooklyn, NY

This is very important to me. My Grandmother Wadia (20 Washington St.), and shortly later, her brother Anthony (24 1/2 Rector St.) lived there for a while before they migrated to Brooklyn. I never forget them. It was back in the 80’s that lower Manhattan was my sales territory — all the while (then) unbeknownst to me I was walking in their footsteps. I visit often — and include a passby of Moran’s Bar & Grill, site of the former Melkite Catholic Church and home to much of the worship to many of my people.

Khadija Moorehead, Yonkers, NY

The history of all ethnic groups is important and should be preserved.

Jennifer Camper, Brooklyn, NY

This is an important part of our history and deserves recognition and preservation.

Prina Patel, Cupertino, CA

I believe in this cause and truly think it is monumental.

Stephen Goldman, Farmington Hills, MI

Preservation is key to understanding history. The ethnic neighborhoods tell a uniquely American story.

Kathryn Habib, Alexandria, VA

The meaning and validity of having a landmark to the historical beginnings of the Arab American community cannot be underestimated, especially in the current environment and for future generations not only of Arab Americans, but of all Americans as they learn to accept and celebrate their diversity.

Awni Qaqish, Canton, MI

I want to support the preservation of the history of NY and its immigrant population especially the history of the Arab immigrants to this great country of ours

Lee Boojamra, Northport, NY

My grandparents immigrated from Beirut, Lebanon, late 1890s, and opened a Lebanese bakery on Washington Street, where they lived for many years. My mother was born on Washington St. It is part of our Arab American history. They then moved to Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, and opened another bakery. This my heritage. Do not destroy the history of Arab-Americans in this country.

Robyn Muller, Dallas, TX

I believe in the diversity of this nation. Our very history of America requires a fundamental need to preserve that diversity with distinction. When we lose the opportunities to do so we chip away at our country and its history.

James Healy, Warwick, RI

It is important to save the heritage that started this country and has kept it strong throughout the years.

Sahar Rida, Park Ridge, IL

Our heritage, culture and contribution to this country should be known to all the citizens of this great country.

Nathan Funk, Waterloo, Canada

Preserving these buildings means remembering and retelling a story that needs to be told. America is a land built by many peoples, and those who settled on Washington Street have a just claim to inclusion in the national narrative. All who visit the neighborhood can be enriched by learning of a community that connects America and the Middle East in a profound and meaningful way.

Patricia O’Hara, Pawtucket, RI

We are losing our history to parking lots. Never again will buildings of this character be built again. We need to save them.

Cassandra Razukiewicz, Pawtucket, RI

This is part of American history and it should be preserved for future generations.

Hugh McMahon, Dallas, TX

I grew up in Brooklyn; live now in Dallas. Save historical edifices in NY as Dallas tears down everything over 30 years old and remains a 2nd class city.

Cindy Ford, Dallas, TX

The only way we can pass our history down to future generations is to preserve the buildings that are a part of that history.

Luke Decker, Hanover, NH

We claim to be “one nation under God, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for ALL.” Therefore, no group of Americans should be DIVISIBLE. We should work to preserve the history that has built up this GREAT NATION of MANY NATIONS. Arab-Americans are no exception.

Edward Pruette, Durham, NC

Because history matters.

Mary Ann DiNapoli, Brooklyn, NY

There is so little left to tell the story of the presence of the vibrant and important Arab American community that was once part of the Manhattan landscape.

Jennifer Danialan, New York, NY

I live in the neighborhood and love the history of this building.

Prof. Sarah Gualtieri, Los Angeles, CA

I am a historian who has written about the early Syrian community in the United States. It would be a great loss to the historical record to have “Little Syria” destroyed completely.

Gregory P. Jacobs, Los Angeles, CA

I am Lebanese and I would love to see an historic ‘Little Syria’ restored in New York if possible. Thank you to the youngsters taking this up. Nice to see young people get involved in something of substance, no matter what the issue is. We learn from history.

Diane Shammas, Laguna Beach, CA

My paternal grandparents came from Lebanon and came through Ellis Island and I am familiar with Washington Street. Also, I hold a PhD in education with a specialization in Arab American and Muslim American studies.

Danielle Amato-Milligan, Brooklyn, NY

As a second generation Italian-American I feel strongly that other ethnic groups who came to this city to create opportunities and a better life for themselves should be given the recognition they deserve. The contributions and history of Little Syria and its residents were just as vital a part of this city as were those of my ancestors. It is another immigrant story New Yorkers should be proud to tell and preserve.

Catherine Sheehan, Brooklyn, NY

Too much of old New York City has been torn down to be replaced by generic highrise buildings. Preserve the old, preserve history.

Michael Karam, New Orleans, LA

Our family has ties to that neighborhood: our Jidu, George Numair, grew up there. He was an altar boy at St. George’s and grew up in one of those tenement buildings. His parents immigrated in the 1890s from Zahle, Lebanon. Our family, now spread across the NY region and the US, has recently come to appreciate the significance of the Little Syria neighborhood and our family’s connections to it. In 2007, during a family reunion in NY, my grandfather’s sister, Lila Numair, toured the family down Washington St., telling us colorful stories of their upbringing in a once lively neighborhood. It was a trip back in time! What a treasure! I would hate to see such a place disappear. Let us know how our family can help your efforts…and thank you!

Rafah Alsakaf, Omaha, NE

I am a 2nd generation Syrian-American. Preserving our Arab history is very important to me and all those around me.

J. Patricia Connolly, New York, NY

This isn’t about architecture, it’s about the history of a people who came to New York City and made their lives here. It’s important, no, essential, to preserve this piece of Arab American history in the city, particularly at a time when there is bigotry on the part of some groups towards Arabs in general and Arab Americans. And the NYPD is mapping areas where Muslims and other Arab groups live and work.

Abe Numair, San Leandro, CA

My father’s family lived on Washington Street near St. George’s Church for many years. My father, George Numair, and his brothers, John and Solomon, were altar boys at St. George’s. I think this area is a very special place and should be preserved. It was home to many immigrants from varying ethnic backgrounds, a very culturally diverse community. Let me know how my family and I can help. My father’s three sisters are still living and can provide plenty of history, stories, and pictures of the neighborhood.

Reem K. South, Hadley, MA

Houses are designed to enable the residents to interact, both within the walls and outside them. Designating the “Little Syria” Community House in Lower Manhattan as a city landmark is embracing Arab Americans as a welcome addition to American society.

Magali Larson, Philadelphia, PA

If New York City loses all signs of its vibrant history, it is going to be an ugly, purely commercial super-expensive megalopolis and nothing more!

Patricia Storace, New York, NY

These buildings are a treasured part of Arab-American culture. We have the records of this period of migration in the books of many children’s classics of the period, notably Kate Douglas Wiggins’ Rebecca of SunnyBrook Farm, and Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy and Tacey series. We must be sure that this architectural heritage is preserved for all Americans, as part of the making of the country.

William Thomas, Auburn, NH

This effort to preserve this section will illustrate the reality of the diversity of America. It is and should remain a historical reminder of our immigrant past.

Farras Abdelnour, New York, NY

As a Syrian-American, I am proud of the heritage and contribution of the community to New York City. The Syrian-American legacy in Lower Manhattan should be acknowledged.

Jean Pool, Cumming, GA

My great grandparents were among the wave of Lebanese immigrants in the late 1800’s. Their first home here was in the Little Syria area of NYC. These buildings serve to remind us of a time when we were inclusive of everyone, when coming to America was the crowning achievement in their lives. Please preserve a part of the Arab American experience.

Babette Grunow, Milwaukee, WI

I cherish our heritage as Americans and this part shows that Arab Americans are not new immigrants but have a long and proud heritage.

Robert Maule, Poulsbo, WA

There is more than enough destruction of Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Please do not add to the assault in the great city that boasts of the Statue of Liberty.

Donald Bustany, Studio City, CA

What could be more American than preserving another of the many tiles in our cultural mosaic?

Steven Saliba, Columbus, OH

Our heritage and our unique American experiences will be safely stored for generations. This neighborhood will be appropriately designated as historical. This is critical and long overdue.

Richard Seeger, Cheboygan, MI

As a street of Arab-American History, it must continue to exist!

Carol Haddad, Ypsilanti, MI

The preservation of these historically important buildings is vital to Syrian-Lebanese immigrant history. I do not wish to see “Little Syria” befall the fate of Boston’s Syrian “South End” — the neighborhood of my parents and grandparents.

Margot Duley, Ypsilanti, MI

It is extremely important to preserve these landmark buildings–not just for the sake of the past but for the good of the present. The existence of this site is a rebuke to those who demonize Arab Americans as unAmerican latecomers.

It is astonishing that a “Landmarks Preservation Commission” would even consider the destruction of these buildings.

Pete Ayoub, Bryn Mawr, PA

America is a melting pot. I like NYC’s Little Italy and want the same for other ethnicities.

Salma Abu Ayyash, Cambridge, MA

I am an Arab American, but also in a pure coincidence, I got an email about this issue while in the middle of a novel called AMREEKA by an Arab Author by the name of Rabee3 Jaber. I was taken back to a time in the early 20th century when so many Syrian immigrants came to build a new life here in Manhattan like so many other immigrants. This is an American story, it’s American history and it needs to be preserved.

Nasser Rabbat, Cambridge, MA

A long-neglected, and much maligned, piece of the American mosaic ought to be remembered and preserved.

Jean Bridges, Las Vegas, NV

Immigrants from all over the globe are part of America’s rich cultural heritage – some would say, the best part. Saving cultural history is important.

Marilyn Wentworth, Boston, MA

As a proud American of Syrian Lebanese descent, I feel it is imperative to preserve this landmark.

Victoria Salem, Brooklyn, NY

It’s important to the cultural history of Arab-Americans in NYC and in the US. Most people are not aware of Arab immigrants living in the US prior to 9/11. We really should do all we can to preserve these buildings.

Sylvia Yazgi, Jacksonville, FL

“He who denies his heritage has no heritage.” America should always recognize the people who came here seeking a new life and a new home. We build the future on the past.

Francesco Medici, Bari, Italy

I am signing because it is very important that we preserve Arab heritage in New York City and the many contributions that Arab-Americans have made to the US and to the World.

Barbara Saba-Gagnon, Milton, MA

This neighborhood is my grandparents’ history of coming to the US. Precious and rare–like all ethnic groups.

Catherine Christenr, Pittsburgh, PA

This is part of my heritage. My grandfather and his brothers had the Sargus Brothers Store at 23 Washington St. They came to New York from Lebanon.

Emily Christner, New York, NY

My grandfather and his family settled here when they first came to the US. They had a store on Washington St. I would like to preserve it so that generations of my family can see it.

Michael P. Jacobs, New York, NY

Growing up in NYC, my Greek parents often talked fondly of the old ethnic neighborhoods in lower Manhattan. So many Americans like me have roots in these neighborhoods.

Giannakoulias Anthony, Shibuya, Tokyo

As a person of Greek descent, I know the importance of heritage and how it can play an important role in building cultural and religious bridges, and hence peace in the world.

Tineo Alvarado Juan Ysidro, Kyoto

I am an architect and scholar researching on Identity and the impact of architectural and social transience in urban planning and regeneration.

Brenda J. Gannam, Brooklyn, NY

My grandfather, Karam Gerges Ghaanim (name changed to Gannam at Ellis Island), arrived in the U.S. in 1910 from ‘Almaan as-Shuuf (now part of Lebanon) via Marseilles. He spent time in Little Syria before settling in Manchester, NH and later Savannah, GA where he died in 1980. I think it is important that people know that Arab Americans were an integral part of New York life and community during this time period.

Mary Perillo, New York, NY

I’ve lived in the Neighborhood for most of my adult life and I hate to see the razing and hotel-ification of the area. Save history! Save local residences!

Angela Hahn, Fountain, CO

I am a Syrian American. My heritage on Washington Street needs to be preserved. Syrian Americans have always been an obscure group and unrecognized because we are not obnoxious. Yet many contributions to this great country have been made by Syrian Americans!!

Patricia Guida, Lyndhurst, NJ

I am a NYC tour guide and believe in preservation of places of historical significance.

Mona Nasrallah, Beirut

I have two great uncles whose first stop was that neighborhood in the 1900s. Ayyoub was a writer for Merat al Gharb newspaper. Their names were Toufic and Ayyoub Abu Nasr from Kfeir village.

Kate Burns, East Jordan, MI

As as a historic preservation major, I think we should value or history, in all forms, and do everything we can to save it and restore it!

Cara Barkett, Great Barrington, MA

My grandfather, Azam Barakat, emigrated to this country in 1897, coming in to New York and staying with a relative on Washington St. It is most exciting to know this area was called “Little Syria.” And so important to our family to know how he lived, with whom, and where when he as a very young boy ventured so far from his country of Lebanon.

Annie Samhouri, Provo, UT

As an Arab American, I find it important to preserve Arab American history in our nation. When researching places to visit in the NYC area, I specifically wanted to visit museums, venues, churches and mosques that represent my rich heritage. I find it very important to preserve and commemorate Arab American history in the United States.

Matt Miga, New York, NY

I used to live at 106 Greenwich St., and am supportive of landmarking this culturally-vital area.

Gregg Haboush, Galloway, OH

It is important to remember this small area where thousands of Lebanese and Syrian American families first settled in the United States.

Paul Beekman, Fitzroy

Neighbourhood histories and the built heritage of important community places are all too often erased in our profit-driven world. Often the intentions are not bad, but the broader community can be unaware of important historical associations sitting just beneath the layer of everyday consciousness as they go about their daily business. The preservation of these remaining structures, and the link they show to the first Arab-American Neighbourhood in the U.S. is crucial in demonstrating respect for this rich heritage, and for the people of New York into the future.

Elizabeth Holden, New York, NY

Gentrification is ruining this city.

Michael Campanelli, Greenlawn, NY

Recognition of all of the peoples that made New York (and the United States) the vibrant place that it is deserve recognition. The sad fact that virtually nothing of the “old New York” in downtown remains because of misguided urban development from the 1940s through the 1970s makes this effort even more important.

Pablo Garcia, New York, NY

I remember as a kid going there to look at radio parts in the bargain bins. The people were great. It’s all gone.

Colleen Biollay, New York, NY

This is my neighborhood, I never knew about the historical significance of my surroundings until recently. There is little history left in this area of Manhattan and what little remains needs to be preserved.

Matthew Breitenbach, New York, NY

Too many times our ethnic history is allowed to simply fade away so that huge corporations and real estate magnates can make more money or put up another high rise. Our history is priceless, and should be respected.

Jim Gibb, New York, NY

I live next door and want to preserve the history of the neighborhood

Brook Wilensky-Lanford, Jersey City, NJ

Because recognizing Arab-American history is important to inspiring tolerance and respect.

Colleen Hathaway, Portland, OR

I used to live at 109 Washington Street circa 1992 when I was a young woman. This area deserves to be recognized for its unique contribution to New York’s history.

Rasha Mhmoud, Newburgh, NY

As an Arab-American living in New York, I think it’s important to preserve what remains physically to remind us and others of the impact that early Arab immigrants had on this wonderful city.

Abdelmalek Ayadi, Brooklyn, NY

I am North African and work in the area. I never thought I am linked to Lower Manhattan. When I learned about the history of the place, I started to look at this building differently. There are faces on the facades telling me stories about the past. And I have to say that I feel more home.

Jennifer Hurst-Wender, Richmond, VA

I feel that disregarding this aspect of American history, in this particular situation is creating a divide, us against them mentality and alienating part of the people that make America great.

Steven Jaffe, Maplewood, NJ

An important site of New York’s immigrant and community heritage. It is important for New Yorkers, Americans, and people from around the world to understand the vibrant history of “Little Syria,” before its last vestiges are lost forever.

Joseph Nofil, Boynton Beach, FL

I was born on Washington St. in 1931.

Nicole Richardson, West Palm Beach, FL

This country has a long tradition of honoring and celebrating all different nationalities. Bias towards Arabs have become the status quo.

Chris Fielder, South Orange, NJ

I’m an international relations major at Seton Hall University; if there’s one thing I’ve learned from studying other countries and their backgrounds, it’s that the United States isn’t cognizant enough of our heritage as a country of immigrants. We have an opportunity to rejuvenate historical understanding in a neighborhood whose government forfeited it for modernization. Improving infrastructure and allocating space for corporations to thrive in NYC is important, but not at the expense of forgetting where its roots are. Preserving Washington Street’s heritage would be a symbolic victory for a country that doesn’t understand the Middle East… and a tangible victory with buildings whose history would be accessible to all.

John Danahy, Ronkonkoma, NY

There is every reason to save these notable parts of NYC history. Not to mention how it would be favorably viewed by a large portion of the rest of the world as a conciliatory gesture towards the Arab culture. In spite of the small percentage of Arabs who wish us ill (some with good reason), we owe a serious debt to the Arabs for substantial parts of our cultural, scientific, mathematical, and literary development. This would be a small but meaningful gift.

Daniel Goodman, Northampton

I feel that the representation in media of the Arab people in the United States and here in the UK leans very much to presenting them as a ‘other’ and an enemy; albeit often not directly. The dangers in this are obvious, you only need to look at history to see that. I see Washington street as a potential to display a positive image of the Arab people and teach how they are very much part of the fabric of America; the power and importance of this I feel is exasperated by the soon to be opened 9/11 memorial (which incidentally contains no mention of Washington Streets history with Arab immigrants)

Kamal Kobeissi, London

Washington Street, Little Syria, is part of the immigration history to America and it should be preserved for future American generations.

Ken Gildner, Düsseldorf

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.

Scott Walker, Tucson, AZ

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

Deena Faruki, Washington, DC

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.

Claudius Partisch, Wien

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

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