It’s hard to call New York’s history a circular one–we build over our past too fervently for that–but nonetheless, certain corners of the city manage to accumulate something like odd rhymes and resonance with their pasts, perhaps a barely conscious tic of repetition.
At the turn of the last century, Washington Street in Lower Manhattan was a dense carnival of Lebanese and Syrian peddlers, Egyptian merchants, Arabic newspapers and the smell of Turkish coffee. Little Syria, as it was called, was composed mainly of Lebanese and Syrian immigrants, most Catholic and roughly 5 percent Muslim. But amid the seemingly ceaseless debate over the proposed Park Place community center and mosque blocks away, it’s difficult to imagine that the cavernous back street of parking garages and anonymous towers was once, without controversy, known, according to The New York Times, as the “heart of New York’s Arab world.”
In another strange inversion of time, the last decade’s sky-high mega-towers and luxury condos stand, many of them, half-built, half-empty or in-some-part defaulted. The street’s newly opened W New York Downtown Hotel and Residences is something of a glass-and-steel exclamation point of burst financing.
Developer Joseph Moinian, himself of Persian descent, having immigrated as a teenager from Iran, is the owner of the massive 56-story W. Mr. Moinian amassed roughly 20 million square feet of property in a boom-time buying spree, though he has lately been hastily restructuring multiple mezzanine loans, including recently defaulted debt tied to the Lower Manhattan tower
Washington And Liberty Street
In July, workers at the World Trade Center site unearthed the skeletal wooden boning of an 18th-century shipping vessel, a kind of fossilized imprint of the days when the area was more water than land. Marine archeologists believe the brigantine was a coastal vessel that likely shipped lumber to fast-growing New York City. Among other relics of a lost Manhattan, a well-smoked clay pipe was discovered beneath the planking.
155 Cedar Street
The battle over a proposed house of worship in the shadow of the World Trade Center? The Park Place community center and mosque may have company. Negotiations between the Port Authority and the diminutive St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church destroyed on Sept. 11 have been stalled since last year. The Port Authority had promised $20 million to subsidize the church’s reconstruction, but issues over its size and new location caused the deal to fall through–a development that somewhat belatedly gained media and political traction in the wake of the proposed Islamic community center.
123 Washington Street
Joseph Moinian’s massive, 56-story W hotel-slash-condo is outfitted with hypnotically undulating interiors and sleek metal sex appeal. It’s currently the tallest residential tower in Lower Manhattan.
109 Washington Street
By the 1960s, the northern reaches of Washington Street were supplanted by the World Trade Center, while its southern tenements had been demolished to make way for entry ramps to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Dwarfed by its neighbors, the four-story building is the sole remaining vestige of Washington Street’s tenement past.
105 Washington Street
The wide, Colonial-style building was built by soap manufacturer William Childs as an immigrant community center. It later became True Buddha leader Sheng-yen Lu’s temple, its bricks adorned with cross-legged Buddha medallions.
103 Washington Street
St. George slaying a dragon is emblazoned across this stone facade. Once the heart of Syrian Catholic Washington Street, today the interior of St. George’s Chapel is mostly known for less pious retreats–since 1982, it’s been home to Moran’s Ale House.
99 Washington Street
Hotel lord Sam Chang has plans to add another vertically inclined hotel to the Washington Street mix, barely a block from the W. The site was once home to Sahadi’s shop, full of jewelry, embroidery, liquors and water pipes. Like most Little Syria businesses, Sahadi’s eventually decamped to the Atlantic Avenue thoroughfare of Brooklyn.
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