When an Arab Enclave Thrived in Downtown Manhattan





Conjure, for a moment, a place just steps from City Hall but a world apart. Salaam.

Yes, that is the fragrance of strong coffee in the air, of sweet figs and tart lemons, of pastries that remind buyers of childhoods in Damascus and Beirut. Bazaars abound with handmade rugs and brass lamps and water pipes. Men wear fezzes. A few women retire behind veils. Al-Hoda is the leading newspaper. Business signs — at least those legible to a non-Arabic speaker — proclaim “Rahaim & Malhami,” “Noor & Maloof” and “Sahadi Bros.”

This is not what the lower west side of Manhattan would look like if the much-debated Islamic community center were built two blocks from the World Trade Center site. This is what it looked like decades before the World Trade Center was even envisioned. This is its heritage.

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....



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