Groundbreaking took place on the long-awaited Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza Park project on Friday, August 23, 2019. The project will create a new park by combining two existing plazas, rerouting traffic exiting from the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, and removing excess roadbed along Greenwich Street, and it will celebrate the first public monument to early Arab immigrants in New York. The completion of this project is expected in January 2021. More on an update from YIMBY, September, 2020.
New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has brought together two green spaces, creating a 20,000 square foot park, to commemorate the influential writers and poets associated with Little Syria. The location is at the convergence of Trinity Place, Greenwich Street, Edgar Street (known to be the shortest street in Manhattan), and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel Exit, which is the former neighborhood known as Little Syria, whose immigrant community was displaced with the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel in 1953.
The Department of Cultural Affairs of New York City, through its Percent for Art Program, issued a call for artists to submit plans for artwork that would recognize and honor the history of the downtown neighborhood known as Little Syria. The winner, French-Moroccan-artist, Sara Ouhaddou, was announced and moving forward with her installations, she has given us a glimpse of what will grace Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza, using Arabic calligraphy in asphalt and stone.
Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza, which will pay tribute to the Little Syria community, will also provide a pedestrian link from the 911 Memorial to Battery Park. It must also be noted that the Park’s namesake, Elizabeth Berger, who lived and worked in Lower Manhattan, was president of the Downtown Alliance for thirty years
In 2017, the New York City Department of Records held the exhibit, Little Syria: An Immigrant Community’s Life and Legacy at Metropolitan College of New York. Below are a few images from that exhibition, which was a pictorial timeline of the thriving community that existed from the 1880s to the 1940s.
The mostly Christian Syrian/Lebanese immigrants settled in the Lower West Side. Educated and multilingual, it became a hub for writers, poets, newspaper editors, essayists, and novelists of Arab descent, and it is where the Pen League was formed.
The new park will feature a contoured lawn; raised berms; seating and open space; paved pathways; and new plantings. The project will also revise traffic engineering and road design, with new ADA compliant crosswalks, traffic signals, and curbs.
Take a look at this wonderful YouTube video, How We Remember, on the history of Little Syria on Washington Street (below).
The new Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza Park will transform the area into a “village green,” dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth Berger, who initiated the planning for this project. Berger, the former president and C.E.O. of the Alliance for Downtown New York, was a champion of Lower Manhattan where she lived and worked for 30 years.
The $6.6 million project was funded by a $3.5 million allocation from Mayor Bill de Blasio, $300,000 from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and $2.8 million from the New York City Council. A date not yet set for the unveiling of Ouhaddou’s site-specific artwork. The project hopes to attract further funding.
Descendants of the original group of immigrants in Little Syria can still be found in this neighborhood today. Three remaining structures still stand and tours of this historic area are given by the Washington Street Historical Society.
Check out “Memory of a Stranger: The Story of the Syrian Quarter and the Pen League Writers” on Soundcloud.