Long-Awaited Monument to Little Syria Moving Forward in Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza





A Memorial to the Poets of the Syrian Colony to take shape in Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza. Image rendering courtesy WSHS.

After years of planning and delays, the tiny triangular Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza, unveiled its artist renderings for the’ Poets in the Park Monument‘ ~ memorializing the literary heritage of the Mahjar writers in a place that lies adjacent to the former Syrian Quarter near Washington Street in Lower Manhattan.

Although major funding for the project is already in place, the City of New York requires that they raise about $200,000 for a conservation endowment, which will ensure that the artwork is regularly cleaned, mosaic tiles replaced, and any damage repaired—to conserve its beauty in perpetuity. Consider a tax-deductible donation today.

“This art installation represents a unique accomplishment for our community: as far as we know, it is the only monument to Arabs on public land in the United States, it will remain in place in perpetuity, and it will be located only steps away from the original neighborhood on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. Thousands of New Yorkers and visitors will see it every day.”….. Linda K. Jacobs, PhD, President of the Board, Washington Street Historical Society.

A long time in the making, the project began in 2011 when members of the Washington Street Historical Society (WSHS) advocated for a monument to the literary heritage of the Syrian community.

Renderings of art installation by artist Sara Ouhaddou. Image courtesy WSHS.

WSHS and New York City, Department of Cultural Affairs ‘Percent for Art program‘ put out a call for artists from around the world. In 2016, the process included almost 50 artists. That number was reduced to 5 finalists and in January, 2017, the winning artist and proposal was announced ~ French-Morroccan artist Sara Ouhaddou. Her permanent art installation will memorialize and represent the Mahjar poets and writers of that first migration from Lebanon and Syria. Members of The Pen Bond, like Kahlil Gibran, Amen Rihani, Lliya Abu Madi, and Mikhail Niameh would be honored just steps away from where they first lived in this Country.

Renderings of art installation by artist Sara Ouhaddou. Image courtesy WSHS.

About the artist: Sara Ouhaddou’s dual culture informs her artistic practice as a continuous dialogue, addressing the rewriting of Arab identities within the modern context. “Commemorating a large set of dynamic poets and writers is a challenge, although a worthy one, to assess the essential themes involved and propose how to express them visually. Arabic calligraphy may represent the most universal common denominator for these ideas and expressions. The literary movement begins and ends with ‘the word’, ‘al-Kalimah’,” reflects Ouahaddou. “New York city is an International city; I think being in a public space is the place for sharing a universal language using a sensitive language.”

Renderings of art installation by artist Sara Ouhaddou. Image courtesy WSHS.

Learn more about the monument, its concept and design Here.

Take a look back at the exhibition, Little Syria: an Immigrant Community’s Life and Legacy held by the New York City Department of Records in 2017 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.

Exhibit, Little Syria, New York from 1880-1940




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.

Historic Little Syria


Take a look at this wonderful YouTube video, How We Remember, on the history of Little Syria on Washington Street (below).

The New York Public Library, 2015, ‘Remembering Manhattan’s Little Syria

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.

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. Follow the Washington Street Historical Society on Instagram.

Check out “Memory of a Stranger: The Story of the Syrian Quarter and the Pen League Writers” on Soundcloud.

Elizabeth H. Berger Plaza is a green space bounded by Greenwich Street to the west, Edgar Street to the north, and Trinity Place to the east. The newly rebuilt Park has been completed and is now open to the public.

We await an ETA on the installation of The Poets Memorial. Stay tuned.

While we wait, read about recent milestone for Al Qalam: Poets in the Park, an upcoming public art installation paying homage to the first Arabic-speaking community in the U.S.

Here’s  how you can support the project ~ Visit the WSHSNYC website and contribute to the installation of the monument.