Downtown Community House

New York City, United States

Downtown Community House

The Downtown Community House at 105-107 Washington Street is a six-story, five-bay red brick building that is among the last vestiges of the Lower West Side of Manhattan's former life as an ethnic neighborhood known as “Little Syria.” From the time of its establishment, the Bowling Green Neighborhood Association, housed in the Downtown Community House beginning in 1926, was a pioneering organization that served the local immigrant population as a settlement house and continued to provide services for the area well after the community house became defunct. Built in 1925 with philanthropic funds from William H. Childs, the founder of the Bon Ami household cleaner company, the Downtown Community House was designed by John F. Jackson, architect of over 70 Y.M.C.A. buildings and community centers, and through its Colonial Revival style speaks to an underlying desire for the neighborhood's immigrant population to become Americanized and associate themselves with the country's foundations. In recent years, a collection of historic preservationists and Arab-American activists have lobbied the Landmarks Preservation Commission and its Chairman Robert Tierney to designate the building as a city landmark.

The community house located at 105-107 Washington Street was completed in 1926; prior to its construction, the lot was separated in two, with two early residential buildings (as Kate Reggev has speculated, perhaps a single-family house with both front and rear buildings) constructed sometime prior to 1822. One of 107 Washington Street's early residents was Samuel Healy, a money broker, who had an office nearby on Greenwich Street. By the 1860s, both tenements were boarding houses used by Irish immigrants and sailors from the nearby piers, and No. 105 had a saloon on the ground floor. The area, because of its proximity to the wharves, was often recorded as the scene of fights, shootings, and other crimes; an inspection of No. 105 Washington Street in 1894 described it as a “five-story front and four-story rear tenement... The Inspector found the houses to be dirty, poorly ventilated, and the stairways considerably worn.” By 1896, both structures were condemned by the Board of Health, and the tenements were vacated until 1897 when they were remodeled and considered fit for human habitation. Residents, including recently arrived Syrian immigrants, returned to the tenements and the storefronts continued to be occupied to serve the local community – the ground floor of 107 Washington Street had an Italian restaurant called Ferrintino Signorgro's in 1908. In 1920, the two tenements were purchased by a realty corporation from Mrs. Schroen of Reno, Nevada, who had the property in her family for over fifty years. In 1925, the property was purchased for the construction of the Downtown Community House to contain the Bowling Green Neighborhood Association.

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