While no longer operating as a church, St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church is representative of an important and often overlooked part of New York City’s immigrant history.
Originally built circa 1812 as a three-story warehouse or boarding house, by 1850 it was being used to house immigrants flooding into the city from the other side of the Atlantic. When Syrian immigrants began populating the sub-area within today’s Financial District in the 1880s, it is thought that this building became one of the hearts of Syria’s new immigrant community in America.
Little more is known until 1925, when a record showing the purchase of the building by one George Bardwil. Being a successful textiles importer and Christian Syrian immigrant himself, Bardwil sought to convert the space into a church for the Syrian Melkite community. In doing so, Bardwil was able to finally provide a permanent location for the Melkite Church to serve the Syrian and Lebanese Christian community that had existed in the city without a permanent house of worship since the 1880s. In 1929, Harvey Cassab, a Lebanese-American draftsmen, was hired to redecorate the facade, resulting in the Neo-Gothic exterior the building still features today.
Through its days as a church are over, it is one of the few structures remaining from the Syrian and Lebanese colony that existed in lower Manhattan until the 1940s, extending along Washington Street. The rest of the community, which once housed some 2,500 individuals, was largely demolished to make way for the Battery Tunnel. The majority of the community relocated to near Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, while Bardwil’s church underwent a few reincarnations – including, briefly, that of an Irish pub.
Currently owned by private investors, the local government refused to let such valuable history be lost forever; in 2009, St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church was designated an official New York City Landmark.
St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church is now home to St. George Tavern.