Nestled between the new W Hotel and an abandoned lot a few blocks south of the World Trade Center, a Neo-gothic building at 103 Greenwich Street has a history as incongruous as its architecture. Now an Irish pub, the building began as the home of Dutch immigrant Ryneer Suydam and his family in 1799. It was originally constructed in the Federal style, a nondescript testament to the standard housing style at the time (red Flemish bonded brick, 3.5 stories, a pitched roof and dormer windows).
By 1852 it operated as an immigrant boarding house and a police report in 1859 described 103 Washington as a “German dance-house.” According to Irving Lewis Allen in The City in Slang, dance houses were notorious places that particularly catered to seamen; patrons were required [sic] to order drinks for themselves and their dance partners after each dance. Some of the women were candidly prostitutes and made business arrangements while waltzing.”
The original building began its outward physical transformation when its roof and dormer windows were removed to accommodate two additional floors in 1921. It then housed about 12 small mostly German and Irish families. In the early 18th century an explosion of Christian Syrian immigration led to the development of the Syrian Quarter along Washington Street south of the present World Trade Centre site. The tenement was purchased in 1920 and converted into a church for the community. The bottom two floors were transformed into a simple church, and the top two remained tenement housing.
By 1930 this odd little half church-half apartment building was fully converted into a Catholic church. An elaborate Neo-gothic terracotta facade was added, which still exists today. In an attempt to be formally accepted by the Catholic Church of America, the architect abandoned the architectural style of the Byzantine Empire. However, the result looks neither Byzantine nor Gothic, and has the distinction of being truly unique. A light colored facade and a luminous depiction of St. George in his armour are visually unlike anything else on the street. In the 1950s, the Syrian community began to leave the area and the church was relocated (but only to return to 103 Washington in the 1970s). The church was vacated again in 1977, and the once single family home-turned tenement-turned dance house-turned church became Moran’s, an Irish pub and apartment above. The pub is also the recipient of a James Joyce Irish Pub award!
Other places of note nearby: Trinity Church, where Robert Fulton and Alexander Hamilton are buried, Wall Street and Battery Park. For more information on the development of this area, check out the Greenwich South campaign by the Downtown Alliance.
How to Get There: 1/R/W to Rector Street, 4/5 to Wall Street
A guest post by Afzal Khaki, graduate student at Columbia University GSAPP. Photos by Christoffer Delsinger.