Atlantic Avenue, 1958. Brooklyn Historical Society collection.

Path Location: 5

A Crossroads of Immigration

Brooklyn has long been a gateway and refuge for immigrants. In the 19th century, Irish and Scandinavian families lived and worked on Brooklyn’s waterfront near present-day Brooklyn Bridge Park. By the following century, communities of Arab, Spanish, Italian, and Puerto Rican newcomers put down roots along the western end of Atlantic Avenue near Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park. The Brooklyn waterfront and New York harbor have served as sites of arrival, departure, and employment for many of these immigrants.

An Arab-American Community along Atlantic Avenue

Before it closed in 1933, the ferry line connecting Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn to South Ferry in Manhattan helped Arab-American families leave the crowded tenements of “Little Syria” in Lower Manhattan for new homes in Brooklyn. By the mid-1890s, a small but growing community of Syrian- and Lebanese-Americans was settling on and around Atlantic Avenue.

By 1900, 102 immigrants from the Ottoman Empire, most of them Syrians and Lebanese, were living in Brooklyn’s “South Ferry”# district, where they opened stores and churches (most were Christians). In 1914, they established their own newspaper, the Syrian Daily Eagle, at 181 Atlantic Avenue. By 1923, Al-Bayan, launched at 391 Fulton Street, was the only Muslim newspaper being published in America.

Subway Lines bring Growth

After 1920#, a new BMT subway line# between Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights accelerated the growth of Brooklyn’s Arab-American community and its ties to Little Syria in Manhattan.

In 1946, the construction of the new Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel led to the demolition of most of the Lower Manhattan neighborhood. A number of businesses originally located in Little Syria, including Sahadi’s food store, moved to Atlantic Avenue.

By midcentury, Atlantic Avenue was New York’s mecca for Arab residents and consumers. Over the next several decades, however, gentrification and the arrival of other immigrant communities spurred the movement of many Arab residents to neighborhoods like Park Slope and Bay Ridge.

Arriving and Working along the Waterfront

By the 1930s and 1940s, thriving Puerto Rican and Italian communities existed nearby in Cobble Hill and along Columbia Street. Millions of Italians had arrived and settled in New York since the late 19th century. By 1909, passenger vessels run by the New York & Porto Rico Steamship Company arrived weekly, docking in Brooklyn until 1928. Many immigrant men worked on the waterfront as longshoremen and sailors.

Spanish Restaurant Row

By the 1940s, a community of immigrants from Spain also lived along Atlantic Avenue between Furman and Henry Streets. Residents owned bars and restaurants that served seamen and longshoremen who worked on the piers nearby. Among these popular businesses were Veiro’s Bar, Gatica’s Restaurant (75 Atlantic Avenue), the Montero Bar and Grill (56 Atlantic Avenue and then 73 Atlantic Avenue), and the Long Island Restaurant (110 Atlantic Avenue). The latter two are still in business today.