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The early days of Little Syria, back when Boston had a Little Syria

Richard Auffrey, who has been chronicling the history of Chinatown, turns his attention to the neighboring Little Syria, where thousands of Syrian immigrants once lived. If you haven't heard of it, it's because the tiny neighborhood was demolished to make way for the Southeast Expressway, in particular, the ramp down into Chinatown.

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Comments

Highways are the worst

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The long shuttered Sahara restaurant in the former Evangelical church on the corner of Waltham Street and Shawmut Ave in the South End is one of the last vestiges of this community. The owner has been in prison for years, over tax evasion or something like that, and the property has sat mothballed ever since.

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The original owner was 'old school' south end - hang onto property no matter what. Once he passed the property went to the family, who has been arguing about its disposition since then.

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I'm trying to figure out which blocks were demolished for the highway. Oxford Street and Oliver Place/Ping On Alley are still there. So are Hudson, Beach, Albany, Kneeland, Tyler, and Edinburgh Streets, though some buildings might have been demolished in places.

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Perhaps call it the 'first' little Syria? I can only assume that the highway construction is what got the neighborhood to move to the Dover/Shawmut area of the South End, which became its own Syrian enclave. The Syrian market on Shawmut, and the Sahara restaurant sign are all that is left form those days. (Although I do have an elderly neighbor who remembers that community, and still misses the fruit/veggie market that was where Coppa is now.

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From conversations with longtime Chinatown residents, Little Syria used to include Tyler Street and Hudson Street below Kneeland, before half of Hudson Street was demolished during urban renewal, and there were also many residents in the New York Streets area that was there before all the highway ramps. Although they called it LIttle Syria, people say that it was heavily Lebanese.

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