Friday, June 21 2024

Ilias Katsos: The restart of construction of the St. Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center

By Ilias Katsos

Finally “the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end”. The restart of construction of the St. Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center. 

Although recently preliminary construction had started I had suggested to the Friends of St. Nicholas and the Archbishop that the start of construction ceremony be held when the Skylight installation on the Church’s Dome begins and significant. That date and the start of construction and the prayer ceremony to be conducted by Archbishop Elpidophoros in St. Nicholas National Shrine will be this Monday, August 3, 2020 at 11:00 AM.. Only a few people by invitation will be allowed into the Church, due to its size and the Coronavirus protocols, and a limited number in a seating area outside.

Archbishop Elpidophoros will conduct the ceremony and various dignitaries will be in attendance including the Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo. The setting of the Skylights on the Dome by crane is an outdoor occurrence. As such for those that can make it I would encourage you to come on that day and time and witness a truly historic event and a restart long awaited by many. A good location for viewing would be the park next to the St. Nicholas National Shrine at 130 Liberty Street. Stay safe, wear masks and social distance.

In terms of the history of the area very few people know it including New Yorkers, or even Hellenic American New Yorkers relating to their own history. In the past (late 19 Cen./ early 20th Cen.) the area was known as Little Syria since there were many both Orthodox and Catholic Lebanese Christians (Lebanon was then part of Greater Syria and under the Ottoman Empire). There were as well many Hellenes including my grandfather Hlias (born 1871) and his younger brothers Demosthenes and Antonis, who came in 1897. There were also many other ancestor relatives and friends there from the Epanou Riza villages of Laconia (Georgitsi, Alevrou, Kastania, etc.) some having come into the area through Castle Clinton nearby before Ellis Island was opened (1892).

Both the Lebanese and Hellenes were small shop owners and push cart vendors, the Lebanese dealing in the “rag trade”, Hellenes in the food, fruit and vegetable trade. There was no St. Nicholas at the time (founded about 1916) and the Orthodox and Hellenes, Lebanese, and others attended services together in the area. In 1897 what is now the Holy Trinity Archdiocesan Cathedral in upper Manhattan conducted services in a storefront on Greenwich St. nearby. The first Hellenic Independence Day parades were started there in 1894 and Hellenes would march from the lower Westside down Broadway to New York’s City Hall where the Hellenic flag was raised by the then Mayor of New York in celebration. In 1898 in February was the most significant and famous (now forgotten) immigration raid of “Hellenic Thugs” pushcart vendors described in the newspapers (New York Times, etc.) as among the roughest looking thugs,etc. ever encountered (laughable) by the police in Hellenic American history.

It related to ancestor family relatives (and friends) from the Epanou Riza villages, and probably including my grandfather and surnames very familiar to those from the villages of the area. This lower Westside Manhattan area being located where immigrants would land from Ellis Island was an ethnically mixed mixed area and Broadway separated it from the wealthy , on Wall St., etc., on the other side of the street. On the other side of Broadway at the then famous Delmonico rich Hellenic merchant family members who started to come into the U.S. in the 1840’s, and who lived in other areas, would dine.

The Little Syria area as it was then was demolished with the start of the preparatory work for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Although the Hellenic “pushakarades”/ pushcart vendors didn’t leave until the early 1960’s (due to similar 1898 raid circumstances) the Hellenes forced out from there and the lower Eastside (due to federal housing projects) were the Hellenes who migrated to Astoria and helped form later the largest Hellenic American population in New York. I will continue another time on the rich history of the area, and part of our Hellenic American history not frequently mentioned nor known by most.