When Murray Hill was “Little Armenia”

Little Syria, Little Hungary, the Jewish Quarter: Manhattan really used to be a collection of tight ethnic enclaves.

From the 1930s through the 1960s, Lexington Avenue below 34th Street was Little Armenia, a mostly forgotten neighborhood of immigrant rug merchants, grocers, and other small business owners.

“On First, Second, Third, and Lexington Avenues, a small Armenian community was established,” writes Paul Sagsoorian in the Armenian cultural magazine Ararat.

“An Armenian church was obtained in 1915. It was named Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral, after the patron saint of the Armenians.”

The cathedral is still there, on East 27th Street between Second and Third Avenues.

But few other traces of the old neighborhood remain. There’s Kalustyan’s grocery-turned-spice shop on 28th Street, a juncture now known as Curry Hill thanks to all the Indian restaurants and food stores there.

Huge, gold-domed St. Vartan Cathedral still draws a crowd at Second Avenue and 34th Street, and a park up the block on 35th Street bears the name of St. Vartan, the fifth century Armenian Christian martyr.

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17 Responses to “When Murray Hill was “Little Armenia””

  1. visualingual Says:

    I love learning this kind of history! There was an episode of “30 Rock” in which a character lived in a neighborhood called Little Chechnya, which I thought was an interesting nod to this kind of small-scale enthic phenomenon [although, OF COURSE it was a really scary ‘hood].

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I love that—I’m going to start telling people Little Chechnya is in the Bronx, and they have wonderful cafes and smoke shops…..

  3. Dave Says:

    The building that houses Kalustyans was also the home of U.S. president Chester A. Arthur. He was sworn in there in 1881 following the assasination of James Garfield.

  4. Seattle New Yorker Says:

    Thank you for this reminder!

    We used to enjoy going to a restaurant that I think was called “Balkan Armenian”, perhaps on E 27th or so between Lexington and 3rd? It was wonderful, and I’d forgotten about it until reading this post. I’m pretty sure I went there until the late 70’s at least.

    Hmmm, a little googling finds a postcard which says it was at 129 E. 27th.

    There was another Armenian church for a while at 207 E 30th, which later was turned into CBS’ legendary 30th St. Studio. It was knocked down in 1983 or so.

    Yes, almost all of that culture is now gone from the neighborhood.

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    Interesting, thanks! Instead of Balkan Armenian, today there’s a bunch of cheap but tasty Indian restaurants.

  6. Diane Says:

    Just stumbled upon this article and response from Seattle New Yorker. Balkan Armenian Restaurant was my grandfather’s restaurant. Glad you enjoyed it! He was a wonderful chef!

    • gray gardener Says:

      Help. There was an Armenian restaurant on Lexington. It was on the west side of the street,You had to step two steps down. I could never duplicate their lentil soup or roasted potatoes. I’ve tried recipes on Armenian websites, but they are not the same. Help.

    • Bonnie Says:

      Diane, my mother’s mother was a Berberian and was closely related to your family. I’m not sure if she was a sister or cousin to Ed senior. When I went to the Balkan Armenian in the 70s, Louise and Eddie junior remembered her and we established the relationship then. But I’ve forgotten the details. Anyway, I miss the restaurant! Had many a great meal there.

    • Bonnie Says:

      Diane, my grandmother was a Berberian and was related to your family. Either a sister or a cousin to Ed senior, I think. I used to go to the Balkan Armenian in the 70s and Louise and Eddie junior remembered her and established the correct relationship. Alas, I’ve forgotten the details all these years later. Anyway, it was a great restaurant and I miss it.

    • Bonnie Says:

      sorry for the duplicate replies. my computer froze and I thought the first one hadn’t posted.

    • Sylvia Freund Says:

      The summer of 1966, 50 college students from around the US moved into the NYU Medical School dorm and worked in settlement houses, etc. throughout New York. The Balkan Armenian was very close to us and 3-4 of us made it our “escape” from dorm food. We would arrive, they would take us to a table and we would ask what we should eat? We were NEVER disappointed…the food, even if we didn’t know what we were eating…was always fantastic! And the warm attention of those running the restaurant was very special. I am also from Seattle…which I thought was interesting per this blog…and I searched, but never found a substitute for the Balkan Armenian. I often told my family about it and decided to look online to see if I could find anything about it today? I see I am not alone in loving my memories of the restaurant.

  7. A row of trees in Union Square mark a genocide | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] New York’s “Little Armenia” community was centered not too far away in the upper 20s at Lexington Avenue. […]

  8. A new president is sworn in on Lexington Avenue | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] 1944, 123 Lexington has been occupied by Kalustyan’s, the Indian food store in the neighborhood once called Little Armenia and now known as Curry […]

  9. A New Yorker in “Little Syria” tells his story | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] a vibrant enclave along Washington Street near the Battery where thousands of Syrian Christians, Armenians, Greeks, and others from Middle Eastern and Mediterranean communities lived in tenements and […]

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