A Brief History of Little Arabia

Little Arabia District is a cultural destination in Orange County, California, the center for Orange County’s Arab-American community. It is sometimes referred to as “Little Gaza” which was a play on the original designation of this area as the “Garza Island.”

According to the OC Weekly, prior to the arrival of Arab merchants and families, the section of West Anaheim was popularly known as the Gaza Strip because of an unincorporated area called Garza Island. “Rising from agricultural fields in the 1950s post-World War II building boom, the Gaza Strip hosted a collection of dive bars, restaurants, and mom-and-pop stores on the main streets, with tract housing and apartments in the neighborhoods giving it a distinctly working-class feel. The area’s most famous business is Linbrook Bowl, a legendary bowling alley that Huell Howser has profiled and whose Googie-style sign, complete with rotating pin, still lights up every night. “But by the 1980s, white flight left the Gaza Strip mostly abandoned or replaced with seedy businesses,” according to an OC Weekly 2012 cover story.

Little Arabia grew significantly in the 1990s with the arrival of immigrants from the Arab World, and is home to thousands of Arab-Americans predominantly hailing from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.  Local Arab American business leaders such as Ahmad Alam and Belal Dalati saw a mutual benefit in commercial real estate, they  began buying distressed homes, flip them and selling them to Arab immigrants. They also bought plazas, office buildings, and  recruited and encouraged merchants to start up new businesses in West Anaheim.

In 2004, more than 50 leaders gathered at Access California Services to brainstorm ideas to elevate the Arab American community in Anaheim. One of the ideas was to create an official designation of Little Arabia. Read here.

In 2010, local Arab American groups launched a social media campaign to build momentum around the idea of officially designating the area as “Little Arabia.” The coordinated campaign included a drive to contact city officials to express support for a designation alongside other outlined goals such as partnering with the city to improve signage and building facades.

Four years later, in 2014 a renewed push by community groups to advocate for an official designation of the district brought nationwide media coverage to Little Arabia, including in the Los Angeles Times, NPR, and Aljazeera America.  In addition, former Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait praised the businesses of Little Arabia during his 2014 State of the City address, an event held at the time by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. For the first time in the city’s history, the Mayor encouraged more than 600 attendees to visit the district and dine at authentic Arabic restaurants in Anaheim.

During the 2016 and 2018 Anaheim City Council candidate forums, the issue of Little Arabia designation was brought up. In 2016, every present candidate said they support the designation.

During the CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2019–2020 REGULAR SESSION, , State Senator Ling Ling Chang introduced the non-binding Senate Concurrent Resolution 71 (SCR-71) to support the designation of Little Arabia upon approval from the Anaheim City Council. 

The resolution proposed by Sen. Chang was never brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

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