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Celebrating Hispanic Culture in the Heart of the Old Little Spain

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which takes place each year from September 15th to October 15th, we wanted to highlight an institution in our neighborhood that has dedicated itself to the promotion of Spanish culture for nearly 150 years.

The Spanish Benevolent Society (now more commonly known as Centro Español-La Nacional) was founded as a social club in 1868 and has long operated in the transitional style row house at 239 West 14th Street. It’s one of the last vestiges of the cultural district formerly known as “Little Spain”, which was located on this stretch of 14th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Source: centroespanol-lanacional.org

According to the Society’s website, more than 15,000 Spaniards and their American-born children and grandchildren lived in an area that once extended from Christopher Street to 23rd Street along the Hudson River. Although the majority of this Spanish population has since left the area, the Society strives to maintain an appreciation for Spanish culture.

Since the beginning, the mission of the Spanish Benevolent Society has been to “promote, encourage and spread the spirit of fraternity and solidarity among Spanish and Hispanic-American residents of this country.” This was especially important in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when Spanish immigrants arrived in New York.

The website goes on to read that the Society “has served as a meeting ground for political dissidents and revolutionaries, avant-garde poets and artists – including the groundbreaking director Luis Buñuel and the modernist poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who wrote sections of his famous anthology “Poet in New York” during his stay at the Society. It is even said that Picasso stopped in for a taste of home.”

Although the Spanish population has dwindled in this area over the last century, the center still focuses on the preservation and education of Spanish culture. Anyone is welcome to stop by and eat at their tapas bar and restaurant, La Nacional, as well as take classes in Spanish language, music and dance.

A sampling of the food from La Nacional. Courtesy of the society’s website (click for source).

One of the great things about working at GVSHP is hearing stories from people who experienced our neighborhoods firsthand. This past summer, an elderly woman contacted us about her memories growing up on nearby Perry Street in the 1930s and walking with her family to Casa Galicia, which was located in Little Spain. We were unable to track down the exact location of Casa Galicia (which is now located in Astoria, Queens), but we did find New York Times articles that mention plays that were performed at the Society’s “Spanish Theatre” around that time (see news clipping below).

While we can’t be sure, we think the Casa Galicia she was speaking of may have been located here. If you know more about this, please share with us in the comments!

She recalls attending this social club every weekend as a child; with her family, she sat in the balcony to see shows in the afternoon and have dinners in the evening. (Although this building does not look large enough to have a balcony inside, we wonder if perhaps she and her family were seated in a smaller mezzanine.) The money collected from these events went to support Spanish Loyalists who were fighting against General Franco during the Spanish Civil War; the woman still has kerchiefs that were sold at these fundraisers.

April 11, 1929. Source: The New York Times (accessed through Proquest).

Hearing stories from people who experienced Greenwich Village firsthand always enriches the buildings we fight so hard to protect. If you have a story you’d like to share, whether it took place in the Village, East Village, or NoHo, we would love to hear from you! Please share your stories through GVSHP’s Virtual Memory Book.

7 responses to “Celebrating Hispanic Culture in the Heart of the Old Little Spain

  1. In 1970, Unity Gallega, also known as Casa Galicia of New York, purchased the site and remains the current owner of the property. Unity Gallega/Casa Galicia is a cultural organization representing people from Galicia, Spain in promoting and preserving their cultural ties

    119-125 East 11th Street, Manhattan, New York City

    this is the Casa Galicia were I went every weekend from the 70’s also had my wedding there, great family place.

  2. My parents and I immigrated fron Galicia, Spain to New York in the early 1950’s.

    The Spanish Benevolent Society was the official name of this organization,however, members very often referred to it as La Nacional or very often as Casa Galicia.

    I am quite sure the elderly lady who referred to going to Casa Galicia as a child was, in fact,referring to one and the same place on 14th street.

    There was no balcony, but on the second floor there was a small stage where amateur typical dances, mainly from Galicia, were performed by the children of the members of the Nacional(casa Galicia).

    There were also dinner dances on this second floor for members. I remember celebrating New Years Eve with dinner and dancing.

    I met my Gallego future husband at one of those diner dances when he, very politely, asked my parents if they would allow him to dance with me!

    As a little girl I also went shopping to nearby Casa Moneo to buy salted cod fish, chorrizos, turron and membrillo imported from Spain.

    We did not live near 14h street. We lived on second avenue between 48th and 49th street.
    We were very poor immigants, but in those years there were still rent control buildings mixed in with luxury buildings. My parents had not gone past the 5th grade, but worked extremely hard and ery long hours at menial jobs doing whatever it took to make a living. They ere frugal, worked and saved and some years later my fsther became part owner in a grocery/butcher shop on 14th street called La Ideal.

    With the exception of three other families from Spain, we lived in a completely American neighborhood.

    I went to a public grade school on 53rd street(PS 13?) where I learned to speak English within less than one year by reading the Dick and Jane books and with the patience of Mrs. Harriman who also taught me how to tell time!

    I was absolutely the only Spanish speaking or foreign student in the whole school! Absolutely no one in the whole school spoke a single word of Spanish. Extremely difficult for a seven year old.

    Recently read that the school building was listed as an historic building. It is no longer a school, but an apartment building. Saw a recent photo and the outside looks exactly as I remember it.

    Hope my information helps you to know a little more about Little Spain and it’s immigants.

  3. I was Queen of la National in 1958 my name is Josephine Torrente. Casa Galicia was first right across from La National 1n 1959, then a few years later moved to Astoria

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