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Basque & Bank

82 Bank Street in 2011. Photo by Juan Salas.

October 25 is the Day of the Basque Country, the national holiday of the Basque Autonomous Community.  But did you know that 82 Bank Street was once a major hub for the Basque community in NYC?

Valentín Aguirre was a pillar of the Basque community in America until his death his death in 1953.  Arriving in the United States in 1895, Aguirre originally settled into the Basque/Spanish community located on Cherry Street near the Manhattan Piers of the Brooklyn Bridge, where he ran a boarding house in the early 1900’s. He eventually moved his boarding house to 82 Bank Street, where it became the Santa Lucía Hotel (sometimes called Casa Vizcaína), and also a restaurant called “Jai Alai.” In addition to being a boarding house, the Santa Lucía also served as a travel and employment agency for the Basque community. Many Basques also attended Catholic mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe, where there was a Basque priest and couples were married at the church.

Valentín Aguirre. Photo courtesy of the New York Basque Club.

By 1913, Aguirre (along with others) had helped form the Central Vasco-Americano Sociedad de Beneficiencia y Recreo, the first Basque Center of the United States. It is estimated that several thousand Basque immigrants stayed at the hotel and benefited from the Aguirres’ care and assistance in continuing on their journey to other parts of the country. Today, Aguirre’s history and impact is known throughout the Basque community in America and can be found through Basque social groups, such as the New York Basque Club. As for Agguire’s lasting impact on the Village, the 1969  Greenwich Village Cookbook, by Vivian Kramer (400 recipes from 75 of the Village’s leading restaurants) features a recipe for one of the specialties served at Valentín Aguirre’s Jai Alai: Sopa de Ajo con Huevos – Garlic Soup with Eggs.

While today there is no active Basque community in the Village, there are still some enclaves of Basque/Spanish heritage in and around our neighborhood.  Recently, GVSHP released an oral history with Robert Sanfiz, the Executive Director of La Nacional since 2008. La Nacional is the 150-year-old Spanish Benevolent Society located on West 14th Street, which represents and historically advocated for the “Little Spain” community that stretched from Christopher to 23rd Street along the west side, once the largest Spanish-American community in New York City.

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