In the autumn of 1868, a small group of Spaniards gathered at the modest storefront at 151 Bowery Street in Manhattan to create the Centro Español- Spanish Benevolent Society. The founders, who came from different parts of Spain, wanted to establish a social center where all Spanish immigrants could find the support that they needed from compatriot residents in New York. Since then, other social clubs have surged with the growth of Spanish immigration, but only the Centro Español continues to promote the fraternity between all Spaniards in Manhattan.
Many Spanish immigrants disembarked in New York docks during the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries. And the Society became the focal point for Spaniards who needed to find housing, employment and health care. Today, in spite of the decrease in Spanish immigration, the center continues to maintain the legacy of its founders by hosting art exhibits, folkloric dances, music concerts, book and film presentations, lectures, food and wine tastings, and other events that maintain the culture and history of Spain and its expatriates in New York.
Located on 14th Street, between the Seventh and Eighth Avenues, the Centro is the last vestige of one the largest Spanish enclaves in New York that was affectionately referred to as Little Spain. This colony extended from Christopher Street to 23rd Street, along the Hudson River, and included more than 15,000 Spaniards, and their Spanish-American children and grandchildren. Restaurants like La Bilbaina, clothing stores like La Iberia, and Spanish importing shops like Casa Moneo supplied all the Spaniards of the city. The colony also included one of the oldest Spanish parishes in New York, known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, which cosponsored with the Centro a street festival in honor of the patron saint of Spain – St. James the Apostle.
Today, the Centro Español continues to satisfy the nostalgia of all those Spaniards who maintain a strong connection with Spain, and it complements the cultural missions of other Spanish immigrant organizations like Círculo Español, and important cultural institutions like the King Juan Carlos I Center at New York University, the Instituto Cervantes, and the Consulate of Spain in New York. The center participates in important events like the Hispanic Pride Parade in October, and intends to re-establish cultural celebrations like the street festival for St. James the Apostle in New York. The Society not only brings together all Spaniards, but also other Spanish and English speakers who share the same enthusiasm and confraternity for Spain.