Who is King Juan Carlos I of Spain?

Each December GVSHP teams up with students in the Introduction to Public History course in NYU’s Public History and Archives program for a unique event where students  present their semester-long research about the social history of a specific East Village street.  This year, in conjunction with GVSHP’s architectural resource survey of the East Village, the students, each of whom focused on a different block along East 3rd Street, will discuss how they went about their research and will present their findings on the social history of the neighborhood.  The presentations are held in the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center.  Recently, a GVSHP member asked me who this King is and why the space was named after him.  I didn’t know the answer, so, of course, I decided to research it.

snapshots of past events held at the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center at NYU

Juan Carlos I is the current King of Spain, a title he has held since 1975.  He is recognized around the world for transitioning Spain from a dictatorship to a parliamentary monarchy.  According to the New York Times, “The king is widely valued in business circles for acting as a sometime deal maker and economic ambassador for his nation.”  But how do these accomplishments tie into NYU?

L: King Juan Carlos and his wife, Queen Sophia (originally Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark); R: Michelle Obama meets King Juan Carlos during a trip to Spain with daughter Sasha

In the early 1980s, then-President of NYU John Brademas sought to intensify the school’s commitment to international education and exchange of information.  He saw that these areas were specifically lacking in relation to Spain and Latin American nations.  According to the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center’s website:

In 1983, Brademas began a campaign centered on increasing awareness of Spain and the Spanish-speaking world at NYU. His first step was to honor King Juan Carlos I of Spain for his courageous leadership and defense of democratic principles by awarding him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. He then established a professorship in the King’s name that went on to attract many of the world’s most eminent Hispanists. He also announced his intention to create a center dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of modern Spain and the Spanish-speaking world.

In April 1997, in the presence of distinguished figures from Spain, Latin America, and the U.S., including the King and Queen of Spain and then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center was inaugurated. It promised to be the most comprehensive university-based resource of its sort. Housed in Judson Hall, the Washington Square Park landmark building designed by Stanford White, the Center solidified NYU’s commitment to the study of Spain and Latin America. Unexpectedly, it also quickly became a major cultural resource for the city of New York, educating many in the community who might not be exposed to the rich cultures and history of Spain and Latin America.

L: view of Judson Memorial Church, the western portion of which houses the King Juan Carlos Center; R: the entrance to the Center

GVSHP feels very privileged to host events in this culturally significant space and we hope that you will join us for the upcoming program.  This year, students will present findings on East 3rd Street.  With a varied and colorful history reflected in its architecture, this Street could be considered a microcosm of the East Village itself. Religious institutions, community gardens, immigrant enclaves, public schools, and settlement houses are just some of the facets that make this street so rich in history. If you’re interested in attending, please visit our events page and RSVP now!

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Dana was GVSHP's Programs and Administrative Associate from 2010 to 2013.

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