Program Recap: The Origins of Little Spain and The Whitney Museum
GVSHP presents free public programs all year long, at various venues throughout the East Village, West Village and everywhere in between. Our past two programs were particularly amazing, and got an especially enthusiastic reception from program participants.
On Wednesday, May 20th we visited the Spanish Benevolent Society (founded in 1868) on West 14th Street near 8th Avenue. Rob Sanfiz, Executive Director of the Society, presented a talk and slideshow that detailed the history of the Spanish immigrant community that settled in this neighborhood, particularly during the 1930s and 1940s, to escape war in Europe and fascism in Spain.
Rob talked about the community that gave this area its nickname, “Little Spain,” and the history of the Spanish Benevolent Society as a social center and a resource for immigrants to assist with housing, education, medical needs, and immigration issues.
Many people told me they were completely unaware that there had been a small but significant community of Spaniards in this part of the West Village. Rob also talked about the building, some of the restoration work that has been done there, and some plans for the future, including a make-over of the ground floor restaurant, La Nacional.
Last week, on Thursday, May 28, at the Hudson Park Library on Leroy Street, author and art historian Avis Berman presented a program on the history of the original Whitney Museum and its founders, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Juliana Force.
The Whitney Museum of American Art has been in the news a lot lately, due to the opening of its new location at 99 Gansevoort Street, where the High Line begins. Since 1966, the Whitney was located on Madison Avenue at 74th Street, in a building designed by Marcel Breuer. What many did not realize, however, is that the Whitney has its roots in the heart of Greenwich Village. Mrs. Whitney and Mrs. Force opened the first Whitney Museum of American Art on West 8th Street. Today the building is the New York Studio School. Welcome back to the Village, Whitney Museum!
I was astounded to learn that Mrs. Whitney, an artist herself, and patron of other artists, offered her personal collection of over 500 works, along with an endowment, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1929, only to have the offer refused. It was then that she and Mrs. Force created their own museum.