Nueva York When La Prensa was founded as a weekly in lower Manhattan in 1913, its location was not a coincidence. There was a large Spanish-speaking community surrounding the offices on 87 Broad St.
As Puerto Rican activist Joaquín Colónwho came to the city in 1917wrote in his memoirs, the majority were Spaniards: “There were importers of oil, olives, cod cheeks, wines and other Spanish products. Spanish sailors and construction workers also lived in that Cherry Street neighborhood.”
One of the stores in the area was Joseph Victori & Co. (163 Pearl St.), which advertised “Spanish, Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican groceries” in La Prensa. The company was founded in 1910 and is still in operation as a wine distributor.
However, Manhattan’s Latino community was establishing itself mainly in two areas farther north: In Chelsea, between 23rd and 14th streets, where the so-called Little Spain developed in the late 19th century; and around East 116th Street, which was starting to be known as El Barrio. On Park Avenue, an improvised marketplace selling food products developed, but it wasn’t until 1936 that La Marqueta was formally founded.
Joaquín Colón referred to a significant Puerto Rican community in Brooklyn, “on Hamilton Avenue near President, Sackett, Union, Degraw, Van Brunt, Carroll streets,” next to the docks where the New York-Porto Rico Line’s ships docked, on Pier 35. Puerto Ricans, Colón explained, “don’t go very far from the port where they disembark […] so they can stay in touch with their country of origin more easily.”
According to another Puerto Rican writer, Bernardo Vega, at that time the main job for his countrymen and other Spanish-speaking groups, like the Cubans, was as cigar makers. Other businesses Puerto Ricans owned were guesthouses and later on, barbershops. Erasmo Lasalle, “who was a great singer, and the first man to record Puerto Rican music,” worked in one of them.
In 1913, there were two churches in Manhattan that offered religious services in Spanish, both of which are still in operation.
The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe (229 W. 14th St.) was founded in 1902. According to an ad in La Prensa, it offered four masses on Sunday and three on weekdays, and daily at 9 p.m.: “rosary, visit to the Blessed Sacrament and on Tuesdays, devotion in honor of St. Rita.”
Our Lady of Hope (156 West Street) was built in 1909 under the auspices of philanthropist Archer Milton Huntingtonwho in 1904 established the renowned Hispanic Society art collection on the same block. An ad in La Prensa shows that the church offered three masses on Sundays and two on weekdays. “On Tuesdays, devotion in honor of St. Anthony of Padua; the Rosary is prayed every night.”
According to ads from that time, during the 1910s, customers could find books, magazines and newspapers in Spanish at stores like Brentano’s (Fifth Avenue and 27th Street), Librería Moderna Española-Americana, (125 E.126th St.) and Compañía Hispano-Americana (156 W. 14th St.).
During that decade, what would become an active Hispanic theater scene began to develop in elegant theaters that still exist. Among them was the Cort Theatre, which featured the Spanish Opera Co., and the famous Apollo Theater on 125th Street, which presented zarzuelas.