Valentín Aguirre was one of the thirteen Basque men who founded the Centro Vasco Americano in 1913, with its roots first established at 48 Cherry Street in the city’s oldest Spanish enclave by the Manhattan piers of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Born in the Spanish province of Vizcaya in 1871, Valentín Aguirre would later become known as one of the most influential Basques of his time. For most of his early life, Valentín worked on ships in Northern Spain before settling down in New York City in 1895. Through the myriad of tests and inspections for immigration, he met his future wife, Benita Orbe, who was also a Basque immigrant. Together, they married in 1971 and eventually opened a boarding house on Cherry Street in the early 1900s before moving the business to 82 Bank Street. At this new address, Aguirre and Orbe successfully ran their boarding house establishment which came to be known as the Santa Lucía Hotel with the inclusions of a restaurant named “Jai Alai”. In addition to their lodging, they also provided other services such as their travel and employment agency to aid Basque immigrants in their travels. For many decades, Valentín and his wife assisted thousands of Basques in their immigration through Ellis Island. One of his many sons would often wait on the nearby docks of the city to greet new immigrants arriving on passenger ships, and provide accommodations until they made further plans to reach their final destinations – some of which included states as far west as California and Nevada. Others were captivated by the thrill and energy of the city, and decided to stay and settle in New York. Nonetheless, many immigrants still recall the heartfelt goodbye when leaving the Santa Lucía Hotel – received by a large basket of food with breads and customized snacks carefully chosen to the tastes of Benita Orbe Aguirre.
A pillar of the Basque/Spanish community until his death in 1953, Aguirre developed a vast nationwide network of contacts, and used it to help hundreds of fellow Basque immigrants find work out west (California, Idaho, Nevada, Montana), often as shepherds. His name and address appear with regularity on the Ellis Island documents, as immigrants would know to list him and his boarding house as their destination in the States. Following his death, Benita later passed away in 1970 at the age of 99. They are both survived by six of their ten children that continue to live in the New York Counties.