“In the 1930s hotels serving Spaniards [in the area of Plattekill, southeast Ulster County] created the largest Latino resort in the East, which peaked in the 1960s with the arrival of Cubans and Puerto Ricans, but faded after the 1970s.” –Ruth Piwonka, “Plattekill,” The Encyclopedia of New York State.
Like other immigrant groups in New York in the early decades of the XXth century, during the summer months, Spaniards also looked for refuge from the extreme heat and insalubrious conditions of the city in those days before refrigeration and air-conditioning.
In the early- to mid-1920s, when the Spanish immigrant population was peaking and the Depression was yet to strike, a number of Spanish-owned hotels that catered to Spanish and Spanish-speaking clients begin to crop up in different nearby locations with milder summer climates. An article from La Prensa in 1922 talks about Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore as the favorite spot among the city’s Spanish speakers, and mentions the Strand Hotel, as well as an “excellent cabaret, the Wanamassa Garden, whose owner is a Spaniard, Mr. C. González” and which features daily ice-skating shows.
If some Spaniards sought relief from the sweltering heat of the city by fleeing south towards the beaches of Staten Island or New Jersey, others headed north, toward the cooler and dryer air of the Catskill Mountains. These two options appear in a July 4, 1923 ad in La Prensa, which advertises the Hotel Strand in Asbury Park, and two vacation spots in the heart of the Catskill Mountains.
The Crash of ’29 and ensuing Great Depression took its toll on hotels and resorts that had thrived during the roaring twenties. Many Spanish immigrants would have to seek out less expensive ways to cool off in the summer. Looking south: it was in 1929 that a group of Spaniards –probably anarchists– established a “Naturist Society” and founded a cooperative summer community –first with tents pitched on wooden platforms and later with modest bungalows– on the south shore of Staten Island. Looking north: in the 1930s a veritable archipelago of rural hotels, run by and for Spaniards, would sprout up extending from the foothills of the Catskills around Newburgh and Plattekill up into the highlands around Phoenecia (where, by 1922, Nadal’s hotel and the Glennbrook were already operating).
The number or rustic resorts and boarding houses in the foothills of the Catskills had in fact been been growing throughout the 1920s. The “Resort Guide” of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle for the summer of 1926 lists several vacation spots in the area of Plattekill: one of them is owned by a certain Alejandro Rodríguez, and is known as “Villa Rodríguez.”
The Depression most likely fostered the proliferation of these Catskill Villas in two ways. First, some Spaniards who had lost their jobs in the city almost certainly thought that a “return to the land” might stave off hunger for them and their families; after all, even though many of the Spanish immigrants had become semi-skilled and urban in New York, most of them had brought rural and agricultural backgrounds with them from Spain. They were familiar with animal husbandry, and with the cultivation of many of the same crops grown 100 miles north of New York along the mid-Hudson Valley: apples, potatoes, cabbage, grass for cows, etc.
The Depression also created a demand for inexpensive summer escapes for immigrant families still living in the sweltering city; in this way, small working farms, like the Villa Alonso, in Wallkill, New York, began renting out rooms to summer boarders from the city. The conditions were primitive no doubt –the descendants tell lots of “outhouse” stories– but the air was clean, the eggs were fresh, and the price was right. Most importantly, amidst the deprivations of the Depression, these Villas must have seemed to the Spanish boarders like miniature recreations of the sounds, smells and solidarity of the Spain they had left behind.
A little further north, on the road to Kingston, was the Rifton Hotel, in Rifton, New York: an elegant, full-scale resort, with almost 100 rooms, which was owned and operated by Alfredo Díaz and his wife Pilar, both natives of Sama de Langreo, Asturias. Their daughter Luz (Lucy) has written a lovely memoir of the Rifton.
Como todos los grupos de inmigrantes en Nueva York en las primeras décadas del siglo XX, durante los meses del verano, los españoles también buscaban refugio del calor insoportable y de la insalubridad general de la ciudad de Nueva York en aquellos tiempos antes de la refrigeración y del aire acondicionado.
En 1929, un grupo de españoles –anarquistas, probablemente– crearon una “Sociedad Naturista” y fundaron una comunidad veraniega –al principio de tiendas de campaña y barracones o “bungalows”– en las playas del sur de Staten Island.
Poco antes o durante la Gran Depresión, otros españoles se habían mudado a distintos pueblos del Valle del Hudson, a unas cien millas al norte de la ciudad, donde trabajaban como agricultores en la zona de Plattekill, entre Newburgh y Kingston. Con el tiempo, algunas de estas granjas regentadas por inmigrantes españoles empezaron a recibir a huéspedes temporales –compatriotas que huían del bochornoso verano neoyorquino– y algunas se irían convirtiendo en lo que hoy llamaríamos centros de turismo rural para la colonia. En el verano de 1929, Federico García Lorca visita a Angel del Río y a Federico de Onís, que veraneaban en sendas casas en esta misma zona del Valle del Hudson; visita plasmada en varios poemas de Poeta en Nueva York. Villa Alonso, en Walkill New York, era una pequeña granja de los inmigrantes Angel Alonso y Consuelo Suárez (asturianos los dos), que alquilaban habitaciones a visitantes de la ciudad. El Hotel Rifton, establecido por Alfredo Díaz y Pilar Montes (también asturianos) contaba con casi cien habitaciones para huéspedes, y un pequeño lago con barquitos de remo. Las fotografías de grupos en estos lugares de nostalgia y hospitalidad en los “Spanish Catskills” evocan las texturas y los vínculos de la colonia, en vísperas de su disolución; ya que tras la Guerra Civil Española, y la Segunda Guerra Mundial, y las nuevas realidades de Estados Unidos, la colonia quedaría más o menos disuelta, y las villas, ruinas de aquellos tiempos de escasez pero también de plenitud.