Home Away from Home: Boardinghouses

California became the major port of entry for Basques as a result of the Gold Rush and the state is believed to be the site of the first Basque hotels in North America. In the decades following, these boardinghouses and hotels served to alleviate some hardships the Basque immigrants faced when they first arrived.

Boardinghouses served as employment agencies, as recreational centers for traditional handball games, and as social and cultural centers.  To the Basque sheepherders, the boardinghouses offered lodging during their rare holidays in town, and for those who never established families, homes after retirement.  For town-dwelling Basques, the boardinghouses were gathering places for the entire community.

Few immigrant groups in this country have been so well served by a single institution, and few institutions have played so profound a role in preserving the culture, including language, cuisine, music, dance, recreation, and sense of community, of their ethnic clients.

Source:  Home Away from Home by Dr. Jeronima Echeverria

The settlement pattern of Basques in the United States was quite different from other ethnic communities of immigrants.  Since most Basques were single and worked seasonal jobs such as sheepherding, they needed a place to call home for close to half the year.  These places were the Basque boarding houses where young Basques lived for many years, until either getting married or returning to the Basque Country.  

Source:  Hidden In Plain Sight Exhibit, Basque Museum & Cultural Center, 2010

The Importance of Boardinghouses

Ostatuak:  Boardinghouses or ‘ostatuak’ were vital to the successful adaptation of tens of thousands of Basque immigrants who came to the United States between the peak years of 1890 and 1930.  During those years the ostatuak became the most important social and ethnic institution in the lives of new Basque immigrants.

The first Basque boardinghouses in the United States appeared in California in the decade following the gold run and tended to be outposts along travel routes used by Basque miners and sheepmen.  As more Basques migrated to the United States, clusters of ostatuak sprangup in communities where Basque colonies had formed, particularly in Los Angeles and San Francisco during the late nineteenth century.  In the years between 1890 and 1940, the ostatuak reached their zenith as Basques spread throughout the state and took their boardinghouses with them. 

The ostatuak, more than the family or church, functioned as the major social institution of Basques in the New World for a specific period of time.  Because they were dependent upon surging Old World immigration, the peak years for Basque hotel keeping seem to fall between 1890 and 1940.  Since the 1940s, the role and function of the hotels within the Basque-American community have transformed.
For the unmarried Euskalduna who came to earn his fortune and then return to the Basque homeland, the hotel became a “home away from home.”  In the absence of a New World family setting, it also became the major social institution of this immigrant group. 

Like so many social institutions, the ostatuak may be best considered an “invisible institution,” for they were so thoroughly integrated into Basque-American culture that even the Amerikanuak were unlikely to distinguish them in their everyday life.  (Echeverria, Jeronima (Jeri), (1988) Calfornia-ko Ostatuak: A History of California’s Basque Hotels).

Lehenbiziko Atia:  One important tradition that Old World Basques carried to the New World from their baserriak was the lehenbiziko atia, or first neighbor tradition.  On the Basque farmsteads, a family relies upon the nearest neighbor for support in family emergencies and for extra hands when necessary.  Mutual assistance and cooperation are critical among first neighbors.  Neighbors have commonly shared the annual harvests, the slaughter of livestock, the celebration of family holidays, the mourning for a deceased family member, and the larger maintenance work around the baserriak.

Not surprisingly, Basques carried important aspects of their culture with them to the Americas.  Ironically, Basques in South and North America created a new social institution to preserve their Old World values and traditions.  Basques migrating to the Argentine pampas, the Mexican altiplano, the Cuban coast, and the Peruvian highlands in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries established way stations and inns to serve their transplanted countrymen in the New World.  In the American West, the ostatuak were most numerous and widespread in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The first evidence of Western ostatuak in the United States can be found in California, where Basques were drawn in increasing numbers by the lure of gold.

The hotel, more than any context other than his/her family circle, served the Basque-American with the opportunity of articulating and expressing his/her ethnic identity.  The hotels gave the Basque-American some semblance of ethnic tradition. 
Source:  Douglass, William & Bilbao, Jon. (1975) Amerikanuak-Basques in the New World, UNR Press.

The Winter Home:  During the long winter months the boarding houses provided a familiar environment in every way possible so that Basques would have a much easier time adjusting to life in America. Oftentimes it was common practice for the keepers of the boarding houses to arrange for work for new arrivals at their establishments. 

Source:  Hidden In Plain Sight Exhibit, Basque Museum & Cultural Center, 2015

For more information on the history of Basque Boardinghouses and Hotels throughout California, click the links below to read the Doctoral dissertation and articles written by Dr. Jeronima (Jeri) Echeverria
Article by Dr. J. Echeverria:  Basque Boardinghouses

History of the Earliest Boardinghouses – 1850-1880

The earliest evidence of Basques in the hotel business in North America are found in the mission town of San Juan Bautista, California.  There a Basque named Julian Ursua operated in the early 1850s a hotel that fronted on the old town plaza. In 1844, Ursua was granted an enormous five square league tract of known as the Rancho Panocha de San Juan y los Crizalitos.   Unfortunately, relatively little is known about Ursua beyond that at one time he owned the “Rancho Panoche” and later a hotel in San Juan Bautista.  Not far from Ursua’s hotel, on the corner of Washington and Third streets, an Italian named Angelo Zanetta ran another hotel known as the Sebastopol.   After a few years, Zanetta married Maria Laborda, a French Basque from Bayonne who he had met in San Francisco.  Together the Zanettas purchased the Plaza Hotel from Ursua and reopened it on 24 June 1856. According to one eye witness, the opening was a “gala affair” accompanied by a band playing on the second story veranda, the sporadic firing of the town’s old cannon, and horsemen racing through the plaza at full speed plucking chicken’s heads from their half buried bodies.

Under the Zanettas’ ownership, the Plaza became a major center for travelers, local ranchers, and businessmen.  Favorably situated at an intersection of roads leading north, south, east, and west, the town of San Juan Bautista was a transfer point for seven stage lines including the famed Wells Fargo coaches. As one early rancher stated, “San Juan was one of the best trading centers in the state.  Cattlemen from as far away as Los Angeles and Santa Barbara used to bring their cattle here where the butchers from San Francisco would come buy them.  There were no banks in those days and the Plaza Bar was their clearing house.”

This table shows the hotel guests indicated as staying at the Plaza Hotel in San Juan Bautista from 1863 to 1866.

The likelihood that the Plaza appealed to a wide sector of the population suggests that the Plaza was not a Basque hotel in the truest sense.  Instead, it was probably a hotel that some local Basques frequented.

A second establishment that could be considered the first ostatua in the United States would be a store and boardinghouse that John and Mary Indart built on the Sentinella Ranch in the early 1860s. Indart of San Benito County had married Mary Erreca in Stockton, California, in July of 1863 and the newlyweds had moved to the Sentinella Ranch where they formed a three way partnership with John Etcheverry and John Iribarri. (This ranch was commonly known as the “Ranch of the Three Johns.”)   According to one of the Indarts’ descendents, John and Mary owned a one-story adobe hotel on the ranch that they later leased to a Basques named Valdemoro Mendia in 1864.  After the Indarts left Sentinella in 1865, the adobe was expanded into a two-story wooden building that stood until the 1930s.

1866- Aguirre’s was probably the first Basque hotel as we know them today.  the Aguirre hotel greeted Basques for almost forty years before it was burned down in 1906.  By the turn of the century, Juan Miguel and Martina’s (Aguirre) hotel had become a central meeting place for the growing number of Basques living in San Francisco, Alameda, Sonoma, and San Jose counties.  Like the ostatuak of the twentieth century, the Aguirre serviced a steady flow of incoming and numerous local Basques, it served as employment agency and “marriage mill,” and in later years it became a vacation spot for Basques visiting from other parts of California and the West.  In many ways, then, Aguirre’s hotel may be considered the first ostatua in the American West.

Echeverria, Jeronima (Jeri), (1988) Calfornia-ko Ostatuak: A History of California’s Basque Hotels.

The Role of Women – Etxeko Andreak

Working at boardinghouses was the primary form of employment for young Basque women in the United States during the early stages of immigration.  

Source:  Hidden In Plain Sight Exhibit, Basque Museum & Cultural Center, 2015.

 Hotel keeping was difficult for some of the Basque families running hotels.  The lack of privacy, the difficulty of arranging for vacations, the inability of family members to leave the premises together, and the tough daily workload were among the many challenges faced by those who owned and managed the ostatu Euskaldunak.

These transplanted countrywomen mastered many roles out of necessity.  Their work involved blending intuitive skills they had learned from their own home situations with new ones they had to adopt in a new land: attending to the birthing, nursing, and nurturing of children while also caring for others; juggling the chores and responsibilities involved in running a successful business enterprise; and adapting to living in the United States.

The etxeko andreak…are ample evidence of the unique role Basque women played in the Basque boardinghouses.  Their hospitality, warmth, congeniality, and good cheer earned them well deserved acclaim, devotion, loyalty and status within their communities.  It was the hotelera who invested twenty-four hours every day in the hotels, and it was she who most influenced the everyday quality of a boarder’s stay.

Source:  Home Away from Home by Jeronima Echeverria

Surrogate Mothers

As a social institution, the boardinghouse played a significant role in maintaining the cohesiveness of the Basque community, as the boarders used it as a place to meet other Basques Hotel owners typically shepherded the young non-English – speakers through the rigors of adapting to life in the United States. They served as translators and advisors in immigration and government-related paperwork and often acted as bankers for the immigrants too. “We took care of everybody,” said Lyda Esain, who, with husband Felix, ran Fresno’s Basque Hotel. “I chauffeured them around. I witnessed them for citizenship. I did everything.” The large majority were single men, ages seventeen to twenty-five, who spoke little English and eventually intended to go back to the Basque Country. As the need for maids and waitresses in the boardinghouses grew, women made up greater numbers within the waves of Basque immigrants to the United States. Most of them married fairly soon after their arrival, as many of the male boarders anxious for family life whisked them away. There was a continual demand for more young women from Europe to fill their spots. The women came at a steady pace up through the 1950s.

Often the hotel keepers were a married couple. Men rarely if ever ran a place without a wife at their side. The husbands were often sheepmen. The capital they needed to open their business in the first place usually came from their lamb sales. Typically the woman was the one in charge at the boardinghouse, and if the husband passed away, the wife was likely to keep running the business on her own. Many of the boardinghouse matrons became surrogate mothers to the sheepherders who came through, like Esain, helping the men with any transactions that required fluency in English. “A lot of them treated them like the moms they left back home,” said Leon Sorhondo, who grew up in San Francisco’s Pyrenees Hotel. His mother, Amelie Sorhondo, as well as Esain and many others- Grace Elizalde of Noriega’s in Bakersfield and Leandra Letemendi of Boise –  are just a few that stand out.

Source: Zubiri, Nancy (2006).  A Travel Guide to Basque America,University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada.

A prototype of a hotelera’s daily schedule, based on hundreds of interviews and discussions with hoteleras, appears as follows:

5:00-6:00 A.M.                        
Wake up
Organize Kitchen
Make sack lunches for boarders and children
Begin preparation for midday meal

6:00 – 8:00                             
Cook and serve breakfast to family and boarders

Organize and oversee cleaning girls
Set up noon meal
Clean rooms, common areas
Washing and gardening
Do errands in town – groceries

Set tables
Cooking in earnest for noon meal
Continue with housecleaning details

12:00 – 2:00 P.M.                      
Serve noon meal

2:00 – 4:00                                
Errands in town
Clean up after lunch
Continue unfinished work from morning
Gardening, sewing, canning

Oversee children returning from school
Set up evening meal

Serve dinner

Clean up
Visiting with friends
Children to bed

“Special Occasions” (Dances, Family Parties)

12:00-2:00 A.M.                         
Weekend entertaining
Often early breakfast or card crowd

Source:  Home Away from Home by Jeronima Echeverria

The boardinghouses became the immigrant’s home, the family became his/her extended family and it was a place to come back to where things were familiar- language, food, children.  It was the closest they could come to being in their homeland with their own families.  As such, the boardinghouses filled many important roles in the developing lives of the immigrants.

  • CULTURAL CENTER – important elements of Basque culture were preserved in the boardinghouse including language, cuisine, music and dance.  It was like a greenhouse where Basque culture thrived.
  • SOCIAL CENTER – this was a fun place to be!  Dancing, singing, card playing, a shot of whiskey or two, and a chance to sit and talk and tell stories, which for the herder who’d been up in the hills for months, was a wonderful luxury!
  • RECREATION CENTER – Basques brought their passion for pelota to the U.S. along with the unique courts that they had devised for the game, the frontons.  A fronton is a large open area ball court that usually has 2 walls and a floor. It can sometimes have an open back or it can be completely enclosed.  These frontons would be used for playing all varieties of pelota like handball, pala and jai alai.  All of these are variations of similar games that are all played on different sized courts.
  • FAMILY-STYLE DINING – the boarders would be served, often seated near the family of the boardinghouse owners, and maybe a few others who had just come in off the street for some delicious food.
  • POST OFFICE – a place where letters from home could be sent and the hotelkeeper would save them for many months until the boarder returned; his outgoing mail would also be sent from there as assistance could be given writing letters, etc.
  • NETWORK THROUGHOUT THE U.S. – as Basques traveled from one area to another, they invariably stayed at boardinghouses/hotels.  There they could find assistance and a place to stay in a familiar atmosphere.
  • WORK REFERRAL CENTER – owners were connected to their communities and to the sheep industry and would often refer boarders to jobs, whether they be as herders, construction workers, in the timber industry or in the mining industry.  It was also a place for employers to come in search of workers.
  • MEDICAL CLINIC – for the man who was injured or ill, the hotel served as a clinic where he could recuperate.  It was also the place where Basque women, living on isolated ranches, could board during the latter stages of pregnancy with the female owners or managers frequently serving as the midwife.
  • ON-SITE DATING SERVICE – many young Basque immigrant women met their future husbands while working in the boardinghouses as domestics.  Countless marriages among Basques occurred after meeting in these places.
  • DORMITORY – as a child living on an isolated ranch entered school years, he/she might be boarded during the school term at one of the Basque boardinghouses/hotels.
  • ASSISTED LIVING CENTER – over time the boardinghouses/hotel functioned as old-age homes, acquiring a population of retired bachelor herders who preferred not to return to the Basque Country in their waning years.
  • FINANCE/TRANSLATION SERVICE – proprietors provided assistance with banking here and with sending funds back home.  Oftentimes their children would assist as translators for making purchases in stores or with a visit to a doctor or dentist.

Source:  Exhibit on Basque Boardinghouses, Basque Museum & Cultural Center, 2015

A Tour of Some of California’s Boardinghouses/hotels

Permission was granted for the use of much of the information pertaining to boardinghouses and hotels to be used directly from Zubiri, Nancy (2006).  A Travel Guide to Basque America, University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada.

Northern California Boardinghouses/Hotels:

For more information regarding the earliest boardinghouses and hotels in Los Angeles and San Francisco can be found in the section titled, “Two Early Basque Towns.”  Click here for additional information.

La Cancha, San Francisco. Image Courtesy, Nancy Zubiri

Hotel de España – San Francisco (1960)

Hotel de Espana. 1960, 785 Broadway, San Francisco.  Louis Elu, Marie Elu, and Louis’s sister Lucia Elu Gutierrez Pose after an interview and dance for local television. Image Courtesy, San Francisco Urazandi Collection

Louis Elu learned to cook while in the military during WWII.  In 1958, Louis & his wife, Marie, bought the  Hotel de España.  It had 21 rooms and a beautiful dining room.  The Elu Family lived on one floor and Louis’ sister and her family on another and they had as many as 12-13 boarders in the early days. “We served dinners to the public Tuesday-Sunday, but to the boarders we served breakfast, lunch and dinner and the boarders were served seven days a week. Good food…that was our secret.  Our children learned how to treat people – they had to work in the restaurant and the kitchen.  They ran the business for 25 years.
Source:  Interview:  Patrick Connor Goitia, 1998, Basque Museum & Cultural Center.

Hotel Des Alpes, San Francisco

The Hotel Des Alpes Hotel on Broadway was probably the longest standing Basque hotel and restaurant in San Francisco, having been built soon after the 1906 earthquake that destroyed most of the buildings in the city. (A Travel Guide to Basque America, N. Zubiri)
Image Courtesy, Ana Iriartborde via Nancy Zubiri.


In the first decade of the 1900s, Stockton had three Basque hotels, and the number jumped to six between 1920 and 1939.  In the 1940s the total peaked at eight, reflecting the increase in clientele generated by first- and second-generation Basque Americans.  Thereafter these businesses began a steady decline until 1970, when the last Basque hotel in the community closed.  The number of Basque hotels operating in Stockton, California, over the course of the past ninety years seems to have reflected general trends in Basque herding and immigration fluctuations that occurred because of national legislation related to immigration quotas and land acts. Source:  Home Away from Home by Jeronima Echeverria


Marysville had three hotels at one time and even a couple of frontons. The Uriz Hotel (331 A Street) is still there, but Basques haven’t spent a night there in decades. The other hotels have disappeared. Sacramento had at least one boardinghouse until 1965.
Zubiri, Nancy (2006).  A Travel Guide to Basque America, University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada.


Except for the name, the Español Restaurant in Sacramento (5723 Folsom Boulevard) retains none of the flavor of a Basque boardinghouse, although the business was run as a boardinghouse in the past.
The original Español opened in 1923 at 114 J Street, which is now part of tourist-oriented Old Sacramento. In 1952 the Español was moved to the corner of Third and I Streets, and an Italian family, the Luigis, took over the restaurant and the hotel. “We had a Basque chef,” remembers the Luigis’ daughter, Karen Zita, and all the boarders were Basque sheepherders. In 1965 the whole building was torn down for redevelopment. When the Luigis reopened the restaurant at its current location, “we kept the name because it’s seventy years old, and it’s hard to change,” said Zita. Photos of the old boardinghouse hang in the restaurant. Today, it’s touted as the oldest restaurant in Sacramento.
Zubiri, Nancy (2006).  A Travel Guide to Basque America, University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada.


The St. Francis, Susanville Image Courtesy: Lassen County Historical Society

For many years, Basque businessman Richard Goñi and his wife, Angie, operated the St. Francis Hotel (830 Main Street), a former boardinghouse that Goñi’s mother, Marie Jeanne, bought in 1947. The three-story-granite hotel was built as an American-style hotel, with a large lobby and coffee shop, and Marie Jeanne remodeled the restaurant and ran it for many years as a traditional room-and-board establishment. In spite of the fact that the Goñis sold it to non­Basques, the Basque coat of arms in faded red, green, and gold is still visible from afar on the outside wall of the hotel.

The St. Francis was the last of several Basque-owned hotels in this town, and it is one of the oldest businesses in town. In the 1930s there was John and Marie Beterbide’s Pyrenees by the old Lassen Mill. Three generations of the Larrea family ran Marion’s Hotel, but they finally sold it, and today it’s a local bar. The Commercial Hotel served as a Basque boardinghouse during the 1940s. That was sold as well, and sometime during the 1960s the building burned down.

When young Basque men were plentiful here, the St. Francis sponsored a dance with accordion music at the end of every month. The St. Francis continued to serve boarders until the late 1980s, but by then there were only one or two. For years, the Goñis served Basque food family-style in the restaurant, with Angie as chef, until the Goñis decided they didn’t have enough customers to justify the large servings that they had to prepare ahead of time.

The restaurant and bar continued to be the local Basque gathering place until the Goñis sold it in 2000.
Zubiri, Nancy (2006).  A Travel Guide to Basque America,University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada.


Mary’s Hotel – Alturas Image Courtesy, Nancy Zubiri

It is believed that Pete and Mary Arena were the first Basques to open a boardinghouse in Alturas in 1929. The couple met in Gardnerville, Nevada, when Mary worked for John Etchemendy at the Overland Hotel and Pete boarded there while working at a blacksmith shop across the street. (Arena’s son Al discovered his father’s original name was Urbano Pedroarena, when he and his wife Shirley began re­ searching the family’s history. Arena suspects immigration officials may have written his father’s name as Pedro Arena, and he never bothered to change it.) The couple married and eventually moved to Alturas to open their own business. The Arenas, along with Bartolo Goñi, salvaged the lumber from an old hotel torn down in Madeline, 35 miles away, and transported it to Alturas. The Arenas built the Buena Vista Hotel, and the Goñis built the Alturas Hotel. But their timing was bad.

The Pickering Lumber Company employed the earliest Basque boarders who stayed at the hotels. With the depression, the sawmill was bankrupted, many lumber workers lost their jobs, and the boardinghouse businesses were severely hurt. “They had quite a hard time,” said Al Arena, who grew up in his parents’ boardinghouse. In fact, he said, his parents were not able to pay off the building until the mid-1940s, when Mary Arena contracted with the U.S. Army to house and feed pilots who were training at the airport behind the hotel. The Goñis soon sold the Alturas Hotel to partner Benito “Benny” Apecechea and moved to Los Banos to operate another hotel.

After the war, Arena catered private parties and banquets at the hotel, in addition to feeding boarders, but she never opened her dining room to the public as a restaurant. Her place was popularly known simply as Mary’s. Her son Al Arena relishes his childhood memories of the gourmet meals his mother cooked, adding that none of the modern Basque restaurants can compare. “She made her own raviolis, she made her own puddings and soups, and she made her own bread for a long time,” he said. “We raised our own chickens and hogs, cured our own ham, and made our own chorizos.”

The father-and-son team tried to keep up the bar business after Mary died in 1958, “but we couldn’t make it work,” said Arena, and they ended up selling out in 1965. Sadly, the barrack like structure built by Pete Arena himself, with the help of some men from the lumber mill, on the 1400 block of West Fourth deteriorated for many years and was finally torn down in 2004. Nearby, however, at 1200 West Fourth, is the old Alturas Hotel building, now simply a bar, but still in operation.  It’s still called Benny’s, even though “Benny” Apecechea sold out years ago.
Zubiri, Nancy (2006).  A Travel Guide to Basque America,University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada.


In picturesque Cedarville there were once three Basque boarding­ houses. The largest of them was Valentine’s, which had a handball court. “When the men worked up a sweat and had to go inside to have a drink, us kids would get out there to play,” remembers Pete Ytçaina, who’s now in his seventies. The court was torn down, and the hotel was moved across the street to be turned into a grocery store.
Zubiri, Nancy (2006).  A Travel Guide to Basque America,University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada.

Central California

Iberia Hotel – Bakersfield (1893)
, Changed to the Noriega Hotel (1906)

The Iberia Hotel, 525 Sumner Street, Bakersfield, opened in 1893, but the name was changed in 1906 to the Noriega Hotel. Image Courtesy, Nancy Zubiri

Having secured a loan of $3,500 to finance their business investment the year before, Faustino Noriega and Fernando Etcheverry opened their Iberia Hotel in 1893.  Not accidentally, the Iberia was located directly across the street from Bakersfield’s train station.  For decades Basques arriving in Bakersfield by rail have spotted the hotel upon stepping from the train. Possibly the most well-known and loved managers of any Basque hotel in Bakersfield were the Elizaldes, Jean and Grace, who had taken over at Noriega’s in 1931. It was Graciana’s kindness and generosity that made her loved in the community. Whether it was buying a large burial plot in the local cemetery for a bachelor herder, tending to the needs of an infirm boarder, or making a quiet loan to a local rancher, Graciana touched most Bakersfield Basques. 
Source:  Home Away from Home by Jeronima Echeverria 

“Noriega’s began in 1893 as a boarding house and it’s still a boarding house.  We still run it exactly the same way.  We still have boarders, they eat three meals a day and still pay room and board.  We have retired herders who stay here and then some that moved on to gardening.”
Source:  Interview with Rochelle Elizalde Ladd, Basques in the West, Canyons Studio

For more information regarding the history of the Noriega Boardinghouse and other hotels in Bakersfield follow the links below:

Visit the Noriega Hotel Today


Hotel Santa Fe, Fresno
Built in 1926, the Santa Fe was designated an historic landmark in 1991 and bears a plaque on the front. (A Travel Guide to Basque America, N. Zubiri)
Image Courtesy, University of Nevada, Jon Bilbao Library, Getchell Collection

Basque Hotel, Fresno
The historic establishment had its loyal clientele, and owner Fermin Urroz said he did good business among Basques and Americans. (A Travel Guide to Basque America, N. Zubiri)
Image Courtesy, Waymarkingdotcom

La Puente

An anchor at the corner of Second and Main was the French­ American Bakery, which opened in 1921 and employed many Basque workers through the years. It was known for its round three-pound, “king-size” loaf. “The herders would go there at two, three, four o’clock in the morning, when the loaves were just coming out of the oven, and take one to camp with them,” said Oxarart, who worked there for over twenty years.

Another boardinghouse in the old downtown was the Valley Hotel, a beautiful Victorian building with a cupola, purchased by Jean Nogues in 1930. Nogues, with the help of other local Basques, built a small handball court behind the bakery in 1927, according to his son Jean P. Nogues. In those early days, the family that lived in a big house that stood next door to the court, where Le Chalet Basque restaurant was located for many years , also rented out rooms. John Oxarart remembers a later era when the Garro family lived there, and there was a lot of carousing. “The Garros were the kantxa’s [handball court] keepers,” he said. They sold liquor to all the Basques who were constantly dropping by, playing handball, and drinking around the kitchen table and in the living room.

The Basque community that revolved around the hotels was extremely close-knit, because they had come from such a small region and because they socialized together so much. Others even envied the clannishness. “They always had their picnics,” noted Gloria Garacochea of Santa Monica, an Italian-American who grew up in La Puente and married a Basque. The family of her husband, Edmund Garacochea, often drove from Venice to La Puente for parties and picnics. The local Italians had no such annual events, she said. “I always ran with the Basque kids.”
Zubiri, Nancy (2006).  A Travel Guide to Basque America,University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada.

Los Banos

Woolgrowers, Los Banos Image Courtesy, Woolgrowers Facebook Page

Unlike Stockton, further north, which had many hotels, Los Banos had only one long-term one. Anton and Josefa Lassart ran one hotel for four years, but it burned down in 1918 and was never rebuilt. In 1925 or so, Joe Goñi came south from Alturas to open the Wool Growers’ Hotel, which operated as a boardinghouse for more than half a century. The Wool Growers was well known for hosting a big “mountain oyster” (lamb testicles) dinner and dance every year around Valentine’s Day.

Brothers Gabriel and Michel Iturbide bought the Wool Growers’ Restaurant from Victor Arretche in 1974 and run a restaurant and bar there today. The Pyrenees Hotel in nearby Merced also operated from 1929 to 1968. Zubiri, Nancy (2006).  A Travel Guide to Basque America, University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada.

Southern California

Los Angeles

Plaza Hotel, San Juan Bautista Image Courtesy, Waymarkingdotcom

In addition to being the first Basque community on the West Coast, Los Angeles was also the largest throughout the late 1800s. By 1886, 2,000 Basques were living in the Los Angeles area, according to one of the two Basque newspapers of the time, Escualdun Gazeta. In those peak years, downtown Los Angeles had what could have been called a Basque “town.” Between 1878 and 1888 some ten different boardinghouses had opened around the intersection of Alameda and Aliso Streets, according to Professor Jeronima Echeverria, who researched the state’s boardinghouses in her Ph.D. dissertation, “California’s Basque Ostatuak.” Two or three handball courts, a pen behind one of the hotels for herders’ sheepdogs, and a grocery store or two completed the picture. The creation of this Basque district coincided with the arrival of the railroad in Los Angeles and the opening of the first woolen mill. The neighborhood’s Basque hotel business flourished through the turn of the century. Pascal Ballade was one of the hotel owners during those years, and he eventually became a councilman for the city. The Pyrenees Hotel, run for many years by Juan Ordoqui, was one of the most popular, particularly among hand ball players because of its big handball court.

In Los Angeles no remnants remain of the old Basque neighborhood, but it was located around the later-built Union Station, the city’s train center. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, the hotels provided a nucleus for the larger Basque communities, which flourished. A few locals remember that there was still at least one Basque hotel downtown during the 1940s. The French Taix brothers owned the building on Commercial Street and Los Angeles, and their elegant Taix restaurant was downstairs. The upper stories of the old building were the Commercial Hotel, which was apparently leased out for a while to Basque hotel keepers. A young Manuel Villanueva of Downey, California, stayed at the hotel during the 1940s, after sheepherding for a couple of years. Through contacts there he got his first city job, at a downtown bakery. He said that in those years a family called Lekumberry ran the hotel. The Taix family employed some of the Basques in their restaurant, and the restaurant and hotel were still there during the 1950s. The Taix restaurant moved to Sunset Boulevard, and before long the building was torn down. A large federal building was put up in its place.

During the 1930s there were two places where Basques gathered in the Los Angeles area — the downtown Basque neighborhood and the Bastanchury Ranch in Fullerton, both of which have disappeared (see the Fullerton section). Most Basques had moved out of the city anyway, joining compatriots in rural outlying areas such as Fullerton, San Juan Capistrano, El Toro, Calabasas, La Puente and Chino. Today the names of their descendants can be found in Orange County and Los Angeles County phone books.
Zubiri, Nancy (2006).  A Travel Guide to Basque America,University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada.

Santa Barbara

French Hotel – Santa Barbara (1899) 

The Joe Borderre French Hotel, Santa Barbara Image Courtesy: Santa Barbara Historical Museum

Eventually, Basque boardinghouses were established around Santa Barbara. The Borderre French Hotel, the most well-known of Santa Barbara’s Basque boardinghouses, stood in the historic De la Guerra Plaza, now property of the Santa Barbara News Press. “It wasn’t French, but nobody knew what Basque was,” explains local historian Frank Armendariz, who was born in the hotel. The hotel started around the turn of the century as the Borderre family home, and then Juanita Borderre began taking in sheepherders as boarders. In the boardinghouse’s early years, husband Jose was away most of the time, tending to the many farms and ranches he owned.

The Borderres later expanded the hotel and added a handball court that attracted many players on the weekends. Basques were well known to be involved in bootlegging during Prohibition days, and the local police would stop by the Borderre hotel for drinks, according to Armendariz, godson of “Joe” Borderre. He remembered that the liquor came from a source in Los Angeles, and, apparently, Mrs. Borderre always kept a bottle of wine in her pocket. Eventually the building was torn down.

A taped interview with the Borderres’ son Bernard, which provides some early history of the town, is on file at the Gledhill Library of the Santa Barbara Historical Museum (136 East De la Guerra St. [805] 966-1601), along with other information on some of the earliest Basque settlers. At least four other Basque boardinghouses existed in the old downtown for a time, some of which were simply Basque family homes where extra rooms were rented out. The Anchordoquys, a large family that lived in Santa Barbara in later years, operated a hotel or two, including the Borderre and a small third-rate establishment now known as the State Street Hotel. Antone Bastanchury, a cousin to the well-known Bastanchurys of Fullerton, took over the Borderre hotel in its later years. He was best known for cultivating and shipping lemons, and he developed the popular Carmelita lemon brand.

The coastal area’s weather was not the best for raising sheep, and by the end of the 1930s, the boardinghouses had disappeared. By the mid- 1940s, Santa Barbara’s Basque colony, like that of downtown Los Angeles, was gone, and many Basques had moved to Bakersfield. A few of the old-timers remained. Zubiri, Nancy (2006).  A Travel Guide to Basque America,University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada.

French Hotel (J. Salaberri & Co.), San Juan Capistrano Image Courtesy, Nancy Zubiri

Basque Boardinghouses and Hotels of California – (1866 – current)

Source:    Home Away from Home, Jeronima Echeverria
                A Travel Guide to Basque America, Nancy Zubiri
                Census Record Research – Basque Museum & Cultural Center

The End of an Era

When Basque boardinghouses were on the decline most either closed altogether, or maintained the restaurant portion as an independent establishment.  This is the origin of the oldest Basque restaurants in the United States, most of which are still thriving in the west. More importantly, these Basque restaurants have become popular with non-Basques in these areas as well. 

The food at the boarding houses and later at Basque restaurants was important for maintaining those flavors and ingredients that immigrants missed from back home.  They are typically known for hearty portions and a cozy, family type atmosphere.

As Basques assimilated into American culture and began working in jobs other than herders in the sheep industry, the need for boarding houses began to diminish.  Many of the lodging establishments continued only as restaurants and remain today serving Basque cuisine, some in family-style, or boardinghouse-style.  Basques, who are inherently social, still needed a place to gather, so as the boarding houses became fewer and fewer, the Basque Centers, or Euskal Etxeak, began to be created around the West as social gathering places for dinners, dances, card games, dance instruction, etc.
Source:  Hidden In Plain Sight Exhibit, Basque Museum & Cultural Center, 2010

“Ana Iriartborde strongly stated, “What we lost when the boardinghouses disappeared, we got it back with the Basque Cultural Center.”  (Ana Iriartborde, interview by Pedro J. Oiarzabal, South San Francisco, California, February 11, 2006.  SF Urazandi book, pg 140.”

Almost all the owners of the existing Basque restaurants in and around Bakersfield have spent twenty years or more serving Basque food to the public, although many of them have moved their businesses to new locations or changed names.

Noriega’s is the city’s oldest existing Basque restaurant, and probably the oldest in California. The historic building, with its well-used original handball court, opened in 1893 as the Iberia Hotel, down the street from the Santa Fe Railroad Depot. “Any place you go, you find the railroad tracks and you’ll find the Basque restaurants,” said Mayie Maitia, owner of the Wool Growers Restaurant down the street. That’s true in Bakersfield. Other hotels and restaurants have opened and closed since then, but Noriega’s has remained. Its continued presence acts as an anchor for the Basque community, giving it a sense of history and permanence, even though many of the newer restaurants have moved away from the old depot area.
Noriega’s, 525 Sumner Street (near Kern), Bakersfield, CA 93305 (661) 322-8419
Source:  Nancy Zubiri,  A Travel Guide To Basque America

Information for the above work was gathered and shared with permission for use from the University of Nevada Press.