Victoria Hernández & the Music Store

by Elena Martínez

In 1939 the Hernándezes sold the store and moved to Mexico. The next year, after a failed business venture, Victoria Hernández moved to the Bronx, in the vanguard of a similar path soon followed by many other Puerto Ricans migrating from the island to East Harlem to the Bronx.

In 1941 she opened Casa Hernández at 786 Prospect Ave. where she continued to sell music and clothes and give piano lessons. She lived, along with Rafael at various times, on the third floor of the apartment building which also housed the store. Her decision to include clothing among her wares reflects another aspect of the Puerto Rican migration experience. There weren’t many options open to women for work, but domestic help and needlework employed large numbers of them. Needlework of various kinds and lace-making had a long history in Puerto Rico, and after World War I became especially important when there was a halt to the export of these materials from Europe. In the 1920's Puerto Rican women became a major segment of the garment industry’s labor force. All the while, Victoria Hernández continued to give piano lessons to budding musicians in the neighborhood, though she came to rely more on selling her dresses more than the music.

Rafael Hernández died in 1965, Victoria lost interest in the business and turned over management of the store to her friend Johnny Cabán (Martínez 2000). Later in life she married Puerto Rican entrepreneur, Gabriel Oller, who had opened the Spanish Music Center in East Harlem in 1934. She died in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico in 1998 and was buried in her brother’s tomb in the Old San Juan Cemetery.

In 1969 the store was bought by the composer/musician Mike Amadeo. Mike had experience working in the other record stores important to the Latin music scene in New York City—Bartolo Alvarez’s Casa Latina in East Harlem and Casalegre in the Bronx (owned by Bartolo’s nephew Al Santiago). Though he changed the name of the store, he kept some features from the days when Victoria Hernández owned it: the awning reads “Casa Amadeo, antigua [formerly] Casa Hernández.”; Some of the original merchandise cases are still in the store; and sign painted near the front door, recently painted over, said “Novedades” [novelties] reflecting Victoria Hernández’ eclectic wares—both in music and dresses. In 2003 Casa Amadeo antigua Casa Hernández was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. It was the first time a Puerto Rican site from the mainland to garner such placement.

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Content credits Center for Puerto Rican Studies
Image Credits: Jesús Colón papers Collection | All Rights Reserved