Fernando’s East Village: A Life in Photos, Spanning the Grit and Grace of 1970s New York City

The 1970s East Village pulsed with life, a melting pot of cultures and characters. Amidst the vibrant chaos, photographer Rich Allen found himself drawn to a group of kids playing in an empty lot on East 3rd Street. One boy, Fernando Madrid, became the focus of Allen’s lens, his life unfolding against the backdrop of a changing neighborhood.

East 3rd Street buzzed with diversity. Puerto Rican families mingled with Black, East Indian, and other cultures, creating a unique tapestry of experiences. The empty lot at number 76 became a gathering place for the neighborhood kids, a space where they could be themselves, away from the confines of cramped apartments and bustling streets. Allen, nicknamed “Picture Man” by the kids, became a familiar face, capturing their moments of play and adventure with his camera.

Fernando, with his mischievous grin and adventurous spirit, stood out. He, along with his siblings and friends, became the subjects of Allen’s photographic essay, “Hooky.” The camera followed Fernando as he navigated the urban jungle, skipping school to explore the hidden corners of his world.

Summer days were an endless playground for Fernando and his friends. Armed with a wind-up movie camera, Allen documented their journeys, capturing their youthful energy as they roamed the Lower East Side. They trekked across town to the West Village for a dip in the free outdoor pool, then ventured over the Williamsburg Bridge to explore the unknown territory of Brooklyn.

Soon, the subway became their chariot, whisking them away to different corners of the city. One such adventure landed them in Chinatown, a sensory explosion of sights and sounds that felt like a world away from their familiar streets. From there, they wandered down Broadway, past the towering giants of Wall Street, and out to the edge of Manhattan where the vastness of the bay unfolded before them.

Fernando, a child of the city, had never seen such an expanse of water before. As he gazed out at the bay and the distant Statue of Liberty, he turned to Allen with a mix of awe and curiosity, asking, “How’d they get all the water in here?”

This simple question spoke volumes about Fernando’s limited experience but boundless curiosity. He was a boy discovering his world, one adventure at a time. Allen’s photographs and stories offer a glimpse into this world, a testament to the resilience and spirit of children growing up in the heart of New York City.

#5 Orlando, Juanita, Blanca, and Fernando in a park on East 3rd Street, 1974.

#8 Fernando with his first dog on East 3rd Street, 1974.

#9 Daisy and Fernando on Halloween on East 3rd Street, 1974.

#10 Fernando and Jeffery on the Williamsburg Bridge, 1970s.

#11 Fernando, Orlando, and Pipo on East 3rd Street, 1970s.

#12 Orlando, Jeffrey, and Fernando on East 3rd Street, 1975.

#14 Fernando hitching a ride on 2nd Street and 2nd Avenue, 1975.

#15 Lydia, Fernando’s mom, and Estebe on 3rd Street, 1975.

#17 Fernando in charge of a hydrant on 2nd Avenue and 3rd Street, 1975.

#19 Jeffery, Fernando, and Orlando in a block race from 1st to 2nd Avenue on 3rd Street, 1974.

#20 Fernando with his first car on East 3rd Street, 1976.

#21 Fernando at a tire swing in the Lower East Side, 1975.

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Written by Kevin Clark

Kevin Clark is a historian and writer who is passionate about sharing the stories and significance behind historical photos. He loves to explore hidden histories and cultural contexts behind the images, providing a unique insight into the past.

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