by Kevin Walsh

HOW I would have liked to have accompanied photographer Percy Loomis Sperr on his expeditions around NYC in the 1920s and 1930s, when he took upwards of 40,000 street photos for the New York Public Library. It is his photos, along with those of Eugene Armbruster, Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, Alice Austen, and others that give an account of what NYC streets looked like in the early 20th Century. And by the way, Sperr did it all on crutches, as he was impaired by a bout with meningitis as a child. 50 or 60 years from now, even though I will not hear about it, having by then emigrated to a more distant plane, I’d like people to see my pictures and say, “how I would have liked to have accompanied that Forgotten New York guy…”

In 1932, Sperr’s camera found the west side of White Plains Road in Williamsbridge and West East 216th Street. The Emmanuel Baptist Church, a Romanesque Revival church built in 1895, lords over the scene of a railcar diner that dotted NYC streets bu the hundreds in this era. What’s that Ogden Nash poem? “I think that I shall never see/A billboard lovely as a tree/Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,/I’ll never see a tree at all.” Today, a motel and its parking lot are in place of the diner and the billboards.

As always, “comment…as you see fit.” I earn a small payment when you click on any ad on the site.



Howard December 17, 2022 - 9:44 am

I have no doubt that late-21st-century readers will appreciate all of your photos & commentary capturing the NYC of our era.
A minor correction on this one, if I may … the photo is at White Plains Rd. and East (not West) 216th St.

Joe+Brennan December 17, 2022 - 11:18 am

I want to contact the Railroad Building and Loan Association to see whether they’ll finance my railroad project.

Peter December 17, 2022 - 3:13 pm

Google isn’t much help. It became the Railroad Federal Savings and Loan Association in 1935, there are various references to the latter name for about another decade, then nothing.

Anthony Marcano December 17, 2022 - 11:47 am

I passed this corner many times, having lived on 219 and Bronx Blvd. from ’71 till ’78. I also remember another church on WPR (St. Mary’s?) near by. Brings back memories of a more innocent time, even in the 70’s.

Peter December 17, 2022 - 3:19 pm

A review of the motel, known as the El Rancho, from this summer:
“People, this place is disgusting. If u broke (no offense or disrespect- sometimes we all are) and need a place for a quick hook up. I guess its ok. How ever and honestly i would rather do it in the car. Once again place is disgusting, infested with rats and its dirty”

Kenneth Buettner December 19, 2022 - 8:41 am

In 1925 the Railroad Cooperative Building & Loan Association erected an 18-story building at 44th Street and Lexington Avenue. They were still around in 1934, as they were part of a legal case in the NY Supreme Court in that year. They seem to have vanished after that, like many other Depression-era banks.

Stephen F Solosy December 19, 2022 - 11:45 am

I’ll proudly say it today. How I would have liked to have accompanied that Forgotten New York guy…

Frank Basile December 19, 2022 - 2:28 pm

Ben’s diner was on that spot…I was eating french fries there on noV 23, 1963 when I learned of JFK’s assasination on their B&W tv.

redstaterefugee December 21, 2022 - 9:49 am

So where were you on 11/22/63, which was the day of the assassination?


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