Inwood: Through the Lens of Percy Loomis Sperr

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Miramar Pool, 9th Avenue and 207th Street, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source NYPL.
Miramar Pool, 9th Avenue and 207th Street, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source NYPL.

Beginning in the 1920’s an aspiring Ohio writer named Percy Loomis Sperr began taking photographs of New York City.  Sperr’s photos were intended to accompany the text of his various literary projects, but when the images sold better than his prose a new career was born.

Percy Loomis Sperr, 1913 Oberlin College yearbook.
Percy Loomis Sperr, 1913 Oberlin College yearbook.

His New York,” wrote the New York Times, “is a city of horse-drawn milk wagons and brooding mansions, snack bar shacks and clamorous shipping docks, fleeting men in straw hats, strangely empty streets and demolition sites destined for skyscrapers like the Woolworth Building.” (NYT’s, March 14, 2000)

His body of work was massive—of the 54,000 old NYC photos maintained by the New York Public Library some 30,000 are credited to Sperr.

Until his death in 1964 Sperr saw himself as a storyteller. ”I am not much of a camera fan,” he wrote.

The images that follow were captured by Sperr in the Inwood section of northern Manhattan:

Dyckman Oval, Nagle Avenue and Academy Street, 1937, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Dyckman Oval, Nagle Avenue and Academy Street, 1937, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Vermilyea Avenue and Dyckman Street, Public School 52 in background, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Vermilyea Avenue and Dyckman Street, Public School 52 in background, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
The Dyckman Institute, Inwood Hill Park, 1935, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
The Dyckman Institute, Inwood Hill Park, 1935, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Squatter's Colony at the Harlem River, 1933, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Squatter’s Colony at the Harlem River, 1933, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Spuyten Duyvil, Percy Loomis Sperr, 1939. Source: NYPL.
Spuyten Duyvil, Percy Loomis Sperr, 1939. Source: NYPL.
Spuyten Duyvil, Percy Loomis Sperr, 1937. Source: NYPL.
Spuyten Duyvil, Percy Loomis Sperr, 1937. Source: NYPL.
Spuyten Duyvil, Percy Loomis Sperr, 1935. Source: NYPL.
Spuyten Duyvil, Percy Loomis Sperr, 1935. Source: NYPL.
Power Plant, West 216th Street and 9th Avenue, 1933, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Power Plant, West 216th Street and 9th Avenue, 1933, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Houseboat colony on Spuyten Duyvil, Percy Loomis Sperr, 1937. Source: NYPL.
Houseboat colony on Spuyten Duyvil, Percy Loomis Sperr, 1937. Source: NYPL.
Dyckman Street and  Payson Avenue, 1932, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Dyckman Street and Payson Avenue, 1932, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Dyckman Street and Bolton Road, 1934, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Dyckman Street and Bolton Road, 1934, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Harlem River, 1934, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Dyckman Street and Harlem River, 1934, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Dyckman Street and Henshaw, 1923, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Dyckman Street and Henshaw, 1923, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive, 1928, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source NYPL.
Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive, 1928, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Dyckman Street, Kenny Building on right, undated, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Dyckman Street, Kenny Building on right, undated, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
House of Mercy on Inwood Hill, 1932, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
House of Mercy on Inwood Hill, 1932, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Streets, 1936, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Dyckman and Staff Streets, 1936, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Academy Street and Vermilyea Avenue, 1927, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
Academy Street and Vermilyea Avenue, 1927, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
West 204th and Cooper Streets, 1927, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
West 204th and Cooper Streets, 1927, Percy Loomis Sperr, Source: NYPL.
9th Avenue and 207th Street, Percy Loomis Sperr, 1927, Source: NYPL.
9th Avenue and 207th Street, Percy Loomis Sperr, 1927, Source: NYPL.

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