490 Riverside Drive (at 120th street)
New York, New York 10027
This church was built for modernist Baptist pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874-1960), a noted philanthropist and the only male heir of robber baron John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (1839-1937). Construction began in 1926 and the first service was held on October 5, 1930. The building was designed by Henry C. Pelton and Charles Collens (of the firm Allen, Pelton and Collens) based on the nave of the 13th Century Gothic Cathedral of Chartres, France. The church is perhaps most notable for its 392-foot bell tower. Despite its appearance as being constructed entirely of masonry, it is actually a steel-frame structure with decorative limestone buttressing.
In keeping with the views of its founding minister, the congregation is known for its progressive Christian theology and dedication to social justice.
Union Theological Seminary sits just across Clairmont Avenue from the church in a building that opened in 1910. Following construction of the church, Rockefeller built McGiffert Hall as a residence for seminary students on the northeast corner of the block next to the Riverside Church nave. The placement of McGiffert Hall was an exchange with the seminary for land they owned on the southern part of the church block that Rockefeller wanted for future expansion of the church (Dolkert 1998). The South Wing containing offices, classrooms, a parking garage and other social facilities was dedicated on December 6, 1959.
Sitting just to the south of the South Wing across 120th Street is the Interchurch Center another religious building funded largely by Rockefeller that holds offices for a number of denominational groups and is intended to foster interdenominational communication and unity. The building opened on May 29, 1960.
Next: Trinity Baptist Church