The Riverside Church
435 Riverside Drive
Southeast corner at 116th Street
By Carter B. Horsley
Church is a Baptist and Congregationalist church in
the Morningside Heights
neighborhood on the block bounded by Riverside Drive, Claremont
Avenue, 120th Street
and 122nd Street
near Columbia University's
Morningside Heights campus and across from Grant's
is an interdenominational church that is associated with
the American Baptist Churches USA and the
United Church of Christ.
church was conceived by philanthropist businessman and
Baptist John D. Rockefeller Jr. in conjunction with Presbyterian
Emerson Fosdick as a large, interdenominational church in Morningside
which is surrounded by academic institutions.
original building opened in 1930; it was designed by
Henry C. Pelton and Allen & Collens in the Neo-Gothic style.
contains a nave consisting of five architectural bays; a
chancel at the front of the nave; a 22-story, 392-foot-high tower above
nave; a narthex and chapel; and a cloistered passageway that connects
eastern entrance on Claremont Avenue.
main feature of the church is the 74-bell carillon near
the top of the tower, which is dedicated to John Rockefeller Jr.'s
Spelman Rockefeller. A seven-story wing was built to the south of the
building in 1959 to a design by Collens, Willis & Beckonert, and
renamed for Martin Luther King Jr. in 1985. The Stone Gym to the
built in 1915 as a dormitory; this was designed by Louis E. Jallade and
converted to a gymnasium in 1962.
Church has been a focal
point of global and national activism since its inception, and it has a
history of social justice in adherence to Fosdick's original vision of
"interdenominational, interracial, and international" church.
church was designated as a city landmark by the New York
City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2000.
Tomb and Riverside Church
The following commentary was excepted from the church's entry at Wikipedia.com:
small Baptist congregations, including the Mulberry Street
that was established in 1823 by a group of 16 congregants, were founded
in Manhattan after the
American Revolutionary War. The Mulberry Street church occupied at
least three locations in
the Lower East Side and two locations on
Broadway in Midtown Manhattan before moving to a more permanent site at
Fifth Avenue and 46th Street in the
1860s. The businessman William Rockefeller was the first of several
family members to attend the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church; he became a
financial backer of the church in the 1870s. William and his brother
Rockefeller later became trustees of the church and many of its
held at the Rockefellers' home nearby.
Woelfkin, who became the church's minister in
1912, started leading the church in a more modernist direction. By the
20th century, Fifth Avenue
was experiencing increased commercial development and the church
became dilapidated. The congregation sold its old headquarters in 1919
bought land at Park Avenue and 63rd Street the
following year. John Rockefeller's son John D. Rockefeller Jr. funded
the projected $1 million cost. The new church, which was dubbed the
"Little Cathedral", was designed by Henry C. Pelton in partnership
with Francis R. Allen and Charles Collens. The final service in the
location was held on April 3, 1922, and the renamed Park Avenue Baptist
Church held its first
class in the new location the next week.
1924, John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated $500,000 to the
Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside
Heights, further uptown in Manhattan, in an unsuccessful
attempt to influence the cathedral's ideology in a progressive
following January, Harry E. Edmonds—leader of the International House
Morningside Heights for whose construction Rockefeller had provided
to Rockefeller to propose creating a new church in the neighborhood.
progressive pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick should head such a church.
then told the Park Avenue Baptist Church's
leaders about the plan and hired an agent to inspect the planned church
quit in mid-May 1925 and Rockefeller Jr.
immediately started looking for a new minister, ultimately deciding on
Emerson Fosdick, who had declined Rockefeller's offers several times,
did not "want to be known as the pastor of the richest man in the
country". Fosdick stated he would accept the minister position on the
conditions that the church would move to Morningside Heights,
follow a policy of religious liberalism, remove the requirement for
be baptized, and become nondenominational. At the end of May 1925,
agreed to become minister of the Park Avenue Baptist Church. Only 15%
of congregants voted
against Fosdick's appointment.
Fosdick's leadership, the congregation doubled in size
by 1930. The new members were diverse; of the 158 people who joined in
after Fosdick became minister, about half were not Baptists. Though
existing congregants had doubts about whether the Park Avenue Baptist
should move from its recently completed edifice, the church's board,
in favor of the relocation, stated congregants would not have to pay
any of the
costs for the new church.
Heights, where the new
church was to be located, was being quickly developed as a residential
neighborhood surrounded by numerous higher-education institutions,
Union Theological Seminary and International House of New York. The
had been spurred by the presence of Riverside Park and Riverside Drive
nearby, as well as the construction of the New York City Subway's
Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line—the modern-day 1 train—under Broadway.
briefly considered a location on Morningside Drive on the eastern edge
Heights but he ultimately chose a site
at the southeastern corner of Riverside Drive and 122nd Street on the
western border, which overlooked Riverside
Park to the west and Claremont Park
to the north. Rockefeller felt the Riverside Drive site was more easily
visible because it
abutted the Hudson River and would be seen by
recreational users of Riverside Drive.
May 1925, Rockefeller finalized his purchase of the new
church's site at Riverside Drive.
That July, he exchanged his previous purchase of a plot on Morningside
Drive for another plot on Riverside Drive.
Shortly afterward, he acquired yet more land, after which he had a
250 feet on Riverside Drive
for the new church. At the time of the acquisition, three apartment
and two mansions occupied the church's future site. Rockefeller wished
the apartments in place for several years to fund the church's eventual
was the chairman of the committee tasked with
developing a new building for the church. Hoping to avoid publicity,
host an architectural competition, he privately asked several
firms to submit plans for the building. Rockefeller tried to downplay
in the planning and construction process, asking for his name to be
from media reports and discussion of the church, though with little
His role in the selection process raised concerns from church trustees,
including Fosdick, who believed such close financial involvement could
the church in "a very vulnerable position". John Roach Straton,
reverend of Calvary Baptist Church
on 57th Street
in Midtown Manhattan, criticized Rockefeller's involvement and
suggested it be called the Socony Church after the oil
company the Rockefellers headed. George S. Chappell, writing in The New Yorker
under the pseudonym "T-Square", said the project "was known to
most secular minds as the Rockefeller Cathedral".
Rockefeller nor Fosdick had strict requirements for
the church's architectural style. Rockefeller asked for the new
include space for the Park Avenue Baptist Church's
carillon, which he had donated. Most of the plans entailed a church
facing 122nd Street and
wrapping around the existing apartment buildings on the site. The
a plan by Allen & Collens and Henry C. Pelton - who had designed
Baptist Church - that called for a Gothic Revival church with its main
on the side, facing Riverside Drive, with a bell tower and apartment
the neighboring Union Theological Seminary. The building committee
apartment towers from the church plan and Allen, Collens, and Pelton
selected to design the new church in February 1926. As part of the
would be a 375-foot - later 392-foot - bell tower, a 2,400-seat
athletic rooms. The building would occupy a 100 feet by 225 feet lot.
no room for a chapel in the original plans so Rockefeller proposed
with the Union Theological Seminary. In May 1926, Rockefeller gave Union
an apartment building on 99 Claremont Avenue, to the northeast of
the church. In exchange, Riverside Church received a small
plot to its south, allowing for the construction of the chapel and a
cloister passage to Claremont Avenue.
chose to delay the construction process until
the leases of the site's existing tenants expired in October 1926. The
plans were filed with the New York City Department of Buildings in
that year. The following month, the congregation voted to approve the
plans at a cost of $4 million. Pelton and Collens then went to France
to look for churches upon which to model Riverside Church's design.
selected the 13th-century Chartres Cathedral as their model.
first portion of the new church building to be completed,
the assembly hall under the auditorium, opened in October 1929. That
Fosdick formally filed plans to rename the church from "Park Avenue
Church" to "Riverside Church". The bell was hoisted to
the top of the tower's carillon in early September 1930, the tower was
completed later that month, and the first Sunday school class was held
September 29. The church was completed on October 5, the same day the
service was held in the altar; it was attended by 3,200 people. All of
space in the nave and basement was filled and thousands more people
enter. The next month, officials received two oil paintings from
Jr.'s collection. The first officers of Riverside Church
were elected in December 1930 and the church was formally dedicated
interdenominational service two months later. The total cost of
was estimated at $4 million. In the early years of the new building,
journalists often referred to the church in association with either
Rockefeller - who
sought to reduce emphasis on his role at the church - or Fosdick.
Riverside Church's completion sharply contrasted
with the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which remained incomplete
almost four decades.
the completion of Riverside Church,
Rockefeller felt the surroundings still needed to be improved. In 1932,
announced he would pay for a $350,000 landscaping of the adjacent,
decrepit Sakura Park.
Rockefeller hired the Olmsted Brothers to renovate the park and the
completed two years later. When Union Theological Seminary announced it
build a new apartment building at 99 Claremont Avenue. Rockefeller
offered to exchange
his neighboring apartment building at 122nd Street and Claremont Avenue
for the lots south of
the church, which were owned by the seminary. The land was swapped in
after Rockefeller offered to finance part of the dormitory's
1935, the land under the church was deeded to Rockefeller and he
lot at Riverside Drive
and 122nd Street
from St. Luke's Hospital, after which he owned all of the land along
eastern side of Riverside Drive
between 120th and 122nd Streets. Rockefeller spent a total of $10.5
land acquisition and church construction.
completion of the new church building at Morningside Heights resulted
in a steady increase in
the congregation's membership. By May 1946, the congregation had 3,500
an increase of 800 in twenty years. According to a brochure issued by
church, "soon every room ... was in use seven days a week", and
enrollment at the church's Sunday school had correspondingly increased.
Church became a community icon and a religious center
of Morningside Heights. By 1939, the church had more
than 200 staff in both part-time and full-time positions, and over
people a week were attending its social and religious services,
events, and employment programs.
June 1945, Fosdick announced he would step down as senior
minister the following May. This spurred a search for a new pastor and
1946, Robert James McCracken was chosen for the position and officially
the senior pastor of Riverside Church that October.
Over the next two decades, McCracken continued
Fosdick's policy of religious liberalism. In 1956, halfway through
tenure, the church conducted an internal report and found the
structure was disorganized and that most staff did not feel any single
was in charge. As a result, six councils were created and placed under
purview of the deacons and trustees. The councils partitioned power
"a series of mini-kingdoms", according to a later pastor, Ernest T.
on the Martin Luther King Jr. Wing, to the
south of the existing church, started in 1955. The seven-story wing was
designed by Collens, Willis & Beckonert, successors to Allen &
its $15 million cost was funded by Rockefeller. The wing was dedicated
December 1959 and contained additional facilities for the church's
15-foot dummy antenna had been placed on top of Riverside Church's
carillon earlier that year to determine whether it could be used by
University's radio station, WKCR (89.9 MHz FM), despite strong
parishioners and the local community. Nevertheless, the church decided
an antenna atop the carillon for its own radio station, the top of the
being 440 feet above ground level. Riverside Church started
operating the radio
station WRVR (106.7 MHz FM) in 1961 and continued to operate it until
1960, Riverside Church's congregation voted to merge
with the United Church of Christ. Rockefeller purchased the Stone Gym,
existing Union Theological Seminary building southeast of the original
and reopened it as a community facility in April 1962 after a five-year
T. Campbell became pastor in November 1968. Campbell's tenure was
marked by several
controversial sermons and increasing conflicts among the church's
councils, and staff. In June 1976, Campbell
suddenly resigned, having felt his style of leadership was not
reconcile these disagreements. The same month saw the installment of
church's first female pastor, Evelyn Newman.
vote in August 1977, William Sloane Coffin was selected
as the next senior minister of Riverside Church. Coffin officiated
his first service in November 1977. At this point, the congregation's
been declining for several years but after Coffin's selection as senior
minister, membership increased to 2,627 by the end of 1979, and total
attendance for morning services rose from 49,902 in 1976 to 71,536 in
Coffin's tenure was also marked by theologically liberal sermons, many
were controversial, though he was more traditional in his worship. This
also saw Channing E. Phillips, the first African-American major-party
presidential nominee, being hired as minister of planning and
announced his intention to resign in July 1987 to
become the president of disarmament organization SANE/Freeze, and held
sermon that December. Riverside Church formed a committee
that conducted a nationwide search for its next senior minister over
year. In February 1989, the committee chose James A. Forbes, a
nearby Union Theological Seminary, for the position. The congregation
almost unanimously to approve Forbes's selection and he became the
first black senior minister. At the time, between one-fourth and
the congregation was Black or Hispanic. Tensions between Forbes and
minister David Dyson soon developed over matters including the duration
Forbes's sermons and his musical choices. Tensions grew and a mediator
engaged after Forbes tried to fire Dyson. The dispute was resolved when
resigned in October 1992.
1996, Riverside Church started conducting
a study on the building's current use and services, and the following
Body Lawson, Ben Paul Associated Architects and Planners published the
Riverside Church Master Plan. The plan included a major addition on
Riverside Church's eastern side, consisting of the
relocation of the Claremont Avenue
entrance, paving of the forecourt, reconfiguration of the cloister
construction of a seven-story building over the gymnasium. This plan
controversial among congregants, some of whom petitioned the New York
Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the church to prevent
alteration of the original appearance of the Claremont Avenue entrance.
1998, the congregation voted to officially nominate the church for
status. Only the original church building was nominated; the nomination
excluded the Martin Luther King Jr. Wing, despite preservationists'
for the entire structure to be considered for landmark designation. The
approved landmark status for the original church in May 2000.
nationwide, year-long search for a new senior
minister commenced and in August 2008, it was announced Brad Braxton
selected as the sixth senior minister of Riverside Church.
Braxton's tenure was marked by theological disputes; congregants
whether the church should take a fundamentalist or progressive
well as a lawsuit over his salary, which a church spokesperson stated
$457,000. In June 2009, Braxton submitted a letter of resignation due
disputes. For the next five years, Riverside Church had no senior
minister and in 2014, its congregation had decreased to 1,670, a loss
of over a
thousand since 2007.
June 2014, Amy K. Butler was selected as the church's
seventh senior minister, becoming the first woman to hold that job. In
September 2018, it was announced Riverside Church would buy the
McGiffert Hall at Claremont Avenue
and 122nd Street
for $45 million. The dormitory was on land John Rockefeller Jr. had
the Union Theological Seminary, and under the donation agreement, the
had the right of first offer to buy the building should it ever be
sale.In July 2019, the church's governing council announced Butler's
would not be renewed, and the Church Council and Butler released a
stating Butler's resignation was mutual. A former Church Council member
said Butler was
dismissed after she and several other female staff members had
sexual harassment by another former council member, Dr. Edward Lowe.
to the former council member, despite the council's previous extensive
investigation into Lowe's conduct, the council had not conducted as
an investigation into allegations against Butler
before voting to break off contract negotiations. Media outlets later
reported Butler had taken subordinate staffers to a sex-themed shop
during a conference in Minneapolis,
where she bought female subordinates vibrators and waved a church
as she paid for the purchases.
Church occupies a 454-by-100-foot lot between
Riverside Drive to the west, 122nd Street to the north, Claremont
Avenue to the
east, and 120th Street to the south. The church's interior was designed
by Burnham Hoyt. The
Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Wing to the south of the original building
designed by Collens, Willis & Beckonert and the Stone Gym to the
was designed by Louis E. Jallade.
of 2017, Riverside
Church is the tallest church in the United States
and is among the world's tallest churches.
and Collens chose a Gothic architectural style for Riverside Church's
exterior; by contrast, the
internal structure incorporates modern curtain walls and a steel frame.
later said the exterior Gothic style is suited to "make people pray"
and that the church had "not outgrown Gothic" in that regard. Riverside
design is partially derived from Chartres Cathedral in France but also
incorporates designs of several
Gothic churches in France
Pelton and Collens said Chartres would provide
the "fundamental principles" for the design of Riverside
Church but that Riverside would have a completely different
outline. The features inspired by Chartres
include the detailing of the three Riverside Drive entrances and the
decorative elements on the facade, except for the stained glass windows
walls and the sculptural elements around each portal. The massive
tower was inspired by the two western towers at Chartres. The rest of
the facade consists of
Riverside Church's completion, its
design received both praise and criticism. In mid-1931, The American Architect published
pieces in mid-1931 that featured a critical viewpoint from Columbia
architecture professor Walter A.
Taylor and a rebuttal from architect Charles Crane, who had worked on
project with Pelton. While Taylor
believed the design should have been more modernist, Crane defended
Gothic design as being "fundamentally Christian". The writers of the
1939 WPA Guide to New York City
said the tower's features make the "building itself seem smaller than
is, so that its scale is scarcely impressive, even when seen at close
range". Other critics called the building's exterior overly opulent;
to one critic, when considered along the progressive ideology, the
design "can only be interpreted as an outward confession that religion
dead". The New York Sun
referred to the
building as one of the "most outstanding additions" to New York City's
architecture "in recent years". Eric Nash, in his book Manhattan
Skyscrapers, called Riverside Church "Manhattan's
last great eclectic skyscraper" while the AIA Guide to New York City dubbed
the church "easily the most prominent
architectural work along the Hudson [River] from
midtown to the George Washington Bridge".
Gothic-themed nave was inspired by Albi Cathedral, France,
the nave is 100 feet high, 89 feet wide and 215 feet long.
narthex, which was designed in the late Gothic style
with a Romanesque layout, is directly south of the nave and can be
from the church's West Portal. The narthex is split into four vaults
Guastavino tiled ceilings that are supported by simple limestone
stone spiral staircase on the west side of the narthex, directly south
West Portal, leads to the basement. There are two grisaille windows and
rose window on each of the western and eastern sides of the narthex.
eastern wall has four 16th-century lancet windows that were previously
in the Park Avenue Baptist
Church; they are the only windows in Riverside Church that were not
for the church. Stairs leading both upward and downward are on the
of the narthex, and a mortuary chapel is on the northeastern corner.
mortuary chapel is known as the Gethsemane Chapel but prior to 1959, it
called the Christ Chapel.
chapel to the south of the narthex, which since 1959 has
been known as the Christ Chapel, was inspired by the Basilica of Saints
Nazarius and Celsus in France.
Its design was inspired by the pointed Romanesque nave at Carcassonne
Cathedral. The design, which was described by architectural historian
Dolkart as "earlier than Gothic", is intended to give the impression
the rest of the sanctuary was built after the chapel. The chapel is
into four bays and has a barrel-vaulted ceiling with Guastavino tiles,
walls and floor have a limestone finish. The southern wall, which is
to the MLK Wing, has four arched, back-lit stained-glass windows; one
392-foot tower was named after Laura Spelman
Rockefeller, the mother of John D. Rockefeller Jr. The tower contains
floors, which include 80 classrooms and office rooms. The tower has
elevators, two of which rise only to the 10th floor, whereas the other
to the 20th floor. The 20-floor elevators, which rise 355 feet, were
in 1999 as the world's tallest elevators inside a church.
tower's main entrance is on the western elevation of the
tower's base and is flanked by projecting vertical piers. Seven arched
each containing one statue of a king, are above the main entrance. A
window is above the statuary grouping. The apex of the tower is fitted
aircraft warning lights. Above the tenth floor are five tiers of window
arrangements on each floor; the higher tiers become progressively
From bottom to top, the successive tiers have two, three, four, and
windows on each side. There are narrow, canopied niches in each corner
tower, with one statue inside each niche. At the top of the tower is a
the fourth through fourteenth floors were
occupied by Riverside Church's school while the
fifteenth floor and above contained staff and clergy offices, as well
for group activities. The second floor connects to the nave's lower
gallery, while the third floor leads to the upper seating gallery. The
through eighth floors are below the height of the nave's ceiling; these
the nursery, junior high, and high school departments of the church's
The ninth and tenth floors housed the double-story school kitchen,
offices, and storage rooms over the nave. The ninth floor also houses a
library, and there is wooden furniture in the kitchen and library. The
structure's roof is above the tenth floor, and the tower rises
above that point. The eleventh through fourteenth floors originally
the church's elementary school while the fifteenth and sixteenth floors
respectively housed the young people's meeting room and the social
floors were later converted into office space, and several floors were
subdivided and leased out. The seventeenth through twentieth floors
meeting rooms and the seventeenth floor also contains offices. The
floor includes the carilloneur's studio and the twenty-second floor is
to mechanical space.
23rd floor of the tower contains a three-level belfry
that houses a carillon whose final complement of 74 bronze bells, which
time of its construction the largest carillon of bells in the world,
the 20-ton, 122-inch-diameter bourdon, the world's largest tuned bell.
other carillons with more bells have been commissioned, Riverside Church's
carillon is still the largest in the world by aggregate weight: the
associated mechanisms weight a combined 500,000 pounds. Of the
carillon's bells, 53 were made for the
original Park Avenue church by English founders Gillett & Johnston
another 19 were made for Riverside Church when it opened.
Two additional bells were added in 1955 and 58 treble bells were
bell founders Van Bergen.] The bells were replaced again by Whitechapel
Foundry in 2004. The bells can reportedly be heard from up to 8 miles
mechanical power room and control room are in the belfry,
with the clavier cabin at the top, above the carillon. Due to the
weight of the
carillon, the heaviest steel beams used in the construction of Riverside
Church were used in the tower. The north
facade, which overhangs the nave, is supported by a single cross truss
weighs 60 short tons. Outside the
carillon, the tower's facade has ornate Neo-Gothic detailing that
features such as gargoyles. On top of the carillon is a public
deck; the deck was closed after the September 11, 2001, attacks due to
concerns but the church resumed tours in January 2020.
cloister passageway leads from the southern portion of
the nave to Claremont Avenue
in the east. A gift
shop is adjacent to the cloister passageway, and sculptures of the
architects and builder are above the doorway leading to the tower's
Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Wing is a seven-story annex
south of the main structure and facing 120th Street along the southern
of the plot. The long arm of this L-shaped building lies north–south
to Riverside Drive
and the short arm lies west–east next to 120th Street. The MLK Wing
the original church building to the north and the Stone Gym to the
area between the MLK Wing and the cloister forms a small courtyard or
is enclosed on the eastern side by a metal fence. Inside the wing are
children's chapels, space for the school, a rooftop recreation area,
a radio station, community areas including a gymnasium and assembly
room, and a
basement with a parking lot.
structure, which was designed by Collens, Willis and
Beckonert, and built by Vermilea-Brown, is a simplified version of
Collens' original church design and was perceived as being "modern
Gothic". The building was known as the South Wing until 1985, when it
renamed for civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Stone Gymnasium is a 1 1⁄2-story English Gothic
building at 120th Street
and Claremont Avenue, east
of the Martin Luther King Jr. Wing. The gym was built in 1912 to a
Louis E. Jallade and was originally used by the Union Theological
architectural details include a facade of schist with limestone
a metal hip roof. The structure measures five bays long on the eastern
and one bay wide on the southern and northern facades. In 1957,
donated the building to the church and five years later, it reopened as
gymnasium and community facility. The building's interior contains a
court with synthetic flooring, and there are offices and lockers in its
includes several modern amenities such as a 250-seat movie theater and
gymnasium with a full-size basketball court. The basement originally
four-lane bowling alley that was adjacent to the assembly floor. It was
removed and converted into storage space. There is a two-story,
parking lot underneath the MLK Wing.
two Riverside Church organs are located
in the chancel and the seating gallery. The chancel organ is the 14th
in the world as of 2017. It was furnished 1n 1930 by Hook and Hastings,
originally criticized as mediocre. Aeolian-Skinner built an organ
the chancel in 1948 and replaced the chancel organ in 1953–1954, and
ceiling above the chancel and the front of the nave was coated with
improve the chancel's acoustic qualities. In 1964, another
organ was installed within the eastern wall of the nave's seating
three years later, Anthony A. Bufano installed a five-manual console
gallery organ. M. P. Moller built another organ for the gallery, the
Majestatis, in 1978. Two years later, the chancel organ received a new
principal chorus with the addition of the Grand Chorus division. In the
the console was rewired, the chancel organ was cleaned, and the ceiling
covered with ten layers of sealant.
Church's main building
contains 51 stained glass windows, excluding small grisaille windows.
glassmakers Jacques Simon from Reims
Cathedral and Charles Lorin from Chartres Cathedral were hired to
glass for the clerestory windows in the nave. Lorin designed the
windows on the western side of the clerestory while Simon designed
those on the
eastern side. Both sets of windows depict general religious and
themes, and also incorporate secular iconography and depictions of
non-Christians. The clerestory windows closely resemble those at
Chartres and include a
rose with lancet windows. The other windows in the nave were created by
Boston-based firm Reynolds, Francis and Rohnstock and depict 138 scenes
both religious and non-religious contexts. The three groups of stained
windows in the apse and the nine stained glass windows in the South
created by Harry Wright Goodhue.
building's most prominent sculptural details are on the Riverside Drive
facade. The main entrance beneath the tower is topped with five
archivolts with sculptures of Jesus's followers and prophets inlaid
section. The third arch of the main entrance has depictions of
including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Immanuel Kant, and Pythagoras, while the
arch depicts scientists including Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, and
Hippocrates. Other figures depict the months of the year. The columns
the door jambs beneath the archivolts are decorated with capitals and
at the top and bottom, and a single figure in the middle. In the
the doors and below the archivolts is a figure of Christ seated, which
flanked by the symbols of the Evangelists.
Riverside Church was completed,
there was controversy over the inclusion of Einstein, a living Jewish
because the other figures represented people who had since died.
the publication Church Monthly,
during construction, the
committee tasked with the church's iconography had proposed depicting
scientists, not including Einstein, on the facade. The faculty,
unanimously decided Einstein should be included because he was
of 14 "leading scientists of all time".
Church was conceived as a
complex social-services center from the outset; the building has
classrooms, a daycare center, a kindergarten, library, auditorium, and
It was described by The New York
Times in 2008 as "a
stronghold of activism and political debate throughout its 75-year
influential on the nation's religious and political landscapes".
Riverside Church provides various social services,
including a food bank, barber training, clothing distribution, a shower
project, and confidential HIV tests and HIV counseling. In 2007, The New York Times said Riverside
has frequently "been likened to the Vatican
April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech
called Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, in which he voiced his
opposition to the Vietnam War, at Riverside Church. The Rev. Jesse
Jackson gave the eulogy at Jackie Robinson's funeral service in 1972.
Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist and later South African
spoke at Riverside
following his release from prison. Secretary-General of the United
Annan spoke there after the September 11, 2001, attacks, and former U.S.
Bill Clinton spoke at the church in 2004.
Speakers at Riverside Church have also included theologians Paul Tillich—who taught nearby— and Reinhold Niebuhr; civil-rights activists Cesar Chavez and Desmond Tutu; Cuban president Fidel Castro; the 14th Dalai Lama; and Abdullah II of Jordan.