1 at 116th St.-Columbia University
Riverside Church spans a leafy, unassuming stretch of Riverside Drive, just below Harlem, but its history is anything but quiescent. Marked by a commitment to social justice, the interdenominational church has over a dozen ministries and task forces catering to the area’s diverse population, including an HIV/AIDS outreach, a South African support group, and an LGBT association. Founded in 1930 by the congregation of the Park Avenue Baptist Church, the church boasts architecture as lofty as its ambitions. Flying buttresses, arched doorways, and elongated spires are inspired by French and Spanish Gothic architecture while the interior is lined by stained-glass windows that cast a bluish hue across the oak pews and choir stalls—exquisitely carved with scenes from the Psalms. The church’s 400-foot bell tower—its most visible and well-known feature—can be seen from nearly every corner of the Upper West Side, and its 74-bell carillon contains the world’s heaviest tuned bell (twenty tons). Riverside’s founding minister, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, was determined that the church be responsive to a broad swath of the community. One of his principle initiatives was the creation of a social-services ministry that offered technical training to women and schooling to young children. These programs multiplied throughout the years, and a southern wing named after Martin Luther King Jr. was added in 1959 to house a variety of activities. Today, the wing has multiple stages for music and theater performances (as well as religious ceremonies), a gym, a library, and a preschool. Unsurprisingly, the 2,400-person congregation, which has hosted such speakers as Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, and Fidel Castro, is as racially and economically diverse as one is likely to find in New York. Yet more proof that Fosdick’s vision has become a reality.Tours
Mon.—Fri., 9 a.m.—4p.m.