Riverside Drive is New York City’s most scenic street. As one of the Upper West Side’s main roads, it parallels the West Side Highway and offers panoramic views of the Hudson River. From brownstones to limestone townhouses and beaux arts pre-war buildings, the street is rich in both its architecture and history. Read below to discover what makes this Upper West Side NYC street a must-see for both locals and visitors alike!
Where is Riverside Drive?
Riverside Drive travels past the Upper West Side and the uptown neighborhoods of Morningside Heights, West Harlem, and Washington Heights. The street starts at 72nd Street as it emerges from Riverside Boulevard which stretches all the day down from 62nd St. It then continues north until it eventually merges with the Henry Hudson Parkway. The MTA operates two public buses that use Riverside Drive as part of their route. The M5 line, which goes from 72nd St. to 135th St, and the Bx6, which concludes its journey by Riverside Dr. and 158th St.
The Riverside Drive Viaduct is located between Tiemann Place and 125th St. The viaduct transforms part of the road into an elevated steel highway. It’s design was considered to be a feat of engineering at the time of its inception. The completion of the viaduct during the early 1900’s symbolized a great time of confidence in American technology. At the same time, New Yorkers were happy to be able to drive their cars through a large portion of the city while enjoying unparalleled views of the Hudson River.
History of Riverside Drive
Frederick Law Olmsted is the man behind the design of Riverside Drive. He was a visionary landscape architect who intended to turn a portion of the original street into a scenic parkway. Olmsted was also determined to make use out of the barren piece of land facing the Hudson River by turning it into an urban park. He merged both of his plans into one in order to create Riverside Drive and what is known today as Riverside Park. Other architects began to take interest in the project and by the late 1800’s construction was already well underway.
During the 1980s, Riverside Drive saw a major expansion under the helm of business magnate Donald Trump. He proposed to expand the street to the south under the name of Riverside Boulevard. His large real estate development project also increased Riverside Park’s size by 23 acres.
Statues and Monuments on Riverside Drive
Many of Manhattan’s most notable buildings and monuments are located on Riverside Drive. One of these monuments is dedicated to the fire department. The Fireman’s Memorial, which is located by 100th St, was built in 1914 to honor those firefighters who lost their lives saving others during the fires that engulfed the city during much of the 18th and 19th centuries. After the 9/11 attacks, the monument became the site of an annual ceremony in remembrance of those firemen who passed away whilst protecting their country.
Grant’s Tomb is located on Riverside Drive in Morningside Heights. The memorial was completed in 1897 and is known as General Grant National Memorial. The tomb is open to the public on Wednesdays through Sundays between 9am and 5pm. Riverside Park contains other memorials of historical significance such as the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument and the Joan of Arc sculpture.
Churches on Riverside Drive
Along the northern portion of the street lies Riverside Church – a majestic Neo-Gothic cathedral established by John D. Rockefeller Jr. It opened its doors in 1930 as an affiliate of the Christian religion. Since the church’s very beginning, leaders like Martin Luther King Jr, Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela have given moving speeches inside its walls. It has been the birth place of many of the nation’s most influential activist movements. Riverside Church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a must-see for for history lovers and casual visitors alike.
Another Upper West Side church of special significance located along Riverside Drive is the Interchurch Center. Built in 1958, it acts as an international humanitarian ministry with the objective of bridging the gap between different religions.
The Nicholas Roerich Museum, on West 107th Street (just off Riverside Drive), is home to a beautiful collection of paintings by the talented Russian artist. His work depicts the beauty of the Himalayan mountain range as well as other wonders of nature with color and a touch of spirituality. In fact, his paintings have got quite a mystical quality to them. Many venture to the Upper West Side to see Roerich’s masterful strokes in this former townhouse-turned-museum – located on a truly stunning Upper West Side side street!
Buildings on Riverside Drive
Riverside Drive holds some of the coolest and most detailed Upper West Side apartments. Residential buildings such as The Normandy by 86th St. and The Masters Apartments by W. 103rd St. are fine examples of how Riverside Drive redefined the Art Deco movement. Emory Roth’s Normandy features two identical twin towers of 20 stories each. This 1938 construction is a distinguished NYC landmark.
The Masters Apartments, on the other hand, was the first skyscraper in the city’s history to incorporate corner windows. It still stands as one of the tallest buildings on the street. The Art Deco design was also the first one of its kind to be designed exclusively for residential apartments. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.
The Colosseum and The Paterno are two more historic buildings that show the architectural grandeur of Riverside Drive. Both feature a unique curved exterior inspired after the round amphitheater in the city of Rome. The Colesseum has a spectacular marble lobby. The Paterno’s lobby has a marvelous stained-glass ceiling which is a work of art itself.
People and Press
Some famous New Yorkers who have been proud to call Riverside Drive their home in the past are newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, writer Ralph Ellison, and legendary baseball player Babe Ruth. Hearst made real estate history when he purchased a quintuplex at The Clarendon. It was the largest apartment to ever exist in New York City at the time of its sale.
Riverside Drive has been featured in plenty of films, books, tv shows, and even music videos. This is hardly a surprise since it is one of NYC’s most emblematic streets. Some of the movies to feature Riverside Drive are romantic comedy “You’ve Got Mail”, the Tom Cruise thriller “Vanilla Sky” , and Woody Allen’s “Manhattan”.