From the divine to the 'quirky'


From the old mansions of Wave Hill to the towering apartments of Sputyen Duyvil, Riverdale is home to a wide array of architectural styles.

“I think the first thing everyone thinks of is driving down the Henry Hudson Parkway and you see these distinctive old buildings,” said Sherida Paulsen, a local architect who chairs the Riverdale Nature Preservancy.

Ms. Paulsen was talking about beautiful old buildings like the Riverdale Presbyterian Church, built in 1863 by James Renwick, the designer of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Christ Church, built by renowned Gothic Revival architect Richard Upjohn, with windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany, in 1866. Both sites are designated historical landmarks.

The Fieldston Historic District is also a prime location to check out local gems.

“It’s interesting, because in Fieldston, which is a planned community, most of the houses were designed by one architect [Dwight James Baum] and he worked in all styles,” she said, naming Mediterranean, English Gothic and Craftsman as examples.

“But it’s not a mish-mash. It’s beautiful,” she added.

As for more up-to-date buildings, Ms. Paulsen named two synagogues for having particularly interesting mid-century modern architecture, Riverdale Temple — perhaps the finest work of Riverdalian Simon B. Zelnick, whose Jewish religious structures are dotted throughout the city — and the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale, the work of Percival Goodman. He, too, specialized in synagogues, but he is probably best known for writing an urban manifesto known as Communitas.

“Both [buildings] were designed by very, very good modern architects,” she said.

When asked if she had a favorite building in Riverdale, Ms. Paulsen, the former chairwoman of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, laughed.

“Oh, my God,” she said. “I try not to play favorites.”

She admitted she likes her own home, which she called “one of the weirdest houses in Riverdale.” It has two parts: one from the late 19th century, the other a modern addition from the 1970s.

“It makes for a great living experience,” Ms. Paulsen said.

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