WEST 96th STREET BRIDGE, Upper West Side

by Kevin Walsh

THE westernmost north-south avenue in Manhattan north of West 72nd Street, Riverside Drive runs from West 72nd Street north to Broadway and Dyckman Street in Inwood.

Riverside Drive was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted as part of his concept for Riverside Park. It passes through the Manhattan neighborhoods of the Upper West SideMorningside Heights, over Manhattanville in West Harlem by way of the Riverside Drive Viaduct and through Washington Heights. 

The eastern side of Riverside Drive, once a series of luxuriously finished rowhouses interspersed with free-standing nineteenth century mansions set in large lawns, today is lined with luxury apartment buildings and some remaining town houses from the Drive’s beginning to 118th Street.

Among its famed residents were Damon Runyon, George Gershwin, Babe Ruth and fictional characters Oscar Madison and Paul Kersey of Death Wish.

I have yet to do a definitive walk on Riverside Drive, though in 2012 a Forgotten NY tour marched from 72nd north to 125th, a trip that took us a good five hours. (I don’t put myself or tourgoers on five hour specials anymore, as father time is beginning to affect my stamina.) It’s a fascinating road as it twists and tuns unlike most Manhattan avenues, and divided into two in sections with one side up a hill from the other. It’s also bridged over several cross streets such as West 96th, West 129th through 135th and West 158th. The viaduct from West 129th to 135th (seen on this FNY page)is the lengthiest and most photographed of all of them, but I have begun to notice the others, such as this one at West 96th. It enables traffic to get to the Henry Hudson Parkway directly without having to cross Riverside Drive.

I know little about it except that Bridgehunter calls it a steel arch bridge built in 1920. The large stone arches over the sidewalks, though, seem to point to the Beaux Arts era two decades before that.

On the right, almost out of the picture, is 243 Riverside Drive, known as the “Cliff Dwellers Apartments.” Friezes on the building depict mountain lions, buffalo skulls and rattlesnakes to symbolize Arizona cliff dwelling Native Americans: this building overlooks hilly Riverside Park across the street. Two terra cotta swastika-shaped symbols can be found on the upper corners at 243 Riverside at West 96th Street, which was built about 1914. The swastika, formerly a symbol of good fortune and prosperity, was co-opted and forever corrupted by the National Socialist Party of Germany beginning in the 1920s. It can be found on many older buildings around town that predate Nazi Germany.

As always, “comment…as you see fit.” I earn a small payment when you click on any ad on the site.



Ty September 23, 2021 - 6:41 am

Didn’t Oscar live on Park?

Sergey Kadinsky September 23, 2021 - 9:05 am

This bridge and the dip in West 96th Street is the result of Strycker’s Bay, an indentation in the Hudson River shoreline that was straightened in the second half of the 19th century. Visit W3Schools

Andy September 23, 2021 - 10:50 am

Great post again! The one mile stretch of Riverside Drive between 96th and 116th Streets is especially noteworthy because of variety found there – a narrow service road on the east flank, a curving main roadway, a number of interesting statues and monuments, and some unique apartment buildings. The Hudson River vistas are also quite nice. In the 1930’s, Robert Moses built the Henry Hudson Parkway along the riverbank and covered the railroad tracks below Riverside Drive (still there and used by Amtrak trains). I have lived in the area twice (once at Riverside and W 104th St; later on W 95th St) so I am very familiar with Riverside Drive and the surrounding streets. I still return from time to time. Let me know if you want to walk the area.

stashy September 23, 2021 - 12:46 pm

Ty is right: 1049 Park, at 87th Street.

Mike Olshan September 25, 2021 - 4:38 am

I have a Boy Scout Lucky Swastika coin from around 1916. A pocket piece you got when you bought Boy Scout shoes from Thom Mcann.

Matt Cantor September 26, 2021 - 1:45 am

Oscar lived at 1049 Park in the TV series. In the original movie he lived at 131 Riverside Dr.

Tal Barzilai September 26, 2021 - 4:45 am

There was a time I actually did park on that bridge and then walked down to 96th Street, though I have never got why Riverside Drive doesn’t exactly touch 96th Street.

Andy September 27, 2021 - 9:14 am

Look at the second posting (Mr. Kadinsky). Also, when the Henry Hudson Parkway opened in 1937 the natural dip at 96th Street provided an easy access to and from the HHP without intersecting Riverside Drive. The exit/entrance ramps are still there today in pretty much their original forms.

Peter Kasius September 26, 2021 - 8:48 am

Oscar Madison did live on Riverside Drive in the film, “The Odd Couple”. On the television show the address was changed to Park Avenue for some reason.

Adam October 3, 2021 - 4:12 pm

Speaking as someone who has walked every block in Manhattan, Riverside Drive is my favorite street in the borough, for many of the reasons mentioned here:
– On one side of the street, the elegant town houses and apartment buildings, bursting with beautiful architectural details
– The gorgeous park on the other side of the street
– The sinuous complexity of the street, which twists and turns in unexpected ways, with a surprise around every bend.

William Schafer October 19, 2021 - 1:28 pm

This also the bridge where an ill fated car ride resulted in David Ames (Tom Cruise) and Juli Gianni (Cameron Diaz) plunging off the side in the Movie, Vanilla Sky. Great New York Movie!


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