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The Riverside Church

Updated: Feb 17

NOTES FOR A DOCUMENTARY FILM - By the mid-1920s, the Piccirilli brothers had established themselves as prominent sculptors and stone carvers. When construction of The Riverside Church commenced in 1927, they embraced the opportunity. Before this, they had gained recognition for executing the monumental seated Lincoln designed by Daniel Chester French for the Lincoln Memorial, a significant American public work of art.


The Italian Factor
Riverside Drive | Montes-Bradley

The Italian Factor
Riverside Drive | Archive

The Piccirilli brothers, renowned and financially successful, owned property throughout the city. Guiding the investment concerns and other business aspects of the Piccirilli studio was Getulio, the youngest of six brothers who at eighteen was the principal carver of the New York Stock Exchange pediment (later replaced by lighter versions due to structural issues), featuring designs by John Quincy Adam Ward and Paul Bartlett. Now responsible for finances, Getulio negotiated commissions and signed contracts with influential figures like John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who envisioned constructing the largest cathedral in New York—the tallest in the U.S. and the second in the Western Hemisphere.


The Italian Factor
Riverside Drive | Montes-Bradley

The Italian Factor
Riverside Drive | Archive

The ambitious project, a 20-floor tower reaching 392 feet in height, was intended to be adorned with intricate carvings, engravings, and sculptures. The Piccirilli Brothers dedicated three consecutive years to design and execute more than 500 decorations for the Riverside Church, a remarkable medieval temple in the heart of Manhattan. Notable features included the delicate pulpit from which Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous anti-Vietnam War sermon and Nelson Mandela addressed the nation during an interfaith celebration, long after the Piccirilli brothers could witness the full extent of their extraordinary work.


In a section of Manhattan where the Upper West Side meets Harlem, a two-city-block temple emerged, standing 392 feet tall, designed in the Gothic French style of the 14th century. Decorated by a family of Tuscan immigrants from the Risorgimento era, the temple served as a platform for freedom of speech, racial justice, and peace. Reflecting quintessential American values, the Piccirilli brothers took immense pride in contributing to this iconic structure.

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