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Master Apartments
Riverside Drive entrance
Former names Master Building
General information
Type Housing Cooperative
Architectural style Art Deco
Location 310 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10025
United States
Coordinates 40°48′02″N 73°58′17″W / 40.80050°N 73.97126°W / 40.80050; -73.97126Coordinates: 40°48′02″N 73°58′17″W / 40.80050°N 73.97126°W / 40.80050; -73.97126
Construction started 1928-03-24
Opened 1929-10-17
Cost $1,925,000
Height 443 ft (135 m)
Technical details
Floor count 27
Design and construction
Architect Harvey Wiley Corbett, Helmle, Corbett & Harrison; and Sugarman & Berger
Master Building
NRHP reference No. 16000036
Significant dates
Added to NRHP February 23, 2016

The Master Apartments, officially known as the Master Building, is a landmark 27-story Art Deco skyscraper at 310 Riverside Drive, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City. It sits on the northeast corner of Riverside Drive and West 103rd Street. The Master Apartments is one of the city's first mixed-use structures as well as the tallest building on Riverside Drive. It was the first skyscraper in New York City to feature corner windows and the first to employ brick in varying colors for its entire exterior.

The Master Apartments' name derives from the Master Institute of United Arts, an art institute founded in 1920 by Nicholas and Helena Roerich. The institute's name, in turn, may have come either from Master Morya, a non-corporeal spiritual leader from whom Helena Roerich received guidance via automatic writing, or from Nicholas Roerich, a theosophist master. In 1925, wealthy financier Louis L. Horch, who funded the Roeriches' institutes and some other expenses, began purchasing lots to build the apartment building, and in 1928, secured a bond to fund its construction. Harvey Wiley Corbett; Helmle, Corbett & Harrison; and Sugarman & Berger constructed the Master Apartments, which opened in 1929 to generally positive acclaim. As built, the building's lower floors consisted of a museum; a school for the fine and performing arts; and an international art center.

Soon after the Master Apartments' opening, the building and the institute both experienced monetary deficits, with the building going into foreclosure in 1932. Two years later, Horch had his tax-exempt corporation, Master Institute of United Arts, Inc., become the building's landlord, with receivership ending the next year in 1935. Soon after, the Horch and Roerich families dissolved their partnership due to disagreements, and the Roeriches unsuccessfully sued Horch to regain control of the Master Apartments. Horch then closed the Roeriches' museum, forcing it to find a new location, and replaced it with the Riverside Museum. Louis Horch's wife Nettie also controlled some aspects of the building and its organizations during this time, but by 1958, the Horches' son Frank became the building's manager.

During the 1950s and 1960s, people moved out of the surrounding Manhattan Valley neighborhood. Consequently, the Master Apartments' museum and cultural center closed by 1971, their holdings dispersed elsewhere, although the building's auditorium was still used for cultural events. After Louis's death in 1979, the building was bought by real estate investor Sol Goldman, who converted it to a housing co-operative over the next decade. Further renovations, which were completed in 2005, resulted in many of the one-bedroom studios being combined into two- and three-bedroom units. These renovations attracted more families and made the building more luxurious by both quality-of-life and purchase-price measures. The Master Apartments was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.

Naming and location

Although "Master Building" is the name that appeared on official documents, the structure has long been known as Master Apartments or The Master. From 1939 onward newspaper advertising used both names constantly. One 1939 ad listed "The Master. Choice 1, 2 room suites, serving pantries, full hotel service, all rooms outside; from $50 month unfurnished; few furnished, $65 month. Popular price restaurant. Home of Riverside Museum. Concerts, lectures, recitals free to residents." The building continued to be called by both names after conversion to a housing cooperative in 1988. At that time it was described as having 335 apartments on 28 floors served by four elevators. Buyers were permitted to finance up to 90% of the purchase price and 28% of the monthly maintenance fee was tax deductible.

The Master Apartments is located in the borough of Manhattan, on lot 40 of block 1890. In the building zoning map, it is classified as an Elevator Apartments, Cooperative (D4). The building is located within Community District 107, City Council District 6, and NYPD 24th Precinct. The nearest zoned school is PS 145 Bloomingdale School (K-5).



The skyscraper's first three floors originally held a museum, a school of the fine and performing arts, and an international art center. These three organizations were inspired by Nicholas Roerich and his wife Helena, and were largely funded by a wealthy financier, Louis L. Horch.

Both the building and the institute take their name primarily from Master Morya, a non-corporeal spiritual leader from whom Helena Roerich received guidance via automatic writing. A secondary source of the name was Roerich himself who was revered as a theosophist master, able to interpret the wisdom of ancient gurus to modern man.

The Master Institute of United Arts came into being in 1920 as the Master School of United Arts. It struggled to survive until, in 1922, Louis Horch financed its transfer from a single-room, all-in-one studio at 314 West 54th Street to a mansion he bought on the site where the Master Building would later be constructed. Horch's wife, Nettie Horch, was a friend of Frances Grant who directed the Master School for the Roeriches. Nettie and Louis were patrons of the arts and ardent believers in art education as an indirect means of promoting harmony among the peoples of the world. They were attracted to the spiritual quest in which the Roeriches were engaged and participated in sessions during which Helena Roerich would receive instructions from Master Morya (or other esoteric beings) and Nicholas Roerich would record them on scrolls of paper that were later transcribed into a series of texts, the Leaves of Morya's Garden. Their teachings became the core of a spiritual and cultural movement known as Roerichism.

The Master Institute aimed to give students a well-rounded education in the arts and also to "open the gates to spiritual enlightenment" through culture. The mansion where it was located also housed the Roerich Museum, containing many of the thousands of paintings Roerich had created, and Corona Mundi, which arranged for exhibitions of paintings by Roerich and international artists.

Preparation for construction

In 1925, while the Roeriches were engaged in a long period of travel in Central Asia, Horch began to acquire the lots surrounding the mansion to construct the Master Building. The Roeriches' extensive travels were almost entirely funded by Louis Horch. As is common when assembling adjacent lots for a single purpose, he used dummies as purchasers. In doing this he followed a pattern he had established in providing an organizational structure for the Master Institute when he installed the Roeriches and their close associates as nominal shareholders and corporate officers.

In 1928, Horch formed a corporation, Master Building, Inc., in which he was president. The corporation was appointed to plan and construct a skyscraper to replace the mansion in which the museum, institute, and outreach center were located. The architect was Harvey Wiley Corbett, of the architectural firm Helmle, Corbett & Harrison. Plans filed in January 1928 called for a 24-story apartment hotel, topped by a stupa – a Buddhist shrine in the shape of a staggered pyramid with a spire on top. When the building was constructed, plans for the stupa were scrapped in favor of an additional three stories. The building was designed to contain 406 rooms. Its cost was given as about $1,700,000 (equivalent to $21,100,000 in 2018).

The building was to house a large and a small auditorium, two art libraries, conference rooms, and studios, in addition to three cultural institutions. These would all be located on the first three floors with the remaining stories containing an apartment hotel complying with New York City tenement laws. There were to be 390 apartments, with the majority having one bedroom and several having two or three bedrooms. An article in the New York Times said the planned building was to be "New York's first skyscraper art gallery" and an art critic for the Washington Post called it "a shrine of art with a truly American architectural expression."

On June 15, 1928, Horch arranged for the American Bond and Mortgage Company to underwrite a bond of $1,925,000 to cover costs. The bonds, which were linked to the price of gold, were certificates held under a trust mortgage with the Chatham Phenix National Bank and Trust Company. Prospective purchasers of the bonds were told that Horch and an associate guaranteed payment of principal and interest personally and that the income from rentals was expected far to exceed expenses, including both interest costs and amounts to be committed to the sinking fund.

Early years


Helmle, Corbett & Harrison teamed with another architectural firm, Sugarman & Berger. Henry Sugarman, of the latter organization, advised in the building's design and supervised interior construction work. The cornerstone was laid on March 24, 1929. It has an all-black irregular shape stepped like the building. On it are inscribed the year 1929 and a symbol designed by Roerich consisting of a circle enclosing three dots together with a monogram. The monogram, showing the letter R within the letter M, stands for the Roerich Museum. The circle and the three dots are the symbol of Roerich's Banner of Peace. He once said the circle represents eternity and unity and the dots the triune nature of existence. On another occasion he said the symbol has two meanings: in one interpretation, the circle represents the totality of culture and the dots are art, science, and religion (or philosophy), while in the other, the circle symbolizes the endlessness of time and the dots are the past, the present, and the future. The cornerstone contains a 400-year-old casket from the Rajput dynasty of northern India. Made of iron with inlays of gold and silver, the casket contains photographs taken during the Roeriches' expedition to Central Asia. It is also said to contain Jacob's Pillow or the Stone of Scone. Prominent politicians participated in the cornerstone-laying ceremony and among messages read from prominent Americans was a letter from Albert Einstein in which he praised the cultural goals of the building's directors.

Horch expended $2,497,164 for land and construction costs. He used $1,790,500 of the mortgage bond issue, $64,500 of a second mortgage, and made up the rest from a loan he himself made. The completed structure had 233 one-room, 63 two-room, and two three-room apartments as well as a penthouse suite of seven rooms. It had a series of recessions and terraces beginning at the sixteenth story which culminates in a tower. Its steel skeleton was interior, lacking the corner columns that were present in other buildings of the time. It had a brick exterior that was deep purple in its lower stories gradually growing lighter in color until at the top a faint lavender blended into pure white. Harvey Wiley Corbett said the coloration gave the skyscraper a "feeling of growth." He said, "this colored brick exterior, which rises from a low, dark ground to a gleaming, white pinnacle, gives the building a dynamic quality. The play of sunlight on the many hues will make the building a beautiful spectacle of changing colors."

At its opening, press reports emphasized the opportunity for people to rent apartments in a building devoted to the arts and drew attention to the rapid growth of the Institute's cultural ideal of united arts, over seven years, from being housed in a single classroom to moving to a skyscraper. However, many reports did not describe religious factors, with one source saying that "the institution had nothing to do with cults and only with culture."

Financial problems

Master Building, 1929 view

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 occurred only weeks after the building was completed. At that time more than 80% of the apartments were rented and some 300 students had signed up to take classes at the Institute. However, both rentals and student fees were soon depleted, and the nonprofit corporation that ran the building was unable to meet its payments. On April 6, 1932, this organization was sued for nonpayment of taxes and sinking fund payments due on the mortgage bonds. At that time, it was alleged that the building was being mismanaged, the principal evidence offered being the provision of free living quarters to the Roeriches and their followers. Horch successfully contested the suit, partly on a technicality and partly by explaining that the 20 rooms occupied rent-free were used by management as partial compensation to employees of the corporation. Representatives of the bondholders had argued that the parts of the building that did not produce rental income—that is, the museum, institute, and other cultural spaces—should be converted to apartments, but Horch successfully countered that the cultural spaces were an asset that generated a substantial tax exemption and that, in normal times, they led to higher rental rates from the existing apartments than would comparable apartments. He also pointed out that the demanded conversion would be expensive (about $100,000). In June 1932, the foreclosure case ended, with Horch being named one of two receivers tasked with clearing the building's debts.

In 1934, Horch arranged to have Master Institute of United Arts, Inc., the educational corporation he had created in 1923, take over responsibility for the building from the organization he had previously used to run it. He did this because the Institute was free of debt and, due to its status as an educational organization, was tax-exempt.

In 1935, the receivership ended and control over the Master Building and the cultural organizations it contained was turned over to the Master Institute of United Arts, Inc. with Horch as its president. At this time, Horch arranged for the Institute to give a five-year mortgage for $1,674,800 to the entity that managed the building (now organized as the Riverside Drive & 103d Street Corporation) at five and one-half percent interest.

Horch, who had remained a devoted follower of the Roeriches since his acceptance of their spiritual quest as his own in 1923, started to fall out with them, for unclear reasons. The Roeriches maintained that Horch's motives were base: through guile and deception, they said, he had taken control of the Master Building, closed the cultural institutions it contained, and severed them and their associates from everything connected with the building and its contents. Horch countered that the Roeriches had improperly attempted to countermand his decisions as building owner and director of the cultural organizations it contained. He said they had shown bad faith when they asserted that they alone could receive and interpret the commands of the supreme being whom they all worshiped. On June 8, 1935, he wrote Helena Roerich to say he feared that the Roeriches had lost confidence in himself and his wife Nettie. Then, on July 13, 1935, Nettie wrote Helena of her and Horch's "fourteen years of complete devotion in heart and in deed" and of their enduring "loyalty and selfless sacrifice" over that period. She reaffirmed their "flaming devotion" which they continued to hold in their hearts. And she said the Roeriches' attempt to exert unilateral control over their affairs had caused them to "contemplate, review and think of matters in a new light." These letters explain actions that Horch took on June 5, 1936, to sever relations between the Institute and the other cultural organizations housed at the Master Building and discharge all their employees. The employees who occupied rent-free apartments were told to vacate immediately.

In February 1936, the Roeriches and their associates attempted to obtain an injunction to prevent these actions. When the attempt failed, they sued Horch to regain what they believed to be their rightful authority to participate in the operation of the building and its component organizations. This case was settled on February 9, 1938, in favor of Horch. George Frankenthaler, the referee who decided the case, found that the Roeriches never possessed the authority they claimed. Horch alone administered the corporation that had the building constructed, ran the organizations that it housed, and obtained all the needed financing. In addition, he donated more than a million dollars of his own money, while the Roeriches and their associates had contributed no funds at all. Regarding allegations of deception, he found Horch to be the more creditable witness.

Riverside Museum

Master Apartments 2
In 2004

Not long afterwards, Horch closed the Roerich Museum, which subsequently moved to a new location at 319 West 107th Street in 1949. In the Roerich Museum's former space, Horch established the Riverside Museum. He became president of the new museum and appointed Vernon C. Porter as its director. Open to the public free of charge, the new museum was devoted mainly to exhibitions of contemporary art by American artists. At its opening in on June 4, 1938, the museum showed modern American paintings and work by Native Americans as well as Tibetan art objects that Roerich had given to Horch. The American artists included Stuart Davis, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jack Levine, Marsden Hartley, George Luks, John Sloan, Philip Evergood, Reginald Marsh, Charles Burchfield, and Rockwell Kent.

In 1939 the museum began hosting the annual exhibitions of American Abstract Artists, a group devoted to expanding appreciation of non-objective art that had been formed in 1936. The show included more than 300 oils, watercolors, pastels, collages, drawings, constructions, and sculpture. That year it also began hosting exhibitions held by the New York Society of Women Artists, a group that had been founded in 1926 to promote the work of avant-garde women artists. Other 1939 shows included contemporary works by artists from Poland, documentary photographs of child laborers by Lewis Hine, an international exhibition of works by women artists, and a large display of Pan-American art. Over the next few decades the museum would specialize in exhibitions by members of artists' groups. In addition to the two already named, these included the Silvermine Guild of Artists (a Connecticut summer art colony), the Manhattan Camera Club, the Photo-Engravers' Art Society, the Brooklyn Society of Artists, the Artists Equity Group, and USCO (a collective from the Woodstock, New York art colony and Garnerville, New York). The museum was organized as a unit of the Master Institute of United Arts. As it had previously done, the institute gave art classes, provided studio space, and sponsored lectures, concerts, poetry readings, art clinics, and other cultural events.

Porter served as the museum's director through the 1940s. He was succeeded by Nettie Horch, who had been in charge of the Institute's cultural events since the building opened. She was assisted by her daughter, Oriole, who took over direction of the museum and cultural events in the late 1960s.

Role of Nettie Horch

In addition to running the museum, Nettie had a large role in running the Master Building as a whole; however, the exact division of responsibilities between Nettie and her husband is unclear. She was secretary of the corporation, although this may have been a nominal position as Louis and his lawyer prepared most of the corporation's correspondence and its filings. She also probably helped her husband decide to provide more than one million dollars toward achieving the Roeriches' spiritual and cultural ambitions. She met with the Roeriches and their other supporters in making plans for the Roerich Museum, Master Institute, Corona Mundi, and the other organizations housed in the Master Building. She was active as president of the Roerich Society and, after its demise, directed the Riverside Museum for many years.

Later years

Master Apartments 1
In 2008

Neighborhood decline

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Manhattan Valley neighborhood (then known as Bloomingdale), where the Master Building is located, saw its culturally-oriented middle class renters depart. Many of them, it was said, opted to buy houses in the suburban New York metropolitan area. As a consequence, the museum and cultural center lost their audience and in 1971 they were forced to close. Their holdings were donated to Brandeis University and cultural initiatives such as the Master Institute Chorus, founded in 1960, either folded, or, as in the case of the chorus, became affiliated with other organizations, such as the New Amsterdam Singers. The Horches' daughter, Oriole, became advisory consultant for the collection at Brandeis. The building's auditorium continued to present concerts, plays, readings, and lectures in the 1940s and into the 1950s. From 1961 through 1978 the Equity Library Theater leased it for productions showcasing the talents of New York actors.

As chair of Bloomington Conservation Project, Horch and the Master Institute of United Arts led an effort to improve deteriorated housing by converting single-family brownstone buildings into rent-subsidized apartments. Efforts like those of this project ameliorated conditions to some extent, but the Bloomingdale area did not return to prosperity until the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the city as a whole experienced an economic rebound. As high-paying white-collar employment in financial institutions and other service industries replaced long-departed blue-collar jobs in the industrial sector, real estate speculators found that they could profit from new condos and co-ops either by replacing old buildings or by renovating them.

Master Apartments co-op and renovations

In 1958, Louis Horch made his son Frank manager of the building, which continued until Frank was murdered during a 1975 robbery. In 1970–71, Louis transferred partial ownership of the building to Frank and Oriole. In 1971 Louis and Nettie Horch moved to Florida, when he was 83 years old and she was 76.

Following the death of Louis in 1979, the Horch family sold the Master Building to a real estate investor, Sol Goldman, who was then the city's largest private landlord. Goldman continued to operate the building as rental apartments until 1982 when he formed a company, Manhattan Master Apartment Associates, to convert it to a housing co-operative. The conversion was completed in 1988 when that company transferred control to a new organization, Master Apartments, Inc.

After renovations were finished in 2005, the number of two- and three-bedroom units was increased dramatically, due to the combination of the building's original studio apartments. The larger layouts attracted more families to the cooperative community. In recent years the lobby has been restored, hallways remodeled, and amenities increased, including larger storage areas, a bike room, and an improved laundry facility. The building is now said to be luxurious as measured both by residents' quality of living and by the purchase prices they pay.

In 2016, the Master Apartments was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Landmarks Preservation Commission report on the building praises its "successful employment of sculptural massing, vertical emphasis, and the minimal, yet elegant, use of surface ornamentation and historically-inspired detailing." Critics have praised the adept handling of the transitions between the base and tower, "as square and chamfered corners established a sprightly syncopation against the more thunderous beat of the central masses."

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