LETTER TO THE EDITORSubmitted to Our Town and published December 25, 2014
Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts has carefully reviewed the proposal for expansion of the Frick Collection. Much of the conversation in the press has focused on the 1977 Russell Page Garden, and while our support of its preservation remains strong and steadfast, we believe it is worth reiterating some of the other reasons we find this plan to be inappropriate.
The Henry Clay Frick House is a National Historic Landmark, a New York City landmark, and located within the Upper East Side Historic District. As such, this richly appointed mansion is as much a masterpiece as any of the objects inside. The proposed addition will institutionalize the residence — counter to the very mission of the museum: “to offer a singular and memorable experience for the visiting public, providing an engaging view of life in the Gilded Age.”
The bulk of the proposed addition is enormous. The continued street wall, met by the towering southward extension of the Reference Library, creates an unusual condition for the mid-block on East 70th Street. When viewed from Fifth Avenue or Central Park, the new addition will thoroughly overwhelm the original Henry Clay Frick mansion. And yet, the net increase in exhibition space would be a mere 3,600 square feet. Thus, a large proportion of the massive new building would be used almost entirely for backstage functions.
The Upper East Side is home to an internationally-renowned group of art institutions, all of which have seen the growth of their collections, as well as attendance. Responding to this, some institutions have thoughtfully reassessed their interiors, finding efficiencies and new space for both public and administrative use. Such a reallocation process is worth a second look at the Frick, whereby the museum’s goals could be achieved without a large-scale new addition. Meanwhile, many other institutions have expanded into buildings offsite. Fortunately, the Frick has an option right next door which should satisfy many space requirements. The ground-floor, two-story condominium unit located at 11 East 70th Street (contiguous to the garden and presently housing an art gallery) could be purchased.
Let us be clear, Friends is not against expansion of the Frick Collection. In fact, we gave the museum and their architect an award for the Portico Gallery in 2012. We simply do not believe that this proposal is the right way to go about it.