PRESS RELEASE: Powerful Voices Oppose Frick’s Expansion Plan

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// Powerful Voices Protest Frick Collection’s Destructive Plans
to Raze Famed Garden and Pavilion to Build 106’ High Tower //

 

 

On the 40th Anniversary of the Official Landmarking, Leaders in Landscape and Architecture
Call on NYC Landmarks Commission to Reject the Frick’s Proposal

 

— Plan will destroy the Frick’s signature “House Museum” experience;
Original 1973/4 Documents Reaffirm Frick Collection’s Intention
for Permanent Garden on East 70th Street —

 

NEW YORK, NY—November 10, 2014—Forty years ago this week, the City of New York designated the Frick Collection’s Reception Hall Pavilion and 70th Street Garden ensemble a protected landmark. This should be cause for commemoration; instead, the Frick leadership is seeking to demolish these very same landmark-protected protected elements—to build the equivalent of an 11-story tower on the site.

An afternoon spent slowly and quietly exploring the Frick feels like visiting a private home, not a corporate mega-museum. The configuration of the museum’s buildings and gardens fosters an extremely personal experience. Henry Clay Frick specified “that his New York house have ‘plenty of light and air,’” and critics have lauded the Frick for its “small, smart shows” contrasting starkly with art complexes that can recall “something akin to an outlet mall on Black Friday,” as noted in The New York Times. This signature intimacy and scale are also qualities central to the museum’s city, state and national landmark designations.

Individuals and organizations from throughout the City, across the country and internationally are calling upon The Frick Collection to withdraw its plan, and for the New York City Landmarks Commission, which must approve all changes to landmarks, to reject its proposal when it is brought before them.

At Risk: The Frick’s Russell Page Garden and Reception Hall Pavilion.

At risk of destruction as part of the Frick’s plan are the East 70th Street Viewing Garden by internationally-renowned garden designer Russell Page and the gallery’s Reception Hall Pavilion.

Completed in 1977, the garden is a masterful work of geometry and optical perspective, an idyllic foil to the urbanity of the City. Galen Lee, Horticulturalist and Special Events Designer for the Frick, has said of the garden:

“While the Fifth Avenue garden is grand and imposing, the Seventieth Street Garden, designed by Russell Page in 1977, is soft and intimate. In the words of its designer, this garden is to be viewed — from the street or through the arched windows of the Reception Hall — like an Impressionist painting… Page’s garden is designed to slow, or stop, a busy New Yorker, to make one pause for a moment — as a respite from the city.”

The Pavilion, designed by architects John Barrington Bayley and Harry van Dyke with G. Frederick Poehler, was praised as a “daring” take on classicism.

At Issue: Landmark Protection Must Have Meaning

On November 12, 2014, the designation of the site of the Russell Page Viewing Garden and the Pavilion will mark an important anniversary: 40 years as protected New York City landmarks. In addition to local designations by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (both individually, 1973 and 1974, and included within the Upper East Side Historic District, 1981), the Frick is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places (1984) and is designated as a National Historic Landmark (2008).

Following the designation of the original Frick mansion in 1973, the Individual Landmark designation was amended on November 12, 1974, to include the site now occupied by the Garden and Pavilion. Forty-years after their designation, the proposed destruction is disturbing evidence of their stewards’ disregard for the meaning of landmark status.

Historic documents confirm the permanency of The Garden/Pavilion ensemble and their landmark status

The Frick Collection has attempted to cast the installation of its beloved Russell Page garden as a “temporary” one. *Following the original revelation from The Cultural Landscape Foundation that the garden was intended to be permanent (citing a 1977 press release from the museum itself), Unite to Save the Frick has uncovered original documents penned by the Frick Collection and presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) at the time of the Frick’s landmark designation in 1973/4 that undeniably refutes the current leadership’s assertion that the Russell Page Viewing Garden on East 70th Street was considered “temporary.” The exact opposite is true.

A statement by the Frick reaffirms that the institution embraced the permanence of the East 70th Street garden and complementary architectural addition (DOCUMENT A, dated November 27, 1973):

“…The Frick Collection has decided to abandon its long-range plans for a wing covering the three vacant lots (Nos. 5, 7 and 9 East 70th Street), thus enabling the proposed garden to become a permanent feature instead of the interim garden previously submitted to the Commission. The Trustees have now decided to install a permanent architectural garden on these lots …”

Everett Fahy, Director of The Frick Collection from 1973 to 1987, reasserted this conviction in 1974, embracing the concept of a permanent installation of an artful landscape and addition. Fahy writes to the LPC at the time: (DOCUMENT B, dated April 16, 1974):

“The Trustees of The Frick Collection are pleased to present plans for a permanent architectural garden and a one-story extension on the site of the vacant lots at 5, 7 and 9 East 70th Street … The garden, in a design appropriate to the architectural style of the building, will be a formal arrangement of various evergreen trees, hedges and vines, augmented by flowers in three seasons of the year.”

Furthermore, a document submitted to the Landmarks Commission by the Frick in 1973-4 describes the East 70th Street garden in detail and the critical relationship of the garden and the Pavilion (described here as “the addition” or “orangery”) to the existing Frick mansion (DOCUMENT C):

“The proposed addition to the Frick Collection should first-off be considered as an addition to a residence. The design itself with high arched windows opening out onto a garden suggest the orangeries which were common adjuncts to large houses in the eighteenth century … The garden is geometrical. It is meant to be viewed as a pattern from the orangery … This will be the only geometrical or garden ‘en parterre’ in the city, and it will offer an agreeable contrast with the more naturalistic treatment in front of the house on the Avenue and to the complete naturalism of Central Park a hundred yards away.”

The “Unite to Save the Frick” Movement Grows

This past summer, mobilized by the Frick’s threat of destroying landmarked elements of its ensemble, Frick members and community members, along with the Defenders of the Historic Upper East Side and the Historic Districts Council joined together and moved to activate allies. This coalition grew to include lovers of the Frick in NYC and around the world, as well as respected individuals and organizations who share in the conviction that the Frick’s Russell Page Garden and Pavilion are essential to the residential museum’s identity.

Among the organizations expressing opposition to the Frick’s short-sighted plan:

  • Historic Districts Council: “HDC finds the proposal in its current form to be a myopic solution for expansion, and one that would compromise the museum’s setting and genteel atmosphere. One cannot truly compare The Frick to any other museum in the city; it is unique and stands apart, in nature and in space. That deliberate quality is an invaluable asset to its surrounding neighborhood and is a gift to our city.” Full statement here.
  • The Cultural Landscape Foundation: “The Frick Collection garden on East 70th Street in New York is a rare surviving U.S. commission by the influential British landscape architect Russell Page (1906-1985) and deemed by the New York Times as one of his “most important works.” Additional information.
  • Garden Club of America: With 200 clubs throughout the country, GCA’s 18,000+ members’ contribute their expertise in horticulture, conservation and civic improvement to the effort to preserve the landmarked Russell Page Viewing Garden as a significant element of the museum ensemble.
  • Library of American Landscape History: “LALH is very supportive of efforts to protect this marvelous work of American art, and we will do our best to make others aware of its potential loss.” Full article here.
  • The Garden Conservancy: “The Frick has a rare chance to preserve a treasure that is not painted on canvas, carved from wood, shaped out of precious metal, or sculpted of stone—it can save a living, breathing work of art,” says Carlo Balistrieri, vice president of preservation at the Garden Conservancy. Press release here.
  • American Horticultural Society: With nearly 20,000 members – amateur gardeners and horticultural professionals alike – the Society connects people to gardening, promotes education and showcases the art and science of horticulture.
  • Defenders of the Historic Upper East Side: Preservation advocacy group dedicated to preserving and protecting the Upper East Side historic character.
  • Landmark West!: “Everywhere you look, the delusion that ‘bigger-is-better’ is sweeping our city’s neighborhoods. It is unfortunate that New York City’s finest cultural institutions, of all things, regularly surrender to this temptation, seeking to expand their physical footprints to the detriment of their landmark buildings and historic settings.” Full article here.
  • Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts: “The Frick Collection is a unique mansion in an urban setting, and any alterations should be respectful of its history as a residence. The proposed project is far too large and ungainly, overwhelming the museum, as well as the streetscape. The green space flanking the Frick contributes to the sense that it is an important free-standing structure. The Russell Page Garden is significant in its own right, and is further protected as part of the landmark site. Finally, there are many other options for expansion that have yet to be pursued.” Full statement here.
  • Unite To Save the Frick: “At stake is the Russell Page Viewing Garden, the Reception Hall Pavilion, and the incomparable and character-defining sense of place that makes ones experience at the Frick so inspiring and memorable. We unite to protect the Frick’s signature ensemble of elements from short-sighted destruction and to advocate for responsible modernization. There are many creative alternatives available to the Frick that would place it in good stead for the future.” www.unitetosavethefrick.org

Individuals speaking out in opposition to the Frick’s expansion plan include:

  • Stephen F. Byrns, architect and former NYC Landmarks Preservation Commissioner
  • Madison Cox, garden designer
  • Hester Diamond, art collector & interior designer
  • Andrew Dolkart, architectural historian; Director, Historic Preservation program, Columbia University
  • Tom L. Freudenheim, retired museum director & arts critic
  • Roberta Brandes Gratz, journalist, author & former NYC Landmarks Preservation Commissioner
  • Michael Gotkin, landscape architect
  • Ben Kinmont, conceptual artist
  • Victoria Newhouse, architectural historian
  • Peter Pennoyer, architect
  • Katie Ridder, interior designer
  • Dorothea Rockburne, artist
  • Witold Rybczynski, architect & critic
  • Martha Frick Symington Sanger, author & great grand-daughter of Henry Clay Frick
  • Adrian Smith, landscape architect, Trustee, ASLA New York City chapter
  • Beverly Moss Spatt, former NYC Landmarks Preservation Commissioner
  • Suzanne Stephens, architectural journalist, editor & critic
  • Robert A.M. Stern, architect, Dean, Yale University School of Architecture
  • Anne Walker, architectural historian
  • Lynton Wells, artist

An online petition has already gained over 2,200 names from across the globe over the past six weeks. Each petitioner calls upon the Frick to withdraw their current proposal and explore alternatives for modernization which do not sacrifice the significant and rare design elements of the site. View petition here.

UNITE TO SAVE THE FRICK
Website: www.unitetosavethefrick.org
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Unite-to-Save-the-Frick/1517136888524414
Twitter: @savethefrick
Instagram: @savethefrick

 

*This press release has been subsequently updated to provide an important link back to the August 26, 2014, article by Charles Birnbaum of The Cultural Landscape Foundation on the Huffington Post, which first announced the Frick’s plans for a permanent garden installation.

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