Wall Street Journal: Frick Collection Abandons Controversial Expansion Plan

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The Frick Museum Abandons Plan That Would Destroy Prized Garden

By Jennifer Smith / June 4, 2015

Rusell Page garden at the Frick Collection

This image provided by Navid Baraty via the Cultural Landscape Foundation shows The Frick Collection’s East 70th Street garden, a rare surviving commission by British landscape architect Russell Page, one of 11 sites listed as endangered landscapes by the Cultural Landscape Foundation. Associated Press

The Frick Collection is abandoning a controversial expansion plan amid mounting criticism that the proposal would destroy the museum’s intimate aesthetic and raze a prized garden.

The decision comes one year after the Frick unveiled the proposal. It would have added a new wing to the Fifth Avenue museum, which is housed in the former mansion of industrialist Henry Clay Frick, and boosted gallery, administrative and educational space.

Ian Wardropper, the museum’s director, confirmed the Frick intends to drop the plan, which would have required the approval of New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to go forward. The museum’s board is meeting Thursday morning for a formal vote on the decision.

“After months of public dialogue and thoughtful consideration and weighing the potential for a protracted approval process against the Frick’s pressing needs, the Board of Trustees has decided to approach the expansion plan in a way that avoids building on the garden site,” he said.
“The Frick will immediately begin to develop a new plan that will help us satisfy our critical needs,” he added.

A number of architects including Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, opposed the plan, as did a bevy of conservationists and landscape designers. A particular flashpoint: the formal garden on East 70th Street created in 1977 by noted British landscape designer Russell Page would have been replaced by a new wing that would be elevated to meet the six-story Frick Art Reference Library on East 71st Street.

In May, a group of prominent New York artists and creative types issued a letter urging museum officials to drop the proposal. The Municipal Art Society also weighed in with a letter to Mr. Wardropper that said “we will oppose any plan that places the Page garden in its crosshairs. We urge the Frick Collection to explore alternative solutions – most obviously, the reference library – that do not require the loss of such a beloved work of landscape architecture and treasured urban greenspace.”

As recently as last month, Frick officials continued to defend the plan, noting it would open up new areas of the mansion to the public and that a new garden planned for the roof of the addition would be open to the public. The Page garden is not.

Peter P. Blanchard III, a museum trustee and a great grandson of Henry Clay Frick, was among the supporters, as were some museum-world leaders, including Philippe de Montebello, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Renée Price of Neue Galerie New York.

The Frick’s decision to scrap the plan was earlier reported by the New York Times.

On Thursday morning, Unite to Save the Frick, a coalition of opponents, called the Frick’s proposal “ill-conceived” and said in a statement it would “continue to be vigilant to preserve the Frick’s unique ‘house museum’ experience” in any future expansion plans.

Three earlier attempts in the 2000s to expand the museum without enlarging its footprint failed.

Mr Wardropper said Thursday the Frick remains committed to the goals of the plan, such as expanding display and educational space for its growing audience and improving access between the museum and the campus’s Frick Art Reference Library, as well as for for visitors with disabilities.

“At the same time, preserving the unique residential character and intimate scale of the Frick will remain our top priority,” he said.

To read the full article on the Wall Street Journal’s website, click here.

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