New York City museum abandons expansion plan amid opposition

The Frick Collection
This June 3, 2015 photograph shows the garden at The Frick Collection in New York. On Thursday, June 4, 2015, the Frick Collection announced they have abandoned plans for an expansion that would have replaced the museum’s beloved garden and pavilion with a six-story addition. The museum said it will develop a new plan that will preserve the garden. The Frick is housed in a landmark mansion on Fifth Avenue. A coalition of preservationists, artists, architects and historians had opposed the proposal, saying it would have destroyed the museum’s residential character. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

NEW YORK (AP) — The Frick Collection museum on Thursday abandoned plans for an expansion that would have replaced its beloved viewing garden and reception pavilion with a six-story addition.

“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,” museum director Ian Wardropper said.

The Frick is housed in a landmarked Manhattan mansion. A coalition of preservationists, artists, architects and historians had opposed the expansion proposal, saying it would destroy the museum’s residential character.

Charles Birnbaum, founder of the nonprofit Cultural Landscape Foundation, which works to preserve distinct landscape architecture, first raised the issue of the garden’s importance and brought it to the attention of the Unite to Save the Frick coalition.

Architect and historian Charles “Chip” Warren, who joined the coalition, called Thursday “a great day for New Yorkers to have kept a little treasured piece of our history.”

The coalition said it was grateful to those who passionately opposed the expansion and would “be vigilant to preserve the Frick’s unique ‘house museum’ experience.'”

The Frick, which announced the plan a year ago, had maintained the expansion was needed for its growing collection, attendance and programs. Wardropper said the outcry over expanding into the greenery was the main factor in the board’s decision to abandon the plan.

A special committee will work on a new design Wardropper hopes will be ready by year’s end. He said the museum still aims to break ground in 2017.

Wardropper said the museum is committed to building more space for its collection and exhibitions, installing classrooms for educational programs and improving public access to its art reference library while “preserving the unique residential character and intimate scale of the Frick.”

Unite to Save the Frick, which included designer Maya Lin and architectural historian Victoria Newhouse, said it had urged the Frick to seek alternatives such as moving some offices off-site and renovating and repurposing underutilized space.

The Municipal Art Society, at the forefront of other campaigns to save historic sites including Grand Central Terminal, joined the chorus of opposition to the proposed Frick expansion.

“The uniqueness of the Frick Collection is not confined to the great works of art within its walls, but extends to its outstanding exterior and landscape architecture,” it said in a letter to Wardropper last month.

The expansion proposal, which had not been filed with the Landmarks Preservation Commission, would have doubled the museum’s space for temporary exhibitions and provided 21 percent more for its permanent collection.

The classical-style Reception Hall Pavilion and garden by the eminent British landscape architect Russell Page were added in 1977 after the museum razed three adjacent row houses. The museum had intended to build an addition on the site but postponed the project over a lack of funding.

The garden, an oasis of ornamental trees, flowers, patches of lawns and a lily pond, can be viewed from the reception hall and the street.

The institution was established in 1935 by steel magnate Henry Clay Frick as a “public gallery of art to which the entire public shall forever have access.”

Frick, who died in 1919, stipulated in his will the mansion and the treasures inside be opened as a museum following the death of his wife, Adelaide Frick. When she died in 1931, the original Beaux Arts home was significantly expanded by architect John Russell Pope.

The museum houses great works by Titian, Rembrandt, Velazquez, El Greco and Goya as well as Limoges enamels, Sevres porcelain and 18th-century furniture. It has an exhibition on Fredric Leighton and recently presented paintings from The Hague that included Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring.”

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Online: http://www.frick.org/

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This story has been corrected to show the coalition’s name is Unite to Save the Frick, not United to Save the Frick.

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