EDITORIAL: Let the Frick Build

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First, let’s all agree that the scale of real estate development in this city is out of control.

Every neighborhood has its own monstrosity, either built or underway. We can start with the new World Trade Center tower, which has taken one of New York’s most sacred places and stabbed it with an artless monolith that will almost certainly be empty for decades to come. South of Central Park, the wildly ostentatious residential skyscrapers on 57th Street not only block the sun from parts of the park, but they remind us every day of our transformation from a city of real people to a sort of Airbnb for the uber-rich. In midtown, the Museum of Modern Art has evicted a beloved folk art museum to expand its maze of gridlocked spaces, making room for more gift shops and food courts.

It’s in this context that the Frick Collection has announced that it, too, is expanding, adding to its footprint on a gorgeous block of the Upper East Side and building over a lovely garden on its eastern edge.

The museum can certainly be faulted for terrible timing; it has found itself swept up in the growing, rightful outrage over what’s happening to our urban spaces.

But in this case, the backlash is undeserved.

What the Frick has proposed is not only modest – its new addition would be only six floors high – but appropriately in scale with the neighborhood and the Frick’s own ambitions. Desperately needed exhibition space would be added, by moving administrative offices out of the original Frick mansion, and the entrance foyer would finally be transformed from the embarrassing holding pen it is now.

And what of that garden, designed by landscape architect Russell Page? We’ve never stepped inside it, and you probably haven’t either. That’s because it’s closed to the public, for all but a handful of benefits a year attended by Frick donors and other supporters. It’s true that New York can hardly afford to lose another blade of grass, but this is as much a postcard as an actual place.

In the end, it all really comes down to motive. Do we trust Frick director Ian Wardropper and his team to carefully weigh the needs of their institution against the impact their expansion will have? Or are they all about finding new ways to wring more money out of the joint, neighbors be damned?

Our bet’s on Wardropper.

While his critics have the right instinct, in finally saying enough to thoughtless and unchecked development in New York City, they’ve picked the wrong fight here.

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