Frick Ditches Expansion Plan

| 05 Jun 2015 | 12:42

A garden keeps the Frick Collection from growing, at least for now.

A year ago, the Frick revealed an expansion plan for the E. 70th Street museum, but following months of mounting criticism, the institution’s board of trustees voted unanimously on Thursday to revise the proposal.

“We really believed in this plan and thought it was the best way to address all our needs,” said Ian Wardropper, the museum’s director, in a phone interview. “We just realized it was going to take a long process to get through, and we have a lot of pressing and urgent needs.”

Frick officials debuted initial plans for expansion in June of last year. The proposal included the construction of a new six-story building on the current site of a 1977 viewing garden, designed by British landscape architect Russell Page.

But in the past year, concern over the addition and the loss of the garden blossomed. Some opponents of the expansion joined around Unite to Save the Frick, a coalition that includes preservationists, architects and artists among its supporters, and the fight for the garden was emboldened by opposition from critics and preservation organizations, including Historic Districts Council, which formally opposed the plan in the fall, and most recently Municipal Art Society of New York, which urged the museum to reconsider its proposal in a letter to Wardropper this May.

The next iteration of the expansion plan will not involve construction on the garden.

“The strength of the voice of people opposed to the garden site really was so loud that we couldn’t ignore it,” Wardropper said.

Built in 1914 by architecture firm Carrère and Hastings as a residence for industrialist Henry Clay Frick, the Fifth Avenue mansion was converted into a museum by John Russell Pope, and the collection opened to the public in 1935. A designated landmark, the Frick must win approval from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to make changes to the building’s exterior.

In October, Wardropper told Our Town during an interview that he was “fully confident” the museum’s proposal would receive the go-ahead from the city agency, but following the outcry over the loss of the garden, the Frick’s board decided to change directions, he said.

“We really have been listening,” Wardropper said, noting that, over the past year, he thinks he’s delivered about 175 presentations to individuals and organizations.

The museum will continue to reevaluate its expansion proposal with Davis Brody Bond, the architecture firm that drafted the initial plan, though Wardropper said the board must first assess the institution’s priorities. Among them, he said, are improving the entrance hall and visitor facilities to accommodate the Frick’s growing attendance, as well as opening the mansion’s second floor rooms, currently used for administrative purposes, to the public for the first time as additional gallery space. Wardropper hopes for a new plan by the end of the year, but doesn’t yet know when the museum will have anything new to show the public.

“Obviously it was a dramatic day,” he said after the board meeting on Thursday. “But the sentiment in the room was very strong that our needs are as important as ever, and we need to move forward and find the right way to address them.”