New York City Museum Abandons Expansion Plan Amid Opposition

June 4, 2015 Updated: June 4, 2015

NEW YORK — The Frick Collection on Thursday abandoned plans for an expansion that would have replaced the museum’s 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 in a statement.

The Frick is housed in a landmarked Upper East Side mansion on Fifth Avenue between 70th and 71st streets.

A coalition of preservationists, artists, architects and historians had opposed the proposal, saying it would destroy the museum’s residential character.

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

In a statement, the coalition said it was grateful to all those who “passionately raised their voices in opposition to the ill-conceived expansion” and would “continue to be vigilant to preserve the Frick’s unique ‘house museum’ experience.'”

The Frick, which announced the addition plans a year ago, had maintained that the expansion was needed for its growing collection, attendance and programs.

Calling the opposition a “public outpouring of affection for the garden,” Wardropper said in a telephone interview Thursday that it was the main factor in the board’s decision to abandon the plan.

A special committee will now be working on a new design he hopes will be ready by year’s end. The museum still aims to break ground in 2017, he said.

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.”

In its statement, United to Save the Frick, which included designer Maya Lin and architectural historian Victoria Newhouse, said it had urged the Frick to seek alternatives “like moving some of its offices off-site and renovating and repurposing underutilized space, options favored by museums worldwide.”

The Municipal Art Society, which has been at the forefront of other campaigns to save historic sites including Grand Central Terminal, joined the chorus of opposition to the proposed 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,” the society said in a letter to Wardropper in May.

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

The classical-style Reception Hall Pavilion and 70th Street 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 that the mansion and all the treasures inside be opened as a museum following the death of his wife, Adelaide. 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 displayed in intimate settings with paintings and sculpture.

It has an exhibition on Fredric Leighton and recently presented paintings from The Hague that included Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring.”