"A Comfortable Well Arranged Home”

Frick Art Reference Library

100 Years of Henry Clay Frick’s

New York Residence

A Home for Mr. Frick's Collection
2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the completion of Henry Clay Frick’s New York residence at 1 East 70th Street, now the home of The Frick Collection.  This online exhibition draws upon documents and photographs in The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library Archives to tell the story of the house's planning, construction, furnishing, and early days.    

In 1905, Henry Clay Frick moved his family from Pittsburgh to New York, leasing the Vanderbilt mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue. He kept his Pittsburgh residence, along with a country estate in Prides Crossing, Massachusetts.

Acquiring the Property
One year later, Frick began making plans for his own New York residence by purchasing the Lenox Library property on Manhattan's Upper East Side.  Located on Fifth Avenue between 70th and 71st Streets, the site looks directly onto Central Park.

Frick purchased a lot 125 feet deep with 200 feet of frontage on Fifth Avenue from the New York Public Library in 1906. Additional parcels were purchased from the Library in 1907.

The property was finally deeded to Frick in May 1912, shortly after he returned from an extended trip abroad.

Clearing the Site
In May of 1912, Frick wrote to New York City Mayor William J. Gaynor, offering to relocate the Lenox Library at his own expense "in some public place for such municipal purpose as you may determine." 

Weeks later, though, Frick withdrew the offer, citing the "discussion and opposition which my offer has occasioned." Demolition of the Lenox Library began in July 1912, at a cost of $11,000.

Designing the House
Frick initially approached D.H. Burnham to design his New York residence.  Burnham had already designed the Frick Building in Pittsburgh (completed in 1902), as well as the Frick family monument in Homewood Cemetery.  His proposed design, at right, was rejected.

At the end of 1911, Burnham rendered a bill to Frick for his services. Thomas Hastings would soon be selected as the new architect, but in early 1912, when Frick and his family sailed from New York bound for Egypt, designs for the house were still very much up in the air.

Choosing a New Architect
In February of 1912, while Frick was still abroad, Hastings was actively working on his own design, as reported by one of Frick’s close friends, Charles Carstairs of the art gallery M. Knoedler & Co.

The Fricks returned to New York in May 1912, after canceling their plans to sail on the Titanic. Several friends wrote to them and remarked on their narrow escape.

By summer, a model of the house was ready for inspection, and Frick registered his approval in a letter to Carstairs: "We have the model of the house here and it seems to receive unstinted praise."

Frick's secretary, James Howard Bridge, wrote in July to inform Frick of a meeting with Hastings. His letter hints at Frick's intention to one day leave the house as a museum.

The architect's model of 1 East 70th Street no longer survives, but blueprints of the north and south elevations of the house show Hastings's conception for the house.

Building the House
Contractors were sought in late 1912, and the house started to take shape in the spring of 1913.

Construction continued through the summer of 1913.

The structure of the house's Art Gallery was largely in place by early October 1913. Note the coats and hats of workmen hanging along the walls.

Upon returning from abroad in June 1914, Frick wrote to Roland Knoedler to report on progress at the house: "The picture gallery is going to be a dream; I like its proportions immensely."

Upstairs, Downstairs
In furnishing his new home, Frick chose two decorators.  Sir Charles Allom of the London firm White, Allom & Co. was principally responsible for the first floor, while Elsie de Wolfe decorated most of the family's private quarters upstairs.

Allom's lengthy letter to Frick in March 1913 discusses how the house's interior might complement Frick's collection. Already, his two Veronese paintings were designated for the walls at the west end of the gallery.

Allom also conferred with Hastings on schemes for the house's interior, altering his designs in accordance with Hastings's suggestions.

Writing from London, Charles Carstairs informed Frick about his meeting with Allom. As an art dealer, Carstairs was ever mindful of both Frick's taste and how best to display his paintings.

Frick and Allom corresponded about the house throughout 1913 and by December Allom was ready to prepare photographs and drawings for the interiors.

Frick's reply, drafted on the verso of Allom's letter, urges restraint in the house's decoration: "We desire a comfortable well arranged home, simple, in good taste, and not ostentatious."

By mid-July 1914, Allom's work at 1 East 70th Street totaled more than $300,000. This figure would soon be dwarfed by the cost of Frick's acquisitions from the Morgan estate.

In January 1914, Elsie de Wolfe wrote to Frick to inquire if she might have a role in decorating the house.

While many of the furnishings provided by Allom were produced in his London workshop, Elsie de Wolfe procured mostly antiques for the family's private rooms.

While abroad in the spring of 1914, Frick accompanied de Wolfe to various antique dealers in search of suitable furnishings.

Items purchased at Jacques Seligmann's, for instance, included a $40,000 antique table, formerly in the collection of Sir John Murray Scott, for Mrs. Frick's boudoir.

In this view of Adelaide H.C. Frick's boudoir, the Riesener table purchased from Jacques Seligmann can be seen in the foreground.

Frick did not allow de Wolfe free rein, however, and took the opportunity to tutor her in shrewd business practices when he saw fit.

The War Intervenes
With the arrival of World War I in late summer, completion of Frick's house was delayed by several months.  During this time, Frick also suffered a bout of inflammatory rheumatism, which left him bedridden at his country estate in Prides Crossing, Massachusetts.  Unable to supervise matters at the house himself, he called on Allom and de Wolfe.

Frick cabled de Wolfe in August to urge her home to attend to matters at his house. Her response suggests passage to the United States might be difficult.

Allom's work was affected as well, and Frick had little patience with the delays. He cited Allom's conduct as unbusiness-like and did not view the war as an acceptable excuse.

After a delay of several months, Mr. and Mrs. Frick moved into the house on November 17, 1914.

Though her contract had been fulfilled, de Wolfe was still procuring furniture for Frick in 1915. She wrote from Europe late that year about the lack of suitable pieces and the pervasiveness of the war: "One eats, drinks, and sleeps it morning, noon and night."

In June 1915, Frick hosted a dinner in honor of Hastings. The event was attended by John Russell Pope, who would later be involved in converting the house to a museum.

Hastings wrote to Frick the next day to express his gratitude: "It means everything to me to have had so many artists see my work."

Morgan Acquisitions
In early 1915, Frick began acquiring porcelains, bronzes, and other objects formerly in the collection of J.P. Morgan. These objects greatly expanded Frick's holdings in the decorative arts.

Visits to the Morgan Collection at the nearby Metropolitan Museum were noted in the 1 East 70th Street household diary.

Acquisitions from the Morgan collection included the Fragonard panels shown here, which were installed in the former drawing room of Frick's residence.

Frick (referred to as "Papsie" by his daughter in this diary entry) visited the Fragonard panels on the same day that he arranged to acquire them through Duveen Brothers.

Additional items acquired from the Morgan Collection included a large group of Limoges enamels installed in a dedicated room off of Frick's Art Gallery.

From House to Museum
Upon Frick's death in 1919, he bequeathed his home and art collection to the public.  His wife continued to live in the house until her death in 1931, at which time the house was reconceived as a museum.  The East Gallery, Oval Room, Music Room, and Garden Court were added by architect John Russell Pope.  The Frick Collection opened to the public in December 1935. 
Visit The Frick Collection
The Frick Collection is located at 1 East 70th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues, New York, NY 10021.  Galleries are open six days a week: Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  For more information, please visit www.frick.org.
Credits: Story

Exhibition created by The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library Archives. Text and design by Julie Ludwig.

All materials shown, with the exception of the portrait of Thomas Hastings, can be found within The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library Archives. Please direct inquiries to archives@frick.org.

Portrait of Thomas Hastings courtesy of The New York Public Library Archives, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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