"A Comfortable Well Arranged Home”

100 Years of Henry Clay Frick’s New York Residence

Frick Art Reference Library

West Gallery, 1 East 70th Street (1927) by Ira W. Martin (1886-1960)Frick Art Reference Library

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.    

Henry Clay Frick and Adelaide H.C. Frick, Ernest Walter Histed (1862-1947), 1905, Original Source: Frick Family Photographs
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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.

Fifth Avenue facade of 1 East 70th St. (1927) by Ira W. Martin (1886-1960)Frick Art Reference Library

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.

Agreement, Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) and New York Public Library, December 3, 1906, Original Source: Henry Clay Frick Papers, Series V: Subject Files
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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.

Deed (May 20, 1915) by Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) and New York Public LibraryFrick Art Reference Library

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

Letter to William J. Gaynor (May 27, 1912) by Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919)Original Source: Henry Clay Frick Papers, Series VIII: Letterpress Copybooks

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." 

Letter to William J. Gaynor, Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), June 19, 1912, Original Source: Henry Clay Frick Papers, Series VIII: Letterpress Copybooks
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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.

Proposed rendering of 1 East 70th St. (ca. 1911-1912) by Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912)Frick Art Reference Library

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.

Invoice, D.H. Burnham & Co., December 18, 1911, Original Source: Henry Clay Frick Papers, Series III: Voucher Files
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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.

Thomas Hastings (1860-1929) (ca. 1910) by unknown photographerFrick Art Reference Library

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.

Letter to Henry Clay Frick (June 8, 1912) by John A. Brashear (1840-1920)Original Source: Henry Clay Frick Papers, Series II: Correspondence

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.

Letter to Charles Carstairs, Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), July 23, 1912, Original Source: Henry Clay Frick Papers, Series II: Correspondence
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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."

Letter to Henry Clay Frick, James Howard Bridge (1858-1939), July 9, 1912, Original Source: Henry Clay Frick Papers, Series II: Correspondence
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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.

Blueprint for south elevation of 1 East 70th Street (February 1913) by Thomas Hastings (1860-1929)Frick Art Reference Library

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.

Blueprint for north elevation of 1 East 70th Street (February 1913) by Thomas Hastings (1860-1929)Frick Art Reference Library

Frick residence under construction (May 14, 1913) by Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.)Original Source: Frick New York Residence Construction Album

Building the House

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

Frick residence under construction (July 2, 1913) by Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.)Original Source: Frick New York Residence Construction Album

Construction continued through the summer of 1913.

West Gallery of the Frick residence under construction (October 2, 1913) by Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.)Original Source: Frick New York Residence Construction Album

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.

Letter to Roland Knoedler, Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), June 3, 1914, Original Source: Henry Clay Frick Papers, Series II: Correspondence
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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."

Main staircase at 1 East 70th St. (1927) by Ira W. Martin (1886-1960)Frick Art Reference Library

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.

Letter to Henry Clay Frick (March 7, 1913) by Sir Charles Allom (1865-1947)Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers

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.

Letter to Henry Clay Frick (May 30, 1913) by Sir Charles Allom (1865-1947)Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers

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

Letter to Henry Clay Frick (July 11, 1913) by Charles Carstairs (1865-1928)Frick Art Reference Library

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.

Letter to Henry Clay Frick, Sir Charles Allom (1865-1947), December 12, 1913, Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers
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Frick and Allom corresponded about the house throughout 1913 and by December Allom was ready to prepare photographs and drawings for the interiors.

Letter to Sir Charles Allom, Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), December 12, 1913, Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers
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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."

Invoice, White, Allom & Co., July 15, 1914, Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers
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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.

Letter to Henry Clay Frick, Elsie de Wolfe (1865-1950), January 27, 1914, Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers
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In January 1914, Elsie de Wolfe wrote to Frick to inquire if she might have a role in decorating the house.

Invoice (October 14, 1914) by Elsie de Wolfe (1865-1950)Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers

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.

Letter to Henry Clay Frick (May 26, 1914) by Elsie de Wolfe (1865-1950)Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers

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

Invoice, Jacques Seligmann (1858-1923), May 27, 1914, Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers
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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.

Adelaide H.C. Frick's boudoir, 1 East 70th Street (1927) by Ira W. Martin (1886-1960)Frick Art Reference Library

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

Letter to Elsie de Wolfe, Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), May 27, 1914, Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers
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Frick did not allow de Wolfe free rein, however, and took the opportunity to tutor her in shrewd business practices when he saw fit.

Helen Clay Frick with friends on the roof of 1 East 70th Street (ca. 1918)Frick Art Reference Library

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.

Telegram to Henry Clay Frick (August 17, 1914) by Elsie de Wolfe (1865-1950)Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers

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.

Telegram to White, Allom & Co. (October 29, 1914) by Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919)Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers

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.

1 East 70th Street household diary (November 17, 1914) by Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919)Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers

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

Letter to Henry Clay Frick (November 9, 1915) by Elsie de Wolfe (1865-1950)Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers

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."

Entry from dinners notebook (June 17, 1915) by Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919)Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers

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.

Letter to Henry Clay Frick (June 18, 1915) by Thomas Hastings (1860-1929)Original Source: Henry Clay Frick Papers, Series II: Correspondence

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."

West Gallery, 1 East 70th Street (1927) by Ira W. Martin (1886-1960)Frick Art Reference Library

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.

1 East 70th Street household diary (January 10, 1915) by Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919)Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers

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

Fragonard Room, 1 East 70th Street (1927) by Ira W. Martin (1886-1960)Frick Art Reference Library

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

1 East 70th Street household diary (February 22, 1915) by Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919)Original Source: One East 70th Street Papers

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.

Enamels Room, 1 East 70th Street (1927) by Ira W. Martin (1886-1960)Frick Art Reference Library

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.

Invitation to the opening (December 11, 1935) by The Frick CollectionOriginal Source: The Frick Collection Central Files

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. 

West Gallery at The Frick Collection (2010) by Michael BodycombFrick Art Reference Library

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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