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SAVE THE FRICK GARDEN

James Andrew in the Russell Page garden - photo by Lars Stephan

James Andrew in the Russell Page garden – photo by Lars Stephan

Many of our WIJW readership will be aware that I’ve been a strong supporter of the Frick Collection over the years, and I’ve encouraged our readership to visit and support the Frick through membership, galas, and their many other events as well.

Needless to say when I found out that the Frick was planning to destroy their Russell Page Viewing Garden and John Barrington Bayley Pavilion, to build a rather hideous extension, I was outraged. I think it is safe to say that the late Bunny Mellon, a Frick board member who first suggested that Page be enlisted to design the garden, would not be very pleased either. In fact, we’re quite happy with the way things are, thank you.

The Frick garden is a rare jewel (one of only two publicly accessible Page gardens in the US by the way) — it’s an absolutely integral part of the museum-house experience — a serene oasis in the chaotic city, designed as a living work of art to be admired from both the street and the pavilion (which sadly is also on the proposed chopping block). If you haven’t been to the garden, please go. If you’ve already been, then you know what I’m talking about. Its destruction would be a true tragedy.

Thankfully many, including Henry Clay Frick’s great granddaughter, Martha Frick Symington Sanger, and others like the esteemed landscape designer Madison Cox, have united to block the proposed wonton destruction. And this is where you, my lovely WIJW reader, come in. Visit unitetosavethfrick.org to add your name. Write and tell us you’ve done it, we’d love to hear from you!

For an in depth and well-reasoned treatment on the subject, go to the New York Times writer Michael Kimmelman’s The Case Against a Mommoth Frick Collection Addition.

We’ve revived a photograph by the brilliant photographer, Lars Stephan. It’s a capture of me at the Bayley pavilion in the Russell Page Viewing Garden that we used in one of our first of many WIJW pieces promoting the Frick. A Jay Gatsby inspired ensemble, I’m wearing a Gucci ivory cotton pin stripe suit, Charvet mint green and white striped cotton shirt with contrast white collar and cuffs, Seaman Schepps aquamarine and diamond cuff links, Charvet lavender silk tie, Tom Ford lavender glen plaid cotton pocket square, Cartier Tank Divan watch, black,white and silver leather loafers and my fragrance Creed Royal Water.

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18 Comments

  1. Karena says:

    It amazes me James, the number of people who do not realize the i importance of these renowned gardens and grounds around the world.
    Thank you for the rallying support to save this space.

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena

  2. I signed, James… I will probably see Marty Sanger in the next week or two. Can’t wait to hear her thoughts on this.

  3. As Charles A. Birnbaum, president of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, wrote in the Huffington Post, the Page-designed garden was created – as a 1977 Frick press release notes – as a “permanent garden,” a fact that the museum’s current leadership is ignoring as they continue to insist the garden was only to be temporary. The Cultural Landscape Foundation has included the Frick garden in “Landslide 2014: Art and the Landscape” – a thematic compendium of threatened and at-risk landscapes. Landslide is on the foundation’s homepage: http://tclf.org. And here’s a link to the Huffington Post article: http://huff.to/1AR89bx.

  4. Dean says:

    Signed!

    How horrible!

    It is not NRHP landmarked?

    Dean

  5. James Andrew says:

    My Dear Karena,

    It really is quite shocking that this plan could even be considered!

    Please help me to spread the word perhaps collectively we can save these treasured works of art!

    Cheers and ALL Best,

    JA

  6. James Andrew says:

    Thank You pigtown*design

    Yes – that would be incredible to hear- I was told she joined in wanting to save the Frick.

    Let’s hope we get tons of people involved and can really get the point across to The Frick – that their plan is horrific!

    All Best and Many Thanks,

    JA

  7. James Andrew says:

    Thank You Dean,

    And please help spread the word!

    Much Love

    JA

  8. Michael Hampton says:

    Dear James,

    Thank you for highlighting and bringing this to our attention. It would be a travesty if the garden were to be destroyed. New York, of all places, needs as many green spaces as possible. Plus it is a shining example of garden perfection from a master gardener! I raced to sign the petition and hope that everyone’s signatures will help prevent the destruction of such a special and unique garden.

    Best,

    Michael

  9. James Andrew says:

    Dear Nord Wennerstrom,

    Thank You!

    Yes I did indeed read that this was created as a “permanent garden” and no doubt why I am so horrified by the Frick’s hideous plans.

    I look forward to continuing to do all I can to help spread the word and hopefully send the Frick a very strong message.

    Cheers and All Best,

    JA

  10. James Andrew says:

    My Dear Michael Hampton,

    Indeed – the last thing we need here in NYC is another hideous building.

    It is a rare jewel and something quite significant!

    Russell Page is of course my all time favorite landscape designer/gardner and this Frick Garden is certainly one of his most important works.

    Thank You for your tremendous support!

    Cheers

    JA

  11. Dear James –

    Thanks for your response. Today’s New York Times coverage will elevate the debate further: “Frick’s Plan for Expansion Faces Fight Over Loss of Garden” http://nyti.ms/1EtslC6.

    All best,

    Nord

  12. Ian Alterman says:

    Although I disagree with you re the Frick’s planned expansion, I respect your viewpoint. However, please provide the facts: the Frick’s Russell Page garden has NEVER been “publicly accessible”; it is only open for one evening a year, for the Museum’s members’ dinner. In fact, the garden was not part of the original Museum grounds, has never been open to the public, and was always intended to be temporary; this is supported by then-director Everett Fahy’s testimony to the LPC in the early 70s, when the Frick first planned a full-on expansion in the form of a building. Had it gone ahead with that expansion, there never would have been a garden, so this debate would be moot.

    In the interest of honest debate, I am hoping you will keep this comment on your blog.

  13. James Andrew says:

    Dear Ian Alterman,

    Thank You for sharing your sentiments in reference to the Frick and it’s expansion plans.

    I am always quite open to discussions.

    However I disagree with several of your points: The Russell Page viewing garden is actually available for ALL to enjoy 365 days a year- even for those who cant’ afford entrance to The Frick.It is an ever changing landscape masterpiece. Members are allowed access to the garden – but really was meant as a viewing Garden.
    Whatever the original intent was or wasnt- the point is that the garden is now an integral part of the Frick.
    I think the letter from The Municipal Art Society of New York to Mr Wardropper sums it up quite eloquently:

    Dear Mr. Wardropper,

    The Municipal Art Society is deeply concerned about the destruction of the Russell Page garden on 70th Street as part of the Frick Collection’s proposed expansion. The garden is considered by
    many to be one of Page’s greatest works and is his only design in New York City.

    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. Since its creation 38 years ago, the Page garden has become a defining characteristic of the Frick estate. Those who enter
    the Collection enjoy views of the garden from within the entrance pavilion, and the grounds are visually accessible to passersby outside, enriching the streetscape of the entire neighborhood.

    The issue is not the number of gardens at the Frick, or if the same number will be retained going forward. More is at stake; the current proposal risks undermining the singular essence of
    the Frick Collection by erasing a masterpiece of landscape design—a landmark in its own right.

    While MAS is not necessarily against an expansion, we will oppose any plan that places the Page garden in its crosshairs. We urge the Frick Collection to explore alternative solutions – most obviously, the reference library – that do not require the loss of such a beloved work of landscape architecture and treasured urban greenspace.

    Cheers

    JA

  14. Ian Alterman says:

    Mr. Andrew:

    Thank you for your honest and measured response. However, you remain incorrect. While it is true that “The Russell Page viewing garden is actually available for ALL to enjoy 365 days a year,” that enjoyment can only be had by viewing the garden through metal bars: hardly an optimal situation. As well, I do not know where you are getting your information, but the garden is NOT open to ANYONE, including members, except once or twice per year – and NEVER during daylight hours. Access to the garden is NOT a member benefit. (I just checked with the Frick on this, and they confirmed it.)

    With regard to the garden, I think Christopher Gray summed it up best in his piece in The New York Times: “Is the 1970s garden, given its recent vintage, important enough to be protected? Would the loss of the garden harm the townhouse character of the street – which historically had no such gardens? A really correct restoration would replace the three townhouses – why isn’t that on the table?…With foresight the Frick has never made the garden public, and it’s ‘don’t touch’ aspect is part of its considerable charm. But is it ‘charm preservation’ we’re after?”

    It should also be noted that the garden is ONLY visible if one actually walks down 70th Street: it is NOT visible from Madison Avenue (just 200 feet away), nor even from 5th Avenue (just 50 feet away). So, ultimately, it is “enjoyed” ONLY by (i) visitors to the Frick – but only those who approach the museum from Madison Avenue or leave toward Madison Avenue, and (ii) people who live on the block or happen to walk down it: hardly a significant number of people in the grand scheme of things.

    The Frick has been my favorite museum since I was 19 (I am now in my mid-50s). I used to visit as often as six or more times per year, though I now only get there about four times per year. Yet in all that time (three decades), I have never considered the garden anything other than a “pleasant” addition; certainly NOT something that merits all the attention it has been getting. Even when I became a historical preservationist in my 40s (I was co-chair of the Landmarks C’te of CB7 for over two years, and am currently a member of the West End preservation Society, which successful obtained historic district status for all but one or two blocks of West End Avenue from 70th to 107th Streets), and knew more about the garden, it STILL did not strike me as particularly notable.

    Thus, when I first heard about the Frick’s expansion plan, I was certainly skeptical (simply from the point of view of my background in historic preservation), but after spending quite some time looking into the issue, taking a tour, and really “doing the research,” I felt, and continue to feel, that it is an excellent plan overall. Ironically, while I was saddened by the planned loss of the garden, it STILL did not strike me as something SO important that it should hold up the plan.

    So, you and I can agree to disagree, but I feel that UNITE and MAS are wrong: that the plan – arrived at after YEARS of consideration of every possible alternative – is actually quite good. Indeed, I believe that when the dust settles, even many of the oppositionists and naysayers (though they will obviously mourn the loss of the garden) will find themselves quite surprised by how it not only ENHANCES the uniquely intimate experience of the mansion, but provides a more extensive and expansive experience overall.

    By the way, so that Mr. Wennerstrom, you and others are clear, the garden was always intended to be temporary. In Mr. Fahy’s testimony to the LPC in 1974, he said that the pavilion and garden would (and I quote), “satisfy the foreseeable minimal needs of the Collection for certain interior space.” The later press release (1977) announcing the completion of the garden did in fact use the word “permanent.” But that was a PRESS RELEASE (i.e., “PR”), NOT a legal document or testimony, unlike Mr. Fahy’s testimony to the LPC. Indeed, Mr. Fahy could not have made a comment about the garden being permanent since the very act of creating the pavilion and the garden were an outgrowth of expansion plans that had been in the works for years already. Thus, the then-current expansion plans were Mr. Fahy’s plan, and did NOT include the garden.

    Peace.

    Cordially,
    Ian

  15. Bravo to James for recognizing the significance of this rare surviving U.S. commission by Russell Page, a landscape designer known the world over as one of the greatest of the modern period. Today’s leading landscape architects – Ken Smith, Paul Friedberg, Peter Wirtz, and the entire New York chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects – have called for the garden to be acknowledged for the masterpiece it is, and preserved accordingly. The garden certainly does merit this attention – it merits far more, and the threat posed by the Frick to its Page garden has educated many about the masterwork on East 70th Street. It is as admirers and lovers of the Frick that we implore the Collection’s leadership to act as stewards for this living work of art.

  16. James Andrew says:

    Dear Nord Wennerstrom,

    Thank You for sharing this article in the Times – indeed their is a major increase of rather important and powerful people around the world who are outraged by the Fricks hideous expansion plan and these people are sharing their outrage with massive audiences.

    Ultimately pressure will be applied to board members and The Frick’s destructive plan will explode- fingers crossed!

    Cheers

    JA

  17. James Andrew says:

    Dear Ian Alterman,

    You certainly are entitled to your opinion- luckily there are many powerful people who do not share your opinion that the Russell Page garden should NOT be destroyed under any circumstance – and they are raising their voices rather loudly to guarantee that this masterpiece is preserved!

    All Best

    JA

  18. Ian Alterman says:

    Mr. Andrew:

    It is true that there are some powerful people who do not share my opinion. But there are equally powerful people who DO, including former Frick director Anne Poulet, former Met director Phillippe de Montebello, Anne Hawley (director, Stewart Gardner Museum), Renee Price (director, Neue Gallerie), Sir David Cannandine (Chair, National Portrait Gallery, UK), and Frederic Bell (former executive director, AIA, New York Chapter). And that’s just a short list.

    Peace,
    Ian

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