Frick Renovation Plan Triggers Lawsuit, Protest

MANHATTAN (CN) – New plans for a $160 million renovation of the Frick triggered massive protests Monday, with preservationists claiming in court that the work would demolish the museum’s iconic music room and garden.

This rendering of the Frick by Selldorf Architects shows the plan for an expanded second level of the building on East 70th Street in Manhattan.

Represented by the law firm Morrison Cohen, the June 24 complaint in Manhattan Supreme Court comes from a collective of Upper East Siders and activists calling themselves Stop Irresponsible Frick Development.

Though the complaint notes that “the Frick is a designated landmark five times over: at the city, state and national levels,” the challengers note that the music room and the Russell Page Garden are two candidates deserving of special attention.

“The music room is regularly viewed by the public and sought for use by classical musicians, and is a central and irreplaceable element of the Frick Collection,” the group said in a statement.

The proposed renovations to the hundred year old property include a seven-story addition to the Frick Art Reference Library, an underground auditorium that underneath the garden, a two-story addition above the museum’s music room, a full-service cafe and extended gift shop,

New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is set to meet on the renovation proposal Tuesday, but the the challengers want any vote put on ice until the public is given a chance to weigh in.

According to the complaint, commission rules for transparency have been steamrolled by “years of backroom wheeling and dealing hidden entirely from the public.”

The group says that the opportunity for public comment on the Frick application before the commission was limited to a single public hearing, scheduled last minute for the morning of the Tuesday after Memorial Day.

“It does not take a deep degree of perception to understand that the scheduling of a ‘public hearing’ for the Frick Application on the Tuesday immediately following Memorial Day was carefully selected with the specific intention of chilling meaningful public knowledge of, or commentary on, that application,” the complaint states.

Another problem according to the complaint is that the commission lacks the 11 members mandated by the New York City Charter, as well as a chair and vice chair who can vote on the Frick Application.

“Frick is actively trying to exploit the current unsettled situation at the LPC (with no chair and only nine commissioners eligible to act on the Frick Application because the LPC’s vice chair, Frederick Bland, has recused himself from the Frick Application because he is employed by the Frick’s architecture firm) for its own advantage and to the great disadvantage and exclusion of interested members of the public who are being pushed aside and silenced,” the complaint states (parentheses in original).

In conjunction with their lawsuit, Stop Irresponsible Frick Development held a news conference on the steps of City Hall Monday afternoon. Supporters held signs that declared “New York City Doesn’t Need Another Commercialized Museum” and “Frick Deserves Better.”

Project architect Annabelle Selldorf has said the proposed renovations would encompass approximately 60,000 square feet of repurposed space and 27,000 square feet of new construction and would be the first comprehensive upgrade to the Frick’s buildings since the institution opened to the public more than eighty years ago.

The property was first built as a mansion for industrialist Henry Clay Frick by renowned architect Thomas Hastings of Carrere and Hastings, between 1912-14.

First designated as a landmark in 1973, the Frick Collection houses artwork by Giovanni Bellini, Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Thomas Gainsborough and Francisco Goya.

The Frick Collections anticipates the submission of an application to the Board of Standards and Appeals in the fall of 2018.

Representatives from the Frick Collection did not return a request for comment. The Landmarks Preservation Commission responded late Monday that it will hold the Monday meeting as scheduled after a judge denied the motion put forward by the challengers.

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