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Frick Collection Gets Green Light for Expansion Despite Backlash from Preservationists

The Frick Collection in New York received permission to move forward with its latest expansion plans despite protests from activists. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted six to one in favor of the project, which is the institution’s fourth proposal in twenty years.

At a hearing held earlier today, the Frick’s director, Ian Wardropper, and architect Annabelle Selldorf presented a revised proposal that addressed the concerns the commission had raised in May. While some applauded the design—Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, which opposed the Frick’s previous proposal in 2015, called it “a very respectful addition”—others were critical of the institution’s plan to convert its circular music room into a space for special exhibitions.

The advocacy group Stop Irresponsible Frick Development even tried to halt the vote by filing for a temporary restraining order yesterday. They hoped to postpone the event until they could apply for interior landmark status for the John Russell Pope–designed music room. Theodore Grunewald, vice president of the Committee to Save the New York Public Library, told the New York Times that the space “has been in heavy demand as a concert venue since it was completed in 1935” and that eliminating it “is an erasure of New York City’s cultural and civic memory.”

In a last-ditch effort, members of the group gathered on the steps of City Hall and held a press conference in an attempt to garner public support. The great-granddaughter of Henry Clay Frick, Martha Frick Symington Sanger, joined the crowd, which held signs that read “Frick Deserves Better” and “New York City Doesn’t Need Another Commercialized Museum.”

The project, which marks the first comprehensive upgrade to the Frick’s building since the institution opened more than eighty years ago, will repurpose sixty thousand square feet of the museum and add twenty-seven thousand square feet, creating 30 percent more exhibition space. Construction, which is estimated to cost $160 million, is expected to begin in 2020.