Following the death of Henry Clay Frick’s wife, Adelaide, in 1931, the Board of Trustees—which included Frick’s son, Childs, and his daughter, Helen—took on the challenge of converting Mr. Frick’s private home into a museum. The Trustees were keenly aware that considerably more space would be needed in order to accommodate visitors, and for this task the Board turned to the gifted architect John Russell Pope, who would distinguish himself a few years later with the design of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
What Pope achieved was nothing short of brilliant. Taking as his point of departure the neoclassical vocabulary of the original mansion, he created new spaces that relate most directly to the monumental scale of the house’s West Gallery, where Mr. Frick displayed the bulk of his collection. Continuing the grand scale of this room, Pope created galleries in the newly formed Oval Room and East Gallery, a reflective haven in the interior Garden Court, and a lecture hall, later called the Music Room. Though these spaces are institutional in scale, they harmonize beautifully with the smaller rooms of the original house. Today, most visitors consider the Garden Court the signature space of the Frick, yet it and Pope’s other rooms were not part of the Frick family home, so seamless was his 1935 conversion.
At the same time Pope was transforming the house into a museum, he erected a building on 71st Street, the equivalent of seven stories in height, to accommodate the growth of the Frick Art Reference Library, which had been founded by Frick’s daughter in 1920.